The 1-2 Patriots are on the road this weekend as they head to Arlington, Texas to take on the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
Dallas is 2-1 on the season thus far with wins over the Giants and Jets and a Week 3 loss to the (basically tanking) Arizona Cardinals.
6 rings: kadlick's crucial clashes ahead of Patriots vs. cowboys
Let’s talk about the matchups. In this week’s edition of both WEEI.com’s and the 6 Rings and Football Things podcast’s crucial clashes, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday’s 4 p.m. kickoff:
- Christian Gonzalez vs. CeeDee Lamb
Patriots rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez has been the talk of the town over the last month after some dominating performances against the likes of A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and, most recently, Garrett Wilson.
This Sunday, he’ll likely go up against Cowboys star CeeDee Lamb.
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.
“[Gonzalez] has seen some very good receivers the first three weeks and we’re going to see another one this week with [CeeDee] Lamb," head coach Bill Belichick told WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show on Monday. "We’ve seen some good defensive lines and we’re going to see another one this week. Those positions, the defensive line and the receiver positions here, the first four weeks of the season are as good as anybody.”
The last time Lamb faced the Patriots’ defense, he went for 149 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions from quarterback Dak Prescott. Gonzalez understands the challenge that's ahead of him, but his calm demeanor won't let him to get too high or too low:
“Just treating it like another game,” the former Oregon Duck told media on Wednesday. “Coming in and doing what we do every week.” Gonzalez also called Lamb a “great receiver.”
Each week has been a tougher test than the last for the rookie this season, with Sunday's being the highest hurdle yet.
- Micah Parsons vs. Patriots offensive line
Cowboys’ linebacker/defensive end extraordinaire Micah Parsons is arguably the best defensive player in football. On Sunday, the Patriots' offense will do everything in their power to stop him.
They intentionally move him around” Bill Belichick said about Parsons’ versatility. “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.”
When Dallas uses Parsons off the EDGE against New England this weekend, they’ll likely aim to get him up against Vederian Lowe, who made his first start at right tackle for the Patriots last Sunday:
“He’s picked up things pretty quickly here,” Belichick said when asked about Lowe’s performance against the Jets. “He has a lot of experience at tackle. He works hard, and he’s getting better. He’ll get better each week as we get more familiarity and more fundamental work with the techniques.”
Parsons will have a harder time rushing from the left side (his right) with Trent Brown on Mac Jones' blind side. The tackle was in pass protection on 30 dropbacks last Sunday against New York and allowed zero pressures on his quarterback. He also scored the highest PFF grade of any tackle on Sunday with a 92.4.
Overall, New England's offensive line played well against the Jets’ defensive front, but Parsons is a different beast. They'll have their hands full with him no matter where he lines up.
- Patriots wide receivers vs. Cowboys banged-up secondary
Outside of Micah Parsons, Dallas' best player is arguably cornerback Trevon Diggs. The 25-year-old Alabama product has 18 interceptions in his young career, was named a first-team All-Pro defender in 2021, and also has two defensive touchdowns - one of which came against the Patriots.
Unfortunately, Diggs tore his ACL in practice last week and now leaves the Cowboys' defensive backfield shorthanded. They went with Stephon Gilmore and DaRon Bland on the outside last weekend against Arizona and played Jourdan Lewis in the slot. While Gilmore, obviously, will command New England’s attention offensively, the rest of the room is sub-par.
All that being said, the receivers the Patriots will line up against said sub-par secondary aren’t exactly anything to write home about either. Kendrick Bourne is their leading receiver with just 14 catches for 139 yards through three games, and their “No. 1” addition this offseason in JuJu Smith-Schuster is brutally underperforming compared to the player they replaced him for.
Whoever comes out victorious in this 'matchup of mediocre' could be the difference in a win or a loss for their ball club.