In April, Dallas Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy talked about the team’s goal of becoming a more aggressive defense. “Play more man than zone,” he said in the days leading up to the NFL Draft. Through the first five weeks of the season, Dan Quinn’s defense has delivered on that promise.
In fact, they’re among the teams to play man coverage the most in the NFL. That recipe has worked out for the Cowboys mainly because of Trevon Diggs, who’s emerged as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate after racking up six interceptions in his first five games.
Another team that’s playing man-to-man coverage a lot is the New England Patriots. In fact, they lead the league in Cover 1 frequency, per Mike Clay.
The Patriots are last at 33%, leaning heavily on Man-1 a league-high 54.8% of the time.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) October 12, 2021
So far, it has worked out for them. They rank 9th in the league in pass defense DVOA. Specifically, they rank 3rd in the league against #1 wide receivers but drop to 16th against #2 wide receivers. Keep in mind, the Patriots have played the following QBs:
- Tua Tagovailoa (MIA)
- Zach Wilson (NYJ)
- Jameis Winston (NO)
- Tom Brady (TB)
- Davis Mills (HOU)
So yes, clearly the Dallas Cowboys present a very different challenge, and it should be enough to steer the Patriots defense away from their most used coverage this season. You can’t play Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ceedee Lamb on single-high coverage and expect Mac Jones’ offense to keep up.
Having said that, the Patriots’ defense has shown up every week. And that includes a Week 4 SNF match-up versus the Bucs high-powered offense. Even versus Tampa Bay, the Patriots had a Top 10 performance by Defense DVOA.
After all, playing in Foxborough is always a tough task. Plus, Bill Belichick has always done a great job of blurring the line between defensive styles with hybrid units that can do it all. Say what you want about life after Brady in New England, but there’s no reason to believe Bill can still make life complicated for any offense. That includes the Cowboys.
So far, Kellen Moore has been one of the most impressive coordinators of the season. The Dallas Cowboys have truly emerged as a contender in the NFC in big part thanks to Moore’s efforts.
Going on the road for a second time against Belichick could prove to be one of the biggest moments of his career. The Cowboys have opened as 3.5 favorites over the Patriots. It’s a sign that times have changed. But will they confirm it on Sunday?
Featured image via Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports