Bill Belichick’s Wednesday press conferences typically consist of a longwinded opening statement where he compliments and commends the given Sunday's opponent.
This week, when speaking on Dallas, he named 15 (!!) Cowboys that they’ll face off against this weekend at The Star.
They’re one of the more loaded rosters in football, and the Patriots' head coach is well aware.
6 rings: patriots vs. Cowboys preview:
While Belichick can go on and on about players, here at WEEI.com we only have room for 10. Here's who to keep an eye out for in the Patriots' matchup against Dallas this Sunday afternoon:
10 - DT Sam Roberts, Patriots
The Patriots began their week by placing defensive tackle Daniel Ekulake on the injured reserve with a torn biceps muscle. He’ll now miss a minimum of four weeks and will force New England to look elsewhere for depth along their defensive front.
Ekuale exited Sunday’s contest against the Jets, Sam Roberts entered. He playing 11 snaps for New England and tallied two tackles.
Head coach Bill Belichick was asked about Ekuale’s injury and their depth on Wednesday and told reporters that there isn’t “a lot of Hall of Fame defensive linemen walking around right now that just aren’t with a team. We’ll manage the position and we’ll do the best we can, whatever that is.”
That “best we can” was signing DT Manny Jones to their practice squad on Wednesday, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound Colorado State product who appeared in four games for the Cardinals last season.
This move may spring current practice squadder Jeremiah Pharms Jr. to the active roster this weekend, but I’d still expect Roberts to be the one who takes over as the spell guy along the defensive line.
9 - CB Christian Gonzalez, Patriots and 8 - WR CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
Rookie Christian Gonzalez is quickly becoming the steal of the 2023 NFL Draft. After putting up respectable perfornamces against combinations like A.J. Brown/Devonta Smith and Tyreek Hill/Jaylen Waddle, the former Oregon Duck matched up against budding star Garrett Wilson on Sunday, allowing him to catch just four passes for 19 yards on eight targets (until a 29-yard garbage time completion).
His next task? Likely taking on the most recent Cowboys pass-catcher donning #88 in CeeDee Lamb. From Thursday's ‘crucial clashes’:
“While Dallas has essentially worked Lamb in as their slot receiver this season (lining up in the slot 75% of the time according to PFF), the Patriots are still likely to shadow him with Gonzalez. Their top slot cornerback in Marcus Jones was placed on the injured reserve last week with a shoulder injury, and their answer to pure speed in Jonathan Jones will likely matchup on Brandin Cooks.”
This leaves the rookie on Lamb. His toughest task yet. I'm excited to watch these two battle it out.
7 - T Vederian Lowe, Patriots
After starting at left tackle against the Dolphins in Week 2, newcomer Vederian Lowe was moved to the right tackle spot last Sunday following the return of Trent Brown. He took over for Calvin Anderson, who had started the first two games at right tackle.
Lowe, along with the rest of his offensive lineman, played well in New York, standing firm and allowing zero sacks of quarterback Mac Jones.
They’ll be tested this week against not only star pass rusher Micah Parsons but the rest of the Cowboys front. The smart thing for Dallas to do would be to to line Parsons up against the unexperienced Lowe. Sunday is his first true test.
6 - RB Tony Pollard, Cowboys
After being the spell back/backup to Ezekiel Elliott for the first four years of his career, Tony Pollard is now the No. 1 guy in the Cowboys backfield.
A fourth round pick out of Memphis, Pollard leads the NFL in total touches (74) and carries (62) through the first three weeks of the season, He’s also the fifth-leading rusher in the league (264 yards), and has the most rushing first downs (16, tied with Brian Robinson Jr.).
“Just, who’s going to get the ball?,” linebacker Matthew Judon said this week when asked about how to defend the Dallas run game. “They run some speed sweeps, they run their quarterback, they run it with [KaVontae] Turpin, they run it with all three of their running backs, they all are capable of hitting 60+ [yard] touchdowns, they’re all fast, the offensive line is physical, they like to run the ball more than they like to pass block, and they’re really good at pass blocking. This is a capable offense and they can do anything. And I think the most scary thing about their running game is the explosiveness. It’s not just a 15-yarder trying to get the first down. They’re looking to score every time they touch the ball.”
While he alludes to plenty of players running the football, it’s Pollard that leads the charge. He should be atop New England’s list of threats on Sunday.
5 - RB Ezekiel Elliott, Patriots
Speaking of Ezekiel Elliott, Sunday afternoon marks the new Patriots back’s triumphant return to Dallas.
“It’s cool going back… Spent a lot of time there, have a lot of great times there,” Elliott said on Wednesday when asked about his return. “But out there you got to keep the main thing the main thing and that’s going out there getting better as a team and going out there and getting another win.”
Last week, Elliott was New England’s leading rusher with 80 yards on 16 carries, averaging five yard per carry. Though Sunday could have been considered his “break out” game this season, Zeke is still yet to score a touchdown in a Patriots uniform
Look for him to get in the endzone at The Star this weekend.
4 - CB DaRon Bland , Cowboys and 3 - CB Stephon Gilmore, Cowboys
The Cowboys lost one of their top players last week when cornerback Trevon Diggs tore his ACL in practice. The cornerback is out for the remainder of the season.
In his absence, Dallas pulled defensive back Daron Bland out to boundary cornerback and Jourdan Lewis in the slot. Opposite Bland? None other than former Patriots great Stephon Gilmore:
“Yeah, Steph’s had a great career,” Belichick said this week. “Steph looks kind of how he’s always looked – long, disruptive and really good ball skills. You’ve got to be careful throwing the ball around him. He’ll catch it.”
With Diggs’ season over, Gilmore is now the Cowboys’ de facto No. 1 CB and will likely take on any opponents No. 1 WR moving forward, something the Patriots don’t exactly have…
2 - WR Kendrick Bourne, Patriots
Serving as said WR1, the last time the Patriots played the Cowboys Kendrick Bourne was the team’s leading pass catcher… on just one reception.
Said reception was, however, a 75-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Mac Jones that helped New England take the lead before ultimately losing the contest in overtime.
The Patriots have been deprived of a top tier wide reciever for Jones ever since they drafted him in 2021. Someone the quarterback called his “go-to guy” following their week one loss to the Eagles, Bourne could, at the very least, act as that guy on Sunday against a banged up Dallas secondary.
1 - LB Micah Parsons, Cowboys
In only his third season, Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons is already a two-time First-Team All-Pro, a two-time Pro Bowler, was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021, and has tallied 161 tackles, 30.5 sacks, seven pass defelections, seven forced fumbles, and one defensive touchdown.
New England knows they’ll have their hands full with him across the entire formation, something Bill Belichick went into detail on this week:
“They intentionally move him around,” the head coach said of how they use their playmaker. “They play him on the end of the line in different combinations, to the field, to the boundary, to the tight end, to the left, to the right, to the open side, I mean, whatever the formula is. So, you know what you’re getting there. They do play him off the ball in some pass rush situations, and they play him a little bit at linebacker – not much, but a little bit. But, most of the time, he’s on the end of the line of scrimmage. I mean, that’s most of it. But, it’s not all of it, and you do have to be aware of him, because wherever they put him, there’s usually some action going on there.”
Action is right. For pure entertainment value, your eyes should be glued to Parsons all game long.