Dallas Cowboys (4-1, 5-0 ATS) at New England Patriots (2-3, 2-3), 4:25 p.m.
Brolley’s Cowboys Stats and Trends
The Cowboys are the only remaining undefeated ATS team after they started to 2020 with an 0-8 ATS mark. They have an incredible cover margin of 10.1 points after their 44-20 victory over the Giants as seven-point home favorites.
Dallas is 4-1 toward overs and their last three games have averaged 63.3 total points.
Dallas is averaging the second-most points per game (34.0)
Dak Prescott is averaging just 26.8 pass attempts per game in the last four weeks after attempting 58 passes in the season opener, but he’s still reached 21+ FP in each of the last three weeks thanks to 3+ TD passes in each game. The Patriots limited Tom Brady 269 scoreless yards in Week 4 before they got shredded for 312/3 passing by Davis Mills.
CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper have been crushed by the limited passing volume the last four weeks, and by the emergence of Dalton Schultz. Lamb has seen just 21 targets (22% share) in the last four weeks after seeing 15 looks in the season opener, while Coop is sitting at 18 targets (17%) the last four weeks compared to 17 in the opener. Lamb has 17+ FP in two games and fewer than 10 FP in that span while Cooper has been kept afloat the last two weeks with touchdowns. Buccaneers WRs Mike Evans (7/75 receiving) and Antonio Brown (7/63) posted solid production against the Patriots in Week 4, but they also saw a combined 23 targets in that game.
Dalton Schultz has moved well ahead of Blake Jarwin in routes (46 to 17) the last two weeks after a near even split through the first three weeks (74 to 71). Schultz is certainly deserving of the bump with six catches in 4-of-5 games and 55+ receiving yards and 13+ FP in three straight games. The Patriots are giving up a league-low 5.5 FPG to TEs, but they also haven’t been tested by anyone at the position.
Ezekiel Elliott has posted 20+ FP, 110+ scrimmage yards, 20+ touches, and 1+ TDs in each of his last three games. The only complaint with Zeke’s production this season is that he has just 9/55 receiving through five games. Leonard Fournette posted 20/92 rushing and 3/47 receiving against the Patriots in Week 4.
Tony Pollard saw a season-highs in snap share (40%) and touches (18) thanks to the blowout nature of last week’s contest. He’s seen double-digits touches, 65+ scrimmage yards, and more than 30% of the snaps in four straight games. David Johnson posted 5/46 receiving in this matchup last week.
Brolley’s Patriots Stats and Trends
The Patriots are 4-1 toward unders this season, and they’re 11-2 toward unders in their last 13 games.
Dallas’ defense has forced multiple turnovers in nine straight games dating back to last season, including 12 takeaways to open 2021.
Mac Jones’ YPA average slipped in each of the first three weeks (7.2>6.2>5.3), but he’s rebounded with his YPA climbing the last two weeks (6.9<7.7). Jones led the Patriots back from a 13-point deficit to the Texans in Week 5, completing 23/30 passes for 231 yards, one TD, and one INT. Jones has yet to top 18+ FP in a game, but the Cowboys have at least given up 2990+ passing yards in every game this season.
Jakobi Meyers led Patriots’ WRs in routes (31), targets (5), catches (4), and yards (56) last week, but he did see a season-low 17% target share. Meyers saw 26 targets in Weeks 3-4, which he turned in 17/164 receiving, and the Cowboys have faced the third-most targets (24.2) per game
Hunter Henry has jumped to the top in this tight-end room in recent weeks, and he lapped Jonnu Smith in routes last week (20 to 6). Henry led New England’s passing attack against the Texans, posting 6/75/1 receiving on eight targets (27% share) compared to Jonnu’s 2/27 receiving on two targets. Evan Engram posted 4/55 receiving in this matchup last week.
Damien Harris was in and out of the lineup in the second half last week after picking up a rib injury. He managed just 14/58 rushing with his second lost fumble of the season, and Rhamondre Stevenson stepped in and posted just 11/23 rushing. The Cowboys have allowed 4.2 YPC but they’ve faced the fewest carries per game (13.0) from RBs this season. Brandon Bolden has 3+ catches in his first three games as the primary receiver in this backfield, but he’s averaging just 34.7 scrimmage yards.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 25.8 (4th)
Plays per game: 70.4 (7th)
Pass: 53.1% (29th) | Run: 46.9% (4th)
Pace: 28.2 (16th)
Plays per game: 66.4 (17th)
Pass: 66.8% (5th) | Run: 33.2% (28th)
Why is Dallas throwing the ball less this year compared to last season? Well, they are a much better team now than in 2020 – especially on defense. After getting wrecked for 2.75 points per drive last year (seventh-most), the Cowboys have been pretty stout on defense so far and are giving up just 1.98 points per drive (eighth-fewest). Much better game-scripts are the result. The Cowboys have led on 56% of their offensive snaps in Weeks 2-5 after their game against the Buccaneers. For reference, the Cowboys led on just 6% of their offensive plays last year before Dak Prescott got hurt.
Beyond being in much more positive game-scripts, the Cowboys have also made a fundamental change to run more on early-downs. Last year, Dallas went 63% pass-heavy on early downs in neutral situations (game within a score; red-zone plays not included). That led the league. This year? Dallas is just 53% pass-heavy on early downs in neutral situations – which is middle of the pack at 16th.
So, the Cowboys 2021 season has been defined by two major things: a much improved defense and, just as importantly, a change in philosophy. Both of those factors are working together and are leading to Dallas feeding Zeke. And as 3.5-point favorites over a Patriots team that has put up just 16, 25, 13, 17, and 25 points this year, I don’t think we’re going to see Dallas forced away from what is working so well right now.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
Patriot CB JC Jackson played an excellent game in Week 4 defending Mike Evans. But, if my money was on the line, I would not wager against Bill Belichick knowing how Tom Brady would play and adjusting for that fact.
As was the case last week when Davis Mills slapped 312 passing yards, three TDs, and 27.68 FPs on New England’s defense, Belichick will not be provided with the advantage of extensive knowledge of Dak Prescott and his playmakers. So Jackson will need to deal with Amari Cooper on 45%-plus of his routes, and without the intimate knowledge Belichick had on Brady. I like Cooper in this matchup.
And also, just a hunch, but don’t be surprised if Trevon Diggs — presuming his ankle injury doesn’t keep him out — moves inside from time to time to deal with Patriot top WR Jakobi Meyers. After five games, Diggs has only played 17% of his snaps in coverage out of the slot. And we were just witnesses to Diggs kicking inside to defend Kadarius Toney when no other Dallas corner had any luck containing him. It’s unlikely that we’ll see Diggs on Meyers on the first snap but, when Jakobi starts seeing the consistent targeting he sees every week, Diggs may be compelled to shut that source of production down.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
Though they’ve certainly had enough success and have no reason to change what they’re doing, the Cowboys’ extremely run-heavy approach has really put a damper on both the floor and the ceiling for WRs Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, who are struggling to live up to their top-36 ADPs even with Michael Gallup sidelined with a calf injury.
They’ve achieved an offensive balance that’s worked for them and it’s protecting QB Dak Prescott, who threw 58 times in Week 1 against the Bucs… and then 107 times combined in the last four games while RBs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard have handled plenty of work. Want proof of the balance? Well, how about this:
Pace this season:— Paul Hembekides (@PaulHembo) October 14, 2021
Ezekiel Elliott (1,536)
Tony Pollard (1,105)
CeeDee Lamb (1,183)
Amari Cooper (1,081)
No team in NFL history has featured multiple 1,000-yard rushers and multiple 1,000-yard receivers.
Yes, the 17th game is helping, but that’s pretty impressive. Still, Cooper is the WR15 through five games and Lamb the WR23, so they’re both underachieving somewhat — Cooper’s big total is buoyed by his massive Week 1.
You have no choice but to start the Big Four, and Pollard, with 10+ carries in each of his last four games, is a fine FLEX option in a week with multiple RB injuries and four bye teams. But with the exception of Elliott, no Cowboy skill player drafted in the early rounds is living up to his ADP.
The one guy who is blowing away his ADP is, of course, TE Dalton Schultz, whom no one has the luxury of sitting unless you’re also rostering Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, or Darren Waller. And even those with Waller might be tempted given Schultz — and not one of their two big-time WRs — has led Dallas in targets in each of the last three games.
Here’s Scott Barrett from the Week 6 XFP Report on Schultz:
“Dalton Schultz continues to see an increase in usage at Blake Jarwin’s expense. Jarwin has seen his route share drop from 63% to 36% to now 22% over the last three weeks. Schultz, meanwhile, ranks 12th in route share (75%) and 1st in target share (27%) over the last two weeks. And over the last three weeks, he ranks 3rd in targets per game (7.7), 5th in XFP per game (13.7), and 1st in FPG (19.2). On the full season, he ranks behind only Mark Andrews (ahead of Travis Kelce) in PFF receiving grade (88.6)… Yeah, Michael Gallup will return at some point, but I’d rather be betting on than against Schultz as an every week mid-range TE1.”
One thing to note is Tyron Smith, the Cowboys’ left tackle with a history of neck injuries. He popped up on the injury report this week, and while he’s expected to play, it was the offensive line and QB injuries that totally derailed Dallas’ offense last year.
Cowboys announce MRI on Tyron Smith came out well. Trevon Diggs (ankle) is a game-time decision.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) October 15, 2021
The Patriots are a bad fantasy team, with — by total points — only two players qualified to start in a standard 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE 12-team league: WR Jakobi Meyers (WR32) and TE Hunter Henry (TE9).
I think Meyers is always defensible as a volume-dependent WR3, and it’s honestly impressive he’s done what he’s done from a production standpoint without scoring a single TD in his career (116 catches, 0 TD). But as Wes noted, don’t be shocked if Trevon Diggs (if he plays) moves inside on him from time to time — Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor aren’t exactly going to scare him, and QB Mac Jones really has eyes for Meyers. (The Cowboys are calling Diggs a game-time decision.)
He also has eyes for Henry, who has clearly emerged over Jonnu Smith. Here’s what Jake Tribbey wrote this week:
“Henry is the TE9 thus far, and has seen much more encouraging usage than teammate Jonnu Smith. Henry has out-targeted Smith 26 to 22, and run nearly double the routes (135 to 71) while lining up as a WR at a much higher rate (75% to 50%). Among TEs, Henry currently ranks 12th in target share, 12th in routes, 10th in targets, and 11th in PFF receiving grade, yet he’s just the 17th-highest owned TE on Yahoo. And he draws a great matchup against Dallas, in a game the Patriots will likely need to throw as 4.0-point underdogs. The Cowboys are a pass funnel, with their opponents throwing on 70% of their plays (2nd-most) and allowing 311.0 YPG as a result. This is the best matchup thus far in 2021 for the Patriots pass offense, and with the way Henry has been playing, he’s the clear top streaming option at TE this week.”
In the backfield, Damien Harris is dealing with a chest injury, and is coming off a game in which he committed his second devastating fumble of the year. He should have had a second TD in Week 5, but fumbled on his way into the end zone, and then left twice with that chest injury, playing just 33% of the offensive snaps. He finished with 14/58/1 rushing on that snap share, but he’s dinged up and the two lost fumbles he’s had this year could well earn him the famous ire of Bill Belichick. If Harris’ chest injury does clear in time for Week 6, however, it’s probably a good thing for his fantasy value that rookie Rhamondre Stevenson didn’t do much with his carries, posting just 11/23 rushing. The sluggish Brandon Bolden still plays on passing downs because they trust him in pass pro, and the Cowboys have given up the 9th-fewest FPG to opposing RBs. Harris is an RB3 if he plays, and Stevenson little more than that if he doesn’t.