The Dallas Cowboys gained ground in the NFC without taking the field in Week 5. During the Cowboys’ bye week, the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants both lost on Sunday, leaving the Cowboys third in the division at 2-2. Dallas has a golden opportunity to climb those standings and take a huge step toward the playoffs with a road trip to New England looming. It will be the Cowboys’ toughest task so far in 2011, but it can be done. However, it can only be done by an aggressive Dallas attack.
The Cowboys absolutely must start the game well against the Patriots. Dallas’s offense has been mostly productive this season; it’s been very explosive except for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s late-game debacles against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions.
The Patriots’ offense has redefined explosive. New England’s quarterback Tom Brady has absolutely shredded NFL defenses this season. Even in the Patriots’ lone loss, Brady threw four touchdown passes. The Cowboys will give up points to New England; that’s a given.
For Dallas to have a chance, this game will have to be a fight-fire-with-fire shootout. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has done a good job of slowing Brady in the past. On Sunday, Dallas’s offense will have to put up points early and often and Ryan will have to come up with some unique defensive looks to keep Brady at bay.
The Cowboys will absolutely have to display a motivated kind of aggression on both sides of the ball to beat New England. That’s what the Buffalo Bills did in Week 4; they’re the only team to beat the Patriots this year. The Bills were constantly on the attack on offense and confused Brady with a variety of blitz packages and coverages. Buffalo intercepted Brady four times, something that has only happened twice in his career.
Dallas’s chances of intercepting Brady four times are extremely slim, but slowing him isn’t impossible. The Cowboys are capable of keeping pace with the Patriots’ high-powered offense, but it will take a performance similar to the first half of Dallas’s 34-30 loss to the Lions in Week 4.
New England’s pass defense is the worst in the NFL while Dallas’s pass offense is third-best. That means the setting is perfect for Romo to stay within reach of Brady’s fierce offensive onslaught. Romo doesn’t have throw for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, something he’s done on many occasions. All he has to do is take care of the football and complete passes to open receivers. The Patriots don’t have the secondary to force opposing quarterbacks to thread the needle, so Romo just needs to take what they give him, which will be plenty.
However, the Cowboys absolutely cannot get caught up in a shootout that takes the game down to the wire. That’s not to knock Romo, but he’s only two for four in the clutch this year. Instead, Dallas must utilize its running game, no matter if the Cowboys are ahead or behind most of the game. This will milk the clock throughout the game and hopefully keep Brady off the field. Dallas will benefit greatly from controlling time of possession because Brady makes his millions off extra possessions.
To put it simply, Romo will have to be on his game for the Cowboys to win this contest. He’s all set for a big day against a weak Patriots pass defense, but he still has to pay attention to detail. The Cowboys are capable of winning a shootout, but it’s not in the team’s best interest. Fighting fire with fire will only take a team so far, something both Dallas and New England must learn before the postseason.