All I have heard this week is how it is impossible for anyone, including the Dallas Cowboys, to beat the New England Patriots in Foxboro, and how Tom Brady hasn’t lost a home game since the 19th Century. All this talk about how indomitable the Patriots are at home reminds me of when the New Orleans Saints were 13-0, and everyone was saying the Dallas Cowboys could never beat the undefeated Saints in their house.
1. Can Rex Ryan’s defense hold Brady and the Pats to under 20 points?
The Patriots have scored at least 30 points in their last 14 games. The last team to hold them to less than 30 points was Rob Ryan’s Cleveland Browns. Only twice in the last 21 games have the Pats failed to score less than 20 points. Both games in which they failed to eclipse the 20 point mark were against coaches named Ryan.
Simple logic suggests that if Ryan could stop Brady & Co. with the Browns, he should be able to replicate that performance with the Cowboys because the Cowboys have better players on defense.
As I mentioned in a previous article, I am not convinced that Ryan deserves as much credit as he has received for shutting down the Pats in that game. (Click here to read that article)
I will be watching to see if Ryan can prove me wrong by devising a game-plan that confuses Brady and the Pats OL.
Writer’s Update: I just read this on Ellis’ blog at dc.com:
This week’s gameplan, characterized as “the kitchen sink” and “a head-scratcher” by Ryan’s own players on the Cowboys defense, is a credit to two defensive assistants, Ben Bloom and Dave Borgonzi, doing extensive research on the Pats.
2. Can the Cowboys stop Wes Welker?
Welker is on fire this season. He already has almost as many yards (740), after only 5 games, as he did all of last season (848). He is on pace to have over 2300 yards receiving this year. He is averaging over 16 yards a catch.
The good news is that Welker is only 5’9”, so he does not present the match-up problem that Calvin Johnson, or even Plaxico, did. Welker doesn’t exactly have blazing speed either, so it is not like he is impossible to cover.
In reviewing last week’s game against the Jets, Reevis was able to neutralize Welker for most of the game (Welker had 124 yards, but 73 came on one reception). Reevis was able to contain Welker by jamming him at the line. Welker is small for a WR, so he is susceptible to being jammed at the line and knocked off his routes.
I will be watching to see if the Cowboys CB’s try to play physically with Welker. If he is allowed to get a free release from the line, it could be a long day for the secondary.
3. Can the defense be effective if they are deprived of the opportunity to substitute players?
In the game against Cleveland, the Patriots went to a no-huddle, but not a hurry-up, offensive attack on several occasions; the majority of these drives were successful in moving the ball for at least a few first downs. One of the no-huddle drives led to a TD; another did not lead to points, but was nonetheless a long drive. Only one of the no-huddle drives went 3 and out. It is safe to assume that Belicheck knows that Ryan’s defense is premised on using a variety of packages that require an unusual amount of player substitutions. One way to thwart Ryan’s defensive game plan is to deprive the defense of the opportunity to make substitutions by utilizing the no-huddle approach.
I will be watching to see whether the Patriots employ the no-huddle offense and how early in the game they make the switch. More importantly, I will be watching to see which Cowboys package they chose to go no-huddle against.