The hot Dallas Cowboys should extend their winning streak to five games and head into next week’s bye sitting pretty with a 5-1 record — as long as they don’t fall for the banana in the tailpipe in New England on Sunday.
On paper, this should be no contest.
The Patriots (2-3) are playing a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones and their only victories have come against two 1-4 teams who were also playing first-year signal callers in the New York Jets and the Houston Texans.
But the Patriots’ defense will be staring down quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ high-octane offense, which ranks first in the league overall and second in scoring and rushing offense. Plus, the team is second in the turnover margin department.
Meanwhile, the Patriots do not do anything particularly well. They are 26th in scoring and total offense; and 20th in pass defense, rush defense and turnover margin.
The numbers are so lopsided that legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick went on a 588-word rant early this week lauding the Cowboys front office, coaching staff and players in talking about the challenge his team is preparing to face on Sunday.
“Just overall, a very impressive level of talent,” Belichick said. “Offensively, they do a really good job with their schemes and put a lot of pressure on the defense. Defensively, they pretty much do everything well. There’s not really a lot of weaknesses on this team.”
“I mean, they’re at the top of the league in everything, so whatever stat you want to talk about, they’re at the top of the league in it. A pretty talented team,” he said. “We know we’re going to have to play our best game.”
Regarding Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, Belichick had more bouquets: “Mike’s probably as good as anybody we play against. It hasn’t been very often, and I’m happy about that. I wouldn’t want to play Mike twice a year.”
And to put the icing on the cake, Belichick said the Cowboys have always had talent as they drafted the most Pro Bowl players since 1996.
And yet the Cowboys are 0-6 against the Patriots since 1996 and have never beaten a Bill Belichick coached team since he took the job in 2000.
Again, don’t fall for it.
Remember, the Cowboys went to New England two years ago with the No. 1 ranked offense, looking to make a statement and get a win against Belichick.
The Patriots held the Cowboys without a touchdown in a 13-9 win.
The Cowboys are rightfully wary and they are ready.
If they are the team they believe they are and are heading toward the season they hope to ultimately have, beating Belichick’s Patriots is just hurdle they must clear.
“It’s a really important game for us just because of who they were and who they still are,” receiver Amari Cooper said. “They still have the same coach and they present a challenge to us. He’s a really smart, really studious coach. They just play differently than a lot of other teams and they’re going to present a lot of challenges to our offense and defense. It’s going to be a big game for us.”
McCarthy is well aware that the Patriots have had the Cowboys’ number for a generation. It is something he will talk to his team about but the main thing the Cowboys will focus on is themselves.
“I love where we are. But I am more excited about where we can go,” McCarthy said. “We expect this team to really challenge us. They have always done a good job of schematically challenging what you do best. This is a style of play our guys will embrace, but they do an excellent job of trying to scheme against the things you do best.”
And therein lies the advantage the Cowboys believe they have going into Sunday’s game — their offensive is dynamic, whether they are pounding it on the ground or lighting it up through the air.
Certainly, the running game has gotten the headlines of late, averaging over 200 yards rushing over the last four games. And for that reason the Cowboys believe Belichick will focus on stopping the run first.
Of course, Prescott has thrown 10 touchdown passes in the last four games combined, and he would readily invite the Patriots to focus on the run and giving him one-on-one matchups on the outside with receivers CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper.
So if Belichick takes the right hand away from the Cowboys, they are more than ready to counter-punch with the left.
“We’ve got two hands,” Prescott said. “Think we’ve got a lot of weapons. You’re exactly right. The Patriots are a team that does what they do best and they take away your fastball. ... We prepare week in and week out, obviously come in with an approach to be balanced run and pass and if we need to lean on one more than the other, we’re going to do that.”
Does Prescott actually know how long it’s been since the Cowboys beat the Patriots?
“No, I don’t pay attention to that and I don’t honestly care about it,” Prescott said. “I know we’ve got to play them this Sunday, and that’s the only thing on my mind.”