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Patriots-Cowboys What To Watch For: A Battle Between Former Alabama Teammates

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots have a chance to get back to .500 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. It's no easy task though, not with the red hot Dallas Cowboys coming to town.

We're being treated to this matchup thanks to the new 17-week schedule. The last time the 'Boys were in town wasn't too long ago though, as the Patriots escaped with a rain-soaked victory in 2019.

The Cowboys weren't very good then. They are very good now, winners of four straight and armed with a truly dangerous offensive attack. They also have one of the most exciting young cornerbacks in the game, which is saying something considering there is a bevvy of exciting young cornerbacks in the game.

Here's what we'll be watching for when the Patriots host the 4-1 Cowboys on Sunday afternoon.

Dak Attack

The Cowboys offense has been on fire during the team's four-game win streak. It starts with Dak Prescott, who is playing at an elite level in his comeback season. He's completing 74 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns for the year. Ten of those have come in the last three games, including a 49-yard strike to rookie Cede Lamb last week against the Giants. Prescott led Dallas on a 98-yard drive in the second half against New York, with a massive 35-yard completion to Cedric Wilson on a third-and-1 play that got the Cowboys deep into Giants territory.

Sunday is going to be a long day for the New England secondary if they come out like they did against the Texans in Week 5. This is a massive test for the unit, which is a bit banged up with Jalen Mills (hamstring) and Jonathan Jones (ankle) both nursing injuries.

It helps Dallas' cause that Ezekiel Elliott is also running at an absurd level. Zeke finished that 98-yard drive off with a 13-yard scoring run, his fifth touchdown on the season. He's third in the NFL with 452 rushing yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He had 110 yards on 21 carries against the Giants, with Dallas picking up 201 yards on the ground in the victory.

The Cowboys have dropped 121 points in their last three games. If the Patriots defense plays like they did against Tom Brady two weeks ago, maybe the Dallas offense will return to earth a bit. But if the Patriots defense plays the way they did when they made Davis Mills look like a Pro Bowler, the scoreboard could get pretty crooked pretty quick.

Trevon Diggs

Mac Jones is going to have to worry about a former Alabama teammate plucking his passes out of the air. Diggs, a second-round pick by Dallas in 2020, has been doing that a lot over his first five games this season.

The second-year corner has an NFL-best six interceptions on the young season. He's also defended another 10 passes. He has at least one of each in all five games so far this season.

Jones talked Diggs up quite a bit on Wednesday, saying his former teammate used to pick him off at practice in Alabama. But while he'll be mindful of Diggs on Sunday, Jones said he isn't going stay away from him in New England's passing attack.

"You can't be afraid of anybody or anything like that," said Jones. "You just have to know where he's at because you have to respect him, respect his game, respect his knowledge and respect everybody on that defense and that coaching staff because they do a good job in preparation, and it showed up on the tape. We have all the respect in the world for those guys. They're playing really well, and it'll be a lot of fun to just compete with them."

Diggs hasn't gone up against the best quarterbacks in the last few weeks, picking off Mike Glennon last Sunday and Sam Darnold twice two weeks ago. But he started his season by picking off Tom Brady, which is always pretty impressive.

Jones has also been susceptible to picks lately. He only threw one last week, but he could have easily been picked off a few other times. It doesn't help that his receivers have had trouble hauling in passes, but with Diggs around, it won't matter who makes the mistake. If one is made, chances are Diggs is going to get the ball.

Attack Everyone Else

The Cowboys are great at takeaways, but everything else is a struggle on defense. And Jones should be able to rack up some big passing yards, as Dallas has allowed the second-most passing yards so far this season (1,555). The Cowboys D is giving up 6.3 yards per play, which is fourth-highest in the NFL, and has allowed 23 passes of over 20 yards -- the fourth-most in the league.

They're also extremely undisciplined, leading the NFL in penalties, and they miss a ton of tackles. These are all things that the Patriots offense can -- and should -- take advantage of come Sunday afternoon.

Ball Security

OK, Patriots. Enough of this coughing up the football business. Enough.

J.J. Taylor was inactive after losing a fumble in Week 4 against the Bucs. Damien Harris was temporarily benched to start the second half in Houston after his fumble in the second quarter cost the team a touchdown. Enough is enough.

Asked if backs can occasionally focus too much on ball security earlier this week, Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears delivered another great one-liner.

"Now you want me to be a psychiatrist!" he exclaimed.

Now that is an image: The Patriots setting up a sofa and a chair in the locker room so Fears and the backs can chat it out about their fumblitis.

At least the Cowboys have only forced a pair of fumbles this season, ahead of only the Patriots and Jaguars defense -- both of which have forced zero fumbles on the year. Maybe the Patriots will be fumble free for just the second Sunday this season.

Tune in to Sunday's Patriots-Cowboys clash on WBZ-TV -- the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Coverage begins a little earlier than usual, with Patriots GameDay at 8:30am. The Patriots and the Cowboys kick off at 4:25pm on WBZ, and after the game, tune in to Patriots 5th Quarter on TV38!


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