This weekend the Patriots defense will face perhaps their toughest challenge of the season in a Dallas Cowboys offense that ranks atop the league in most statistical categories including yards, third-down conversion rate and DVOA.
The Cowboys aren't the same kind of unique attack as the Baltimore Ravens, they're a more conventional offense, but they have talent at every position and the ability to match up against the biggest strength of the Pats D -- their depth.
Quarterback Dak Prescott is having the best season of his career, leading the league in passing yards and is already just two touchdowns away from his career high with six games to go. Prescott is coming off his best game of the season, throwing for 444 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's Lions.
"This guy can throw the ball, he's very accurate, he's got great poise in the pocket, stands in there," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday. "He can extend plays and run if he has to, but he doesn't do much of that unless he really needs to. He has great patience and poise, discipline in the pocket, gets his eyes down field. He's a very good intermediate-to-deep ball-thrower. He's got good weapons, but he's been super impressive."
Stephon Gilmore had similar feelings after studying Prescott and the Cowboys offense.
"He can make every throw," said Gilmore. "He's smart, he can get them out of checks when the defense shows him something. He's been having a good year."
But Prescott is just the tip of the iceberg, as the Cowboys rushing attack is as balanced as they come and has the pieces to attack what has been one of the few occasional weak spots in the Patriots defense, stopping the run. Ezekial Elliot is a big powerful back, while his counterpart Tony Pollard brings dynamic playmaking ability.
"Zeke, [Tony] Pollard, they're both great backs," said Belichick. "Zeke's a tough back, downhill guy. He's had a lot of big runs since he's come in this league, way more than anybody else. He's a hard guy to tackle. He's got good vision, good power. Pollard is an explosive player. He can do it all too – quick, illusive, good strength, good running skills, good vision, catches the ball well, good returner. Sometimes they play together. Usually it's just one of them, though, but occasionally both guys are on the field. They're both outstanding playmakers. Doesn't matter which guys is out there, it's a problem."
The final prong of the dangerous Dallas offense is their receiving corps, led by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb, along with tight end Jason Witten. The Cowboys play in 11 personnel 70 percent of the time, meaning all three receivers and Witten will most often all be on the field together.
The key piece is Cooper, as he leads the team with 56 catches, 886 yards and six touchdowns. The talented receiver is posting the highest yards-per-catch rate of his career, stretching the field vertically with big plays.
Gilmore is likely to match up on Cooper and was impressed by what he's seen from the receiver when asked how he stacks up with the rest of the top receivers Gilmore has seen.
"He's a great receiver, runs every route, strong after the catch," said Gilmore. "Makes big catches. He's definitely one of the best."
Cooper is tied for the team lead in third down targets, coming down with 10 catches on 20 targets. Bill Belichick said he can do it all.
"He's got great speed, he's a big time vertical threat, run after the catch is very good," said Belichick. "He's a sharp route runner, he can get in and out of cuts. He's a tough guy to cover, got a great quarterback, good offensive system. He can kill you on short catch-and-run plays. He can run all the intermediate routes, which are hard to cover, and he can certainly kill you down the field in single coverage on the outside or on inside routes if you don't have a middle-of-the-field defendant."
Practice & Injury Report
Mohamed Sanu was the only player missing from a rainy practice on Wednesday, as those who were absent from or left the game in Philadelphia, including Patrick Chung and Phillip Dorsett, were all present.
New practice squad signee Quincy Adeboyejo was with the wide receiver group. An undrafted rookie, Adeboyejo spent most of 2017 on the Jets practice squad and was on their PUP list for all of 2018. He most recently spent a week in late August with the Ravens.
NFL.com's scouting report bottom line on Adeboyejo:
With a frame that should be able to add more muscle, Adeboyejo could be considered a Day 3 height-weight-speed flyer based on his ability to attack down the field. He is raw and is currently lacking the skill level needed to compete for NFL playing time, but has intriguing potential as a field stretcher or big vertical slot receiver. NFL.com
Despite warming up at practice Phillip Dorsett did not practice, while Julian Edelman was back on the report, now with a shoulder issue.
DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Phillip Dorsett, Concussion
WR Mohamed Sanu, Ankle
LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, Knee
S Patrick Chung, Heel/Chest
S Nate Ebner, Ankle/Back
WR Julian Edelman, Shoulder
RB Damien Harris, Hamstring
DE John Simon, Elbow
Locker Room Sound Bites
Tom Brady on his feelings toward the Cowboys after growing up a San Francisco 49ers fan:
"I've really not liked the Cowboys since coming out of the womb as a Niner fan. But, no I've got a lot of respect for those guys and they've actually had a great winning organization. They've got a lot of great players in their history. Guys that I just, as a Niner fan, you'd play the Cowboys and every time they'd hand off to Emmitt Smith would be a 5-yard gain and you would pull you hair out – and throw it up to Michael Irvin and Troy [Aikman] was such a great player, and the defenses, Ken Norton and Prime Time [Deion Sanders]. I think the history of great players, the tradition – getting to meet Roger Staubach over the years has been – just such a cool guy. Someone to really look up to. And then what they're currently doing with the team that they have, it's one of the most talented teams in the NFL that are playing great on offense, defense and it's going to be a huge challenge for us. I love it, I love it, I love the opportunity to compete against great teams this time of year, as Thanksgiving approaches and it means a lot for both teams. Every time we play at home it's important to us but late in the year, we only have so many more chances left to go out there and put on a great performance and we'll try to do that."