No extra motivation for Patriots needed. “The mystique of beating the Cowboys in ‘Jerry’s World’, there is a natural motivation a lot of players have, no matter how good or how bad the teams are. You go into that stadium and you see the names of a lot of players you watched when you were growing up -- the Troy Aikmans, Emmitt Smiths, going back to Roger Staubach and the highlight shows. It’s almost like you’re going in to the Hollywood of football. You have the enormous video screen -- the biggest thing you’ve seen in your life. Everything is in excess and you almost want to beat them badly because of it. It’s almost opposite of what they preach in New England. You also have an owner who serves as the general manager and has his own radio show. It’s just different philosophies.”
Preparing for Weeden much different than Romo. “When you’re going up against Tony Romo, you prepare to play an extended period throughout the down. A play can go to eight or nine seconds, and that’s because of the athletic ability that Romo has and his ability to improvise. There won’t be much of that with Brandon Weeden, who is an entirely different animal. He isn’t a highly athletic player. He does have a good arm and he did some good things last week, especially the drive in the fourth quarter when they were down by 7 and he took them all the way down the field. He was making good throws against tight man coverage that gave the Cowboys a chance to win. He’ll stand in there in the pocket, with the offensive line giving him extra time that he didn’t have in the past. Last week, I thought he showed some good things -- key throws to Cole Beasley, to Jason Witten, and also to Terrance Williams. This is a quarterback that has nothing to lose.”
Cowboys offensive line gets recognition, but is it deserved? “They are a good unit, but are they playing the best in the league right now? My offensive line index has them at No. 15. The Bengals are the No. 1 team in those rankings. The Patriots are No. 22. This is a Dallas offensive line that has had to get used to a couple of different running backs and a new quarterback. It’s still a very solid unit, very good, but the offensive line index doesn’t lie. They are struggling in some areas. For example, in yards before contract per rush, they are 27th. That’s surprising to me because they have good players and can block. I’ve seen zone concepts where they are zoning up the front side and cutting down the back side. I’ve also seen them pull and see them do man schemes. They can do both very well. One thing that they are doing very well is pass protection (No. 2).”
Reinforcements return for Cowboys on D. “Greg Hardy is back from suspension and that’s a big storyline as this defense will look different with him compared to what we’ve seen this season so far. If they’re ready to play, this defense will be better. Hardy played a little bit in the preseason, made a few tackles and showed a few things pursuing from the back side. The Cowboys have to hope he’s the same disruptive presence that he was in Carolina and that he can put pressure on Tom Brady. He had football taken away from him for a long time and he’s ready to come out and show what he can do. So it’s a very motivated player that the Patriots are facing. You also have Rolando McClain, an inside linebacker returning from suspension, and he’s very good in the middle of the field as part of their Tampa 2 coverage. He has made numerous plays in that role -- intercepting passes, attacking the line of scrimmage as they do send the Mike linebacker. He’s an instinctive player who finds the ball and gives them an immediate upgrade at that position. In this Tampa 2 scheme, you need linebackers that get back. There is not too much complexity to the scheme, but once you drop back and you’re reading the quarterback, that’s where instincts kick in. Sean Lee has good instincts and so does McClain. That’s what you need, good defenders who play off of ‘feel’ in this system.”
More on the Cowboys’ defensive scheme. “This is a Cover 2 scheme. They like to drop back in their zones and send their linebacker down the middle of the field, and read the quarterback; break on the ball and pursue everything aggressively. You see that aggressive pursuit constantly preached, and the unit gets out of position at times because of misdirection. So I’m sure that’s something the Patriots will be thinking about when attacking this defense. Also, when you have a team that wants to play that Cover 2, and their corners are off, there are openings in a soft zone and that’s when Tom Brady gets rid of the ball quickly -- short passes to Dion Lewis, Rob Gronkowski. Tom is very good at diagnosing the zone coverage and getting rid of the ball quickly. The Saints played the Cowboys on Sunday and they opened up showing a lot of belief in the screen game. That’s also something you can do when defenders drop back and you can set up a wall with your offensive line and get that screen game going. The Cowboys do show double-A-gap pressure -- two defensive players to the left and right of the center -- and they are either coming or dropping, They also have man schemes they run because sometimes the front four can’t get the pressure they want. So they do have to send an extra defender at times to get extra pressure.”
Prediction. The Cowboys do pose unique threats to the Patriots. This is an offensive line that has the ability to control the game. They will attempt to control the clock and lean on the running game to keep Brady and the Patriot offense off the field. Their defense is the unit I see being exploited. Points will come fast and furious from the Patriots and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will abandon the run only to allow the Patriot defense to tee off on quarterback Brandon Weeden. Patriots win 32-21.