The last time the Patriots and Cowboys squared off was four years ago in Dallas. Both teams were undefeated entering their Week 6 matchup, which New England ended up winning handily.
That's about as familiar as the remaining players from that Patriots team are with Dallas – guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Vince Wilfork.
The Cowboys are coming off their bye week, which means they have the advantage of having had extra time to study up on New England. The Patriots are trying to cramp two weeks into one.
But there are some players who've had the luxury of facing Tony Romo and the 'Boys more frequently and more recently. Defensive linemen Andre Carter and Albert Haynesworth both played in the Dallas' NFC East with the Washington Redskins the past few years and can speak with authority on the subject of America's Team.
But even they might have a hard time figuring out just what the 2-2 Cowboys are made of after Dallas suffered humiliating defeats by squandering large leads in the fourth quarter.
"As far as our film study, we've been on point. I do have, maybe a few pointers," stated Carter, "but I think that, just in regards to our study, we've been dead-on, just constantly learning about what they're trying to do."
"Regardless of what some people think, they're a really good team," said Haynesworth, "and Tony Romo is a really good quarterback. He could be streaky sometimes, but most of the time he's on point. We just have to get after him."
"They run the ball well and they pass the ball well. Overall, they're pretty balanced," observed Carter. "It's just a matter of what you're going to get from them when it comes to first, second, third down.
Romo, it seems, is the key to Dallas' success, or failure, as was the case in their ignominious meltdowns this season. He is known for his improvisation and scrambling ability, which can play to both his advantage and disadvantage.
"It's important to contain him, or to rally to him," Carter continued. "If he continues to scramble outside the pocket, we just have to know where our help is. Whoever's rushing has to try to cut him off and let the backside guys come and get him."
It should help the Patriots that Haynesworth was able to return to action last week after missing the previous two contests with a back ailment.
"I feel OK," Haynesworth proclaimed today. "I'm still trying to shake some things or whatever, but as time goes, I'm feeling better and better and more comfortable in the whole scheme of things with what I'm doing.
"Coach [Belichick] is not going to rush anything and he wants me to get my feet under me so I can play well."
Dallas D getting it done
On the other side of the football, the Cowboys defense could be one of the fastest the Patriots will face.
"They're really fast. The d-line's fast, the linebackers are fast," Mankins remarked.
But this is the NFL, where everyone is fast. What sets the Dallas D apart?
"A lot of that goes to effort," Mankins offered. "They're all good players, and you throw effort on top of that … you see a lot of gang tackling. The running back's getting hit by a lot of guys and the rest are running to the ball. Their defense is playing really good [football]."
The marquee name, of course, is DeMarcus Ware, Dallas' pass-rush specialist.
"Ware, he's a special player. He's right up there in the best players of the league. He's a problem if you let him become a problem."
Not to be overlooked, though, is the Cowboys' leading tackler, Will linebacker Sean Lee.
"A second year player, went to Penn State," Brady explained. "Runs well, very quick. He's not big in stature, almost a Zach Thomas-like. He really dissects the passing game, really reads the quarterback very well. He had some picks last year – some pretty impressive plays that he makes.
"That return he had for a touchdown against the Jets was a phenomenal play – he read the quarterback, kind of figured out the route and anticipated the throw, made a great catch and a great run. He's very good."
For details on today's Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.