Tomorrow in Gillette Stadium at 4:15 p.m., the New England Patriots face their toughest test of the 2011 season in the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are coming off a tough loss to the Detroit Lions two weeks ago and a bye last week, so they are fresh and itching for redemption. The Patriots are coming off an emotional 30-21 win over division rival New York Jets.
This will mark the second week in a row that the Patriots have to face a Ryan defense – last week Rex Ryan, and this week twin brother Rob Ryan. Rob Ryan, as defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns last season, was the last to hold the Patriots’ offense to under 30 points in the regular season, and he did so with lesser talent than he has now in Dallas. Is a recipe cooking for a Patriot loss?
Here are three keys to beating the Dallas Cowboys tomorrow:
1. Score, score, score. Putting up a lot of points will be much more of a necessity this week to try and outscore the Cowboys’ offense. This doesn’t have to be passing on every down and going down the field in 3 minutes. The Patriots should continue their balanced approach that we have seen the past two weeks to try and control the clock and help out the defense, but those long, time-consuming drives need to end in touchdowns. Field goals won’t do the trick this week.
2. Force Tony Romo into mistakes. Tony Romo’s mistakes have likely cost the Cowboys two games this season. The Patriots don’t pressure opposing quarterbacks well, so they’re going to have to force Romo into mistakes by mixing up their coverages and bringing some exotic blitz packages. Also, if the Pats’ defense can take away TE Jason Witten like they took away Antonio Gates this season, this could force Romo to go places with the ball he normally wouldn’t, which could result in turnovers or incompletions.
3. Slow down DeMarcus Ware’s pass rush. OLB DeMarcus Ware is the Cowboy’s best pass rusher, leading the NFL in sacks two seasons in his career, and has 5 sacks this season. Tom Brady’s quick release will be essential this game. Play action will help slow down the pass rush, but that’s only effective if the Pats can run the ball and maintain balance. Also, the Pats should have an extra blocker/disrupter on Ware’s side every passing play. This could be directly on the line with a tight end or with a back staying in the backfield to protect Brady. The Pats could also have the backs and tight ends chip Ware before heading out in their pass patterns to slow him down.