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Patriots' D makes corrections, now bracing for explosive Cowboys

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quarterback Tom Brady said the New England Patriots are a team defined by defense and special teams, and with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and the Dallas Cowboys coming to town Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox), that might not be a bad thing.

The Patriots' defensive improvements after a Week 9 loss at Baltimore were on full display in New England's 17-10 win against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

After some early struggles, things were tightened up against the run, forcing the Eagles into more third-down situations that allowed the Patriots to scheme more with their effective pass-rush packages. Patriots safety Devin McCourty, one of the unit's captains, credited the front seven as the foundation for that success because it stopped the run without secondary support.

"You go out there two weeks ago and play bad against the run, we knew Philly was going to come here and try to run the ball and see if we fixed that. It's going to be the same when we play Dallas," McCourty said.

"They're going to test us in the run game, see if they can get some things that happened two weeks ago or early in the season. We know the key is trying to stop the run and make a team one-dimensional, and then we are able to get in our different packages."

Matt Patricia's Detroit Lions had a similar approach against the Cowboys in a 35-27 loss on Sunday, but they aced only one part of the formula. Elliott was limited to 45 yards on 16 carries (2.8 avg.) and one touchdown, but Prescott was 29-of-46 for 444 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Patriots, whose personnel is better than the Lions, will have to be better against the pass than that to improve to 10-1.

If the game comes down to a Hail Mary, the Patriots proved Sunday that they're better equipped to handle those than they were in last season's "Miracle in Miami."

McCourty batted away the Eagles' last-gasp attempt from their 42-yard line on Sunday and then noted the heartbreak the team experienced in a similar situation against the Dolphins in 2018.

"I'm sure everyone had flashbacks, but we figured that out," McCourty said. "When you lose a game in seven seconds and 70 yards, it's safe to say, as long as Bill [Belichick] is coaching here, I highly doubt that happens again."

By using different personnel -- the Patriots had three defensive linemen on the field in Miami but none against Philadelphia -- they were better equipped to handle whatever the Eagles attempted in that situation. Special-teams captain Matthew Slater was also on the field, highlighting how the unit had more speed.

It was one of many examples of how the Patriots' defense -- now with an eye toward the Cowboys -- learns from its miscues and improves.