The 2023 NFL season is going to be a pivotal one for the Dallas Cowboys. It feels as though they’ve had a roster good enough to compete in the postseason for multiple years now, and yet they still haven’t come close to a Super Bowl appearance.
Dallas crashed out of the playoffs in the Divisional Round against the Niners in 2022, and need to prove that they can compete with the rest of the NFC’s best this season in order to remain in the conversation.
Their opponent in Week 4 is the New England Patriots, who currently have the worst odds in the AFC East to win the division. With Buffalo, Miami and now the New York Jets all looking significantly better in recent years, New England have fallen out of favor. Can they upset the odds in 2023 and put themselves in the conversation for a playoff run?
Dallas Cowboys vs. New England Patriots
- Date: October 1st, 2023
- Time: 4:25 PM EST
- TV Channel: Fox Sports
- Live Stream: NFL+ (US), DAZN (UK & other)
A Look at the Cowboys:
The Dallas Cowboys season gets started under the lights with a Week 1 primetime matchup against their NFC East rivals the New York Giants. That game is going to be a real spectacle and give one of the two sides an early advantage in what’s expected to be a highly competitive division between the Giants, the Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.
In terms of having the talent to make a statement early in the season, Dallas looks to have one of the best rosters in the league, so there’s really no excuse.
Things should look a little different this year with Kellen Moore having taken the offensive coordinator job with the Chargers, and being replaced with Brian Schottenheimer. Mike McCarthy will call the plays, endorsing his west coast style similar to that which he featured in his time in Green Bay. Schottenheimer has been around the NFL since 2001, including the offensive coordinator role for both the St. Louis Rams between 2012 and 2014, and the same role with the Seahawks from 2018 to 2020. He was in Dallas last year as a coaching analyst, and will now take charge of the offense.
With Ceedee Lamb, Michael Gallup and reinforcements by way of veteran receiver Brandin Cooks, the Cowboys group of wideouts is one of the most talented in the league. Cooks has been great with whichever quarterback he’s played with in the NFL, and has had to consistently prove himself on a new team as the tied most traded player in NFL history (four times).
Tony Pollard will have a key role this year too both as the teams starting running back and in the receiving game. Pollard had a breakout year last year as he claimed more reps from Zeke Elliott than he ever has before, and will now play on the franchise tag on a significantly improved salary. Keep an eye on Deuce Vaughn though, who can offer some serious burst in rotation. The sixth round rookie looks very sharp, and Dallas are super excited about him.
Defensively, this Cowboys unit is as good as any. Dan Quinn is one of the best defensive coordinators in football, and has once again turned down head coaching opportunities in pursuit of a Super Bowl with Dallas. Trevon Diggs will now play opposite veteran star Stephon Gilmore, and former first round pick from the Colts Malik Hooker has signed a three year extension in Dallas after impressing last season.
Patriots and Mac Jones
Mac Jones simply has to prove that he can be the future of the franchise this season. He had a good start as a rookie, but his sophomore season left a lot to be desired, and the Patriots coaching staff must have agreed, having benched him in favor of a rookie Bailey Zappe during the 2022 season.
In fairness to both quarterbacks, the group of pass catching talent last year was remarkably underwhelming. New England have struggled to find their identity as an offense since the departure of Tom Brady, and multiple experiments have failed during that time including the highly paid double tight end duo of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.
While New England did go out and pay Juju Smith-Schuster a free agency contract, it felt a little like a desperation move in what was a limited market for receivers this year. Juju helped the Chiefs to a Super Bowl this past season and just clipped 1,000 receiving yards in the process, and will now be expected to take on a key role in the Patriots offense in 2023.
Juju came in, but Jaokbi Meyers went out, and the concern is that the offense might not have improved all that much at all.
As has been the case in recent years, the Patriots are going to need to lean on their defense. The secondary was one of the highlights of what was otherwise a lackluster year in 2022, with Kyle Dugger and Jonathan Jones both emerging as key pieces of the defense.
Mac Jones vs Cowboys Pass Rush
Mac Jones’ time in the pocket last season before either releasing the football or facing pressure was 2.2 seconds. That number is tied for the lowest in the NFL amongst starters last year, alongside Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence and Kyler Murray. Jones took 34 sacks, 10th in the NFL, and the Patriots struggled at times with pressure, particularly from the right hand side of the offensive line.
!0th in sacks might not seem so bad, but the Dallas Cowboys put up the second most QB sacks in the league last year, and the level of pressure they bring consistently is going to be a problem. Veteran reinforcements at right tackle via Riley Reiff could help, but the line still doesn’t feel sturdy, especially against a defense like the Cowboys. Look for Dan Quinn to exploit the weaknesses in the line.
Mac Jones does a good job of being decisive and getting the football out quickly, at times. Other times it all comes crashing down on him too fast, and that’s going to be a key focus for both teams in affecting the outcome of this game.
Dak Prescott’s turnovers
While Dak Prescott is capable of a superb performance, as he has demonstrated on numerous occasions, the number one gripe fans and analysts have with his game is the turnovers.
Now, that being said, if you go back and watch some of the picks he threw in 2022, some of them really weren’t his fault. It’s a complex offense and sometimes Dak and his receivers just weren’t on the same page. While that softens the argument, there’s still too many turnovers happening in Dallas, and Dak ended up tied first in interceptions in 2022.
That doesn’t bode well for a quarterback facing the third best team in the NFL last season when it came to picking up interceptions. The New England Patriots claimed 19 balls last year, second only to both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers who managed 20 each.
Dak needs to cut out the turnovers in what will be a gritty matchup with New England. Allowing them one or two extra possessions could be the difference.
Players to Watch:
Rhamondre Stevenson: The Powerhouse Runner
Rhamondre Stevenson has made significant strides since his entry into the NFL. After an impressive 2022 season, the New England Patriots are likely to lean heavily on him, especially considering the questions surrounding their passing game.
Stevenson boasts a powerful running style, unafraid of contact and always looking to break tackles. His capability to transform small gaps into significant gains is a testament to his vision and agility.
Facing the Cowboys, Stevenson’s skills will be put to the test. With Dallas’s robust defensive line led by the likes of the rookie Mazi Smith, Stevenson will need to exploit every opportunity. His ability to consistently churn out yards against such a defense can provide the Patriots with the momentum they need.
Christian Gonzales: The Rookie with Much to Prove
The Patriots’ first-round draft pick from Oregon, Christian Gonzales, is set to face some of the league’s finest receivers in his debut season.
Gonzales is highly regarded for his man coverage skills. Quick on his feet and adept at reading plays, he possesses the knack for breaking up passes and staying glued to his assigned receiver.
Matchup to Watch:
Coming up against talents like Ceedee Lamb and Brandin Cooks will be a baptism by fire. Lamb, known for his exceptional route running, and Cooks, with his speed and experience, present a dual-threat.
Gonzales will need to maintain discipline, avoiding unnecessary penalties while ensuring he doesn’t give away big plays. One slip in concentration, one missed step, and these elite receivers could capitalize. However, a standout performance against such adversaries could significantly boost his confidence for the rest of the season.
Both Stevenson and Gonzales carry significant responsibilities for their team in this upcoming clash. Their performances could be game-changers, and all eyes will be on them as they take the field. It’s a great opportunity for them to make a mark and solidify their status in their respective roles.