Cowboys' Jason Witten Calls Matchup vs. Patriots a 'Defining' Game

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2019

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (82) tries to avoid Detroit Lions middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) during an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The Dallas Cowboys have had an up-and-down season, at times looking like a Super Bowl contender and at other times looking like a team that might not even reach the postseason while going 6-4.

But in Week 12, the team will face a major test that should offer a better idea of just how good the Cowboys are—the New England Patriots.

Veteran tight end Jason Witten thinks it will be a "defining" showdown, per  of the Dallas Morning News:

"There are defining games that happen. You look at last year's season...and you beat a good New Orleans team. This is one of those games. There's still a lot of games out there, so I don't think it's make or break. But at the same time, to be able to go on the road and play against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and their team—they're 9-1 like they are. A great opportunity for us.

"Our guys are up for the challenge. We've got a lot of healthy respect for them, but just like any other week, you've got to prepare and know that you're going to have to go play your best football."

Dallas is getting New England at a point in the season when they appear particularly vulnerable, however.

After mowing through an early-season schedule that included games against the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets (twice), Washington, the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns, New England was beat up by the Baltimore Ravens in a 37-20 loss and was held to just 298 total yards in a narrow 17-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

New England's defense is elite, no doubt. They are first in yards (249.9) and points (10.8) allowed per game. They also lead the league in forced turnovers (28) and turnover differential (+18) and are third in sacks (37).

The issues have come on the offensive side of the ball, where quarterback Tom Brady lacks weapons in the passing game. Julian Edelman remains a handful out of the slot, but with no Rob Gronkowski in the red zone or dangerous deep threats on the roster, the Patriots are averaging just 6.9 yards per pass attempt (tied 20th) and have totaled just 15 passing touchdowns (tied 18th). 

Nonetheless, Witten knows the Cowboys can't afford to play sloppy football against New England:

"They're going to pounce on any mistake you make. They're prepared. They're fundamentally sound. Their in-game adjustments are just at a higher level than anybody else in the league. [Belichick has] done it at that level for so long. And specifically as an offense going [against] him, I think his defense right now, when I watch them on tape, if it's not the best defense he's ever had, it's got to be up there in the top. It's a big challenge for us. So much respect for him. Greatest coach to ever coach in the NFL."

Dallas needs a signature win. The team has mopped up against inferior competition, going 5-1 against teams with losing records. Against teams playing .500 or better football, however, they are just 1-3, with their best win coming against the 5-5 Eagles. Losses against the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings have called into question whether the Cowboys are in fact contenders or pretenders.

Sunday's matchup against the Patriots will be a fascinating litmus test in that regard.