The Cowboys' preparation during their Week 5 bye will be tested Sunday when Dallas travels to Foxborough to face Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. A record of 2-2 for the Cowboys isn't as bad as many believe, seeing how close all the NFC East teams are in the standings.
New England isn't even first in the AFC East despite having only one loss. Brady has one more interception to his name in 2011 than Tony Romo.
Whatever the Dallas quarterback does excites everyone, which will ensure a good game Sunday. For New England, it's not all about Brady but more about the "Brady Bunch."
With that said, the four keys to Dallas against New England are as follows.
Miles Austin and Dez Bryant will both play with Tony Romo against a defense that has allowed the most passing yards per game. If you haven't heard, Romo has experienced some issues closing out games, having the most second-half turnovers in the NFL.
Devin McCourty hasn't played as well as his rookie season, and this game against Dallas will not be easy on him. Bryant and Austin are huge and physical while being good at running after the catch. Assuming McCourty can contain one, the other should have success.
Bill Belichick will have to be creative because New England's pass rush has been nonexistent. A blend of man and zone concepts could confuse Romo into more terrible tosses.
Jason Witten is a favorite target of Romo while Belichick doesn't have middle linebacker Jerod Mayo to help cover Dallas' tight end. Patrick Chung can take on the responsibility of shadowing Witten and helping out in run support, which he's good at, when Witten stays in to block.
If Dallas expects a win out of this matchup, they are going to want to cover Aaron Hernandez like his ink.
The difficult part is that Rob Gronkowski is more versatile and can stay in to run block effectively for whomever New England has in the backfield.
The Patriots receivers get open quickly so the best thing for the Cowboys to attempt is to jam the tight ends at the line of scrimmage. Both of these men can get down field in a hurry even with their great size.
New England could decide to keep both tight ends to block on rushing plays and that wouldn't hurt the offense that much because Dallas doesn't have the great run-supporting safeties that this game will call for.
Sean Lee, the Cowboys' young linebacker, will be used as much in this game as any else this season. The tight ends are the first thing Tom Brady sees when dropping back to pass, and Dallas will have to make Brady think even more to have a great chance at a win.
New England shouldn't be expected to have the same amount of success against Dallas that it experienced against the Jets last week, racking up 152 rushing yards.
Don't expect Jay Ratliff against New England's backup center to allow straight up runs to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Patriots should opt to use rookie Stevan Ridley as much as the team did in Oakland in Week 4. Rob Ryan will be exercising all his play calls, and Ridley can beat defenses in many more ways than Green-Ellis.
A dump-down swing pass will turn into a huge gain for Brady and Ridley because DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will be going full speed to collapse the pocket.
How much early success the Patriots have running the ball will dictate how hesitant the defensive ends will be when coming after Brady. Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien could take a page out of the playbook of Dallas and run a few draw plays.
Rob Ryan did a terrific job in Week 9 of last year as defensive coordinator of the Browns, getting Tom Brady to throw two interceptions along with 17 incompletions. That was a huge part of why Jason Garrett brought in the lesser-publicized Ryan brother.
Believe it or not, Cleveland had better personnel to stop Brady than this current Cowboys' defensive unit. DeMarcus Ware is great, but he's not confusing quarterbacks as much as left tackles. The secondary cannot be hobbled because they aren't good enough to beat Brady with fresh bodies as it is.
Ryan's use of middle linebacker Sean Lee will be huge in this game. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez need to be covered, as they are most important part to New England's offense aside of Brady.
Lee should start out covering and then start blitzing by second half when the Patriots get the game pictures showing Dallas' tendencies on defense. The game won't be decided on the outside but rather in the middle of the field, where not only the two tight ends will be but Wes Welker as well.