logoby the Patriots Daily Staff

The 5-0 Patriots are headed to Dallas this weekend to take on the 5-0 Cowboys in a big game that has gotten even bigger with some latent Spy-gate sniping this week.

Let’s line up the Row of Chairs for their weekly forecast of impending doom for the Patriots’ fat, balding and slow-witted opponents. Gentlemen?

The Patriots struggled a bit with a pesky Browns team last week, despite a late defensive score that covered the 16.5 point spread. Did you see anything that particularly concerned you?

Greg Doyle: Nothing in particular, though I agree they weren’t particularly sharp. Perhaps there is a blueprint there, however, for teams to attempt to shut down Randy Moss at least a bit and the Patriots, as a result. In this case vs. the Browns, the Patriots had Donte Stallworth and Ben Watson to turn to and that worked. But throw in an injury or two and suddenly there are less options. Forget about the undefeated talk, I’d go beyond that and wish some media and fans would stop penciling them in as Super Bowl champs. There is way too far to go, too many injuries to every team that have yet to occur, and other blueprints built upon this one. Its a long season. Some coaches are smart and the Patriots aren’t going to score 34-38 points every week. I like the Pats chances, but there are other teams out there who can play and coach too.

Scott Benson: I know Moss once again played most of the snaps and as a result drew coverage away from other players, but I wonder about that sort of situation long-term, if other teams are as successful at the Browns were in removing him from the action. I wonder if the Pats would lose a lot of their explosiveness.

Tim Jordan: They did a great job of double covering him, but Brady missed him on plays where he was open and would’ve gotten big gains. I don’t think the problem was scheme, but execution. We’ll get a chance to see this week against another 3-4.

Scott: I saw it the other way – I thought it was scheme that the Patriots had problems with. I know what you’re saying about the blown plays, but it seemed to me there were a lot more plays where Cleveland executed the best pass defense the Patriots had seen this season. I just think the Browns didn’t have the horses along the front seven to pull it completely off. They didn’t get enough pressure on Brady to stop him from finding his second, third and fourth options, and they had to miss Ted Washington inside, where Sammy Morris ran effectively.

Kevin Thomas: Well, I guess one question is can any defense do both–cover everybody downfield AND get enough pressure to stop Brady from going through his progressions until he finds an open guy? It seems like most teams will have to chose one or the other. Dallas is one team that could do it though, since they can exert a lot of pressure on the quarterback without selling out in pass coverage.

Travis Graham: I think the Browns were focused on taking away the passing game in the second half. That put a lot of weight on Morris’ shoulders to get first downs. He had a very good game, but might have trouble in the future if he is to carry the team. Getting Maroney back will help the offense in the second half of games when their legs will be fresher.

Has Morris taken over as the lead back in New England?

Travis: He will obviously be when Maroney’s out, but when they are both healthy I would still give the edge to Maroney. I love the value he brings to the team in the fourth quarter because of his speed.

Scott: The speed is always good, but the question really is Maroney’s health. He’s of diminished value if he’s constantly nicked up. I agree the Pats need them both, but Morris may be the only one equipped to be there every week.

Tim: I really think it’s important that they have both guys making significant contributions if they are going to continue to dominate. I am expecting Maroney to be on the field Sunday in Dallas.

Bruce Allen: I wouldn’t be surprised if they have been being over-cautious with Maroney with the thoughts of getting him ready for this game. Morris has been solid, but he’s not your lead back for an entire season. Morris has been terrific against the Bengals and Browns, but the Patriots will need both guys against the Cowboys front.

Let’s turn our attention ahead, and this week’s interconference matchup with the NFC leading Dallas Cowboys. How will the Pats offense fare against the Dallas defense?

Greg: I think pretty well. But then again, if Maroney is out again and Kevin Faulk got hurt last week and it affects his availability, there could be issues. They should be able to throw. Cornerback Anthony Henry is out for Dallas and he was playing very well early on. Safety Roy Williams can be great at times, but at other times really struggles in coverage. Look for the Pats to be able to move the ball.

Tim: All Phillips coached teams hit hard and Dallas is no exception. They are a physical team with speed, just like SD’s defense was last year. This is the week that you are ecstatic that we have a revamped offense this year. They probably won’t light it up like we saw in the first 4 games, but they are good enough to score on anyone and I like our chances against the Dallas offense after watching Monday night’s game.

Kevin: Should we read anything into the fact that Dallas’ worst two games this year came in their two prior games vs. the AFC, against maybe the bottom two teams in the conference? Obviously, they didn’t play very well against Buffalo on Monday, which one could chaulk up to just a fluke bad game, but they also trailed deep into the 3rd quarter at Miami, before turning it on late in the 2nd half (aided by 4 Dolphin turnovers). Could the Cowboys be another one of these NFC fraud teams, like the big bad Vikings were a year ago? (Whatever happened to those guys?). I think they’re probably much better than that, but its tough to tell with so little data to go on.

Dan Snapp: On the Big Show on Monday, Belichick spoke of the Dallas defense in reverent tones, and it was obvious it wasn’t the typical lip service he gives every upcoming opponent. He specifically praised the physicality of the team.

Tim: Another interesting byproduct of the Brown game was the way Crennell defended the Patriots offense negated their ability to spread it and go to a 5 wide set (usually with a no-huddle to limit substitutions). This is a tactic we’ve seen from BB in the past when he wants to get a better understanding of what the defense’s gameplan is. The Cowboys have a much better front 7 and have been able to generate a rush without sending extra defenders to the line, but have a fairly weak secondary. It makes me think that we won’t be seeing the spread this week and that they’ll keep a TE in to help the O-Line and let the WR’s try and win the matchups. With the stout middle of the Cowboys defense maybe we see more quick slants that have a similar result as a run? If so, Welker could have one of his 8-9 catch days.

The Cowboys offense has been as prolific as New England’s. The Pats defense comes off a week where they allowed 350 yards and three scores to an undermanned Browns offense. Will they bounce back to slow down Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and the Cowboy backs?

Greg: These guys can move the ball, particularly in the air. Terrell Owens is still a force to be reckoned with, as is tight end Jason Witten. Tony Romo is as good as anyone in moving around, buying time and throwing on the run. They need to keep him in the pocket if they can and he does make mistakes on occasion.

Scott: I agree, I think keeping him in the pocket is the key to the Patriots controlling this game. I noticed on Monday night when things really started to go off the rails for them, they came back out and right away got Romo moving outside the pocket, which immediately began to free up Whitten and others. It was like they were getting him out there where he could see and be comfortable. It reminded me of the way Denver used to handle Jake Plummer. If Vrabel, Colvin, Thomas and the ends can turn Romo back in, the Pats will be in business.

Tim: The Plummer comparison is great. Most every positive play he had he was out of the pocket running. All the picks came when he was in the pocket. Whiten and Owens make for a formidable duo in the middle of the field and both freelance well, finding opening in the defense. Both are big targets with good hands too, so when Romo improvises he’s got two playmaking safety valves. Until Buffalo, I assumed we’d be looking at a game where both teams scored in the 30’s. After watching that game, even accounting for the Monday night factor, I don’t see it. They are a very good offense, but it looks to me like their success is predicated upon being sound, physical, and fast. It seemed to lack sophistication. They couldn’t adjust to what the Bills were taking away and Romo made poor decisions as a result. I am now of the mind that we limit them to under 20. Romo is going to be confused.

Dan: Regarding Kevin’s point earlier about the Vikings, the Patriots gave the league the blueprint to beating them (spread ’em out), and everybody’s been following suit ever since. The NFC East should take notice: the Pats are going to give the blueprint to controlling Romo. It should be along the lines of what’s already been discussed here: keep him in the pocket, minimize the broken plays, take away his favorite threat, and force him to be disciplined in order to beat you. Romeo Crennel said Sunday:

“They have quite a few weapons and you have to try to pick your poison a little bit against these guys. Moss has been killing people and we didn’t want him to kill us, so we died by the hands of somebody else.”

I’m sure Crennel defensed the Pats the way Belichick would: take out Moss, and hope the other guys don’t kill ya. They’ll do the same thing against Dallas, trying to remove Owens as an option. Are the Cowboys’ secondary options enough to kill the Pats?

Any thoughts on special teams? Who gets the edge here?

Kevin: Their rookie kicker, Nick Folk, sure looked impressive on Monday night, burying back-to-back 53-yarders with the game on the line. Lets be honest, how confident are you that Gostkowski makes even one of those kicks?

Bruce: Why has Gostkowski gotten a bad rep among so many people? I think overall he’s been solid, and he certainly showed in the playoffs last season that he’s not afraid of the big moments. Both last season and this he’s had a few early season hiccups, but he’s not a concern of mine long term.

Scott: I think some of it comes from not being Adam Vinatieri, but he’s also young and a little inconsistent. The thing I’ve noticed is that at times, when he’s really stroking it on kickoffs, he seems not to hit the ball as cleanly and consistently on placements. When he’s in a groove with placements, he doesn’t seem to hit the kickoffs as well. That was the case Sunday, when I thought he was as smooth on the field goals as he has been this year, yet his kickoffs weren’t anything special in terms of length. It was probably by design, as they were all well covered.

Tim: Sure, they have the Mighty Wind kicking for them, but this Dallas special teams is far from perfect. They’ve allowed a returns for TD’s in consecutive weeks and McGee’s for Buffalo should have been the winning points. This matchup is a wash, maybe a slight advantage for the Stars because Chris Hanson has been the worst player on the field for 3 weeks.

Hey everybody (I’ve been watching Will Farrell do Haray Carey on You Tube), how about that coaching matchup? The Cowboys are 5-0. Is Wade Phillips outcoaching Bill Parcells?

Dan: Might Parcells still be coaching had he jumped off the Bledsoe ship sooner? Where was Mo Lewis when Tuna needed him?

Greg: I honestly think Phillips is a buffoon. His cheerleader antics rankle me a bit. Like a fatter version of Pete Carroll. But, I’ll give him credit for this….his team is talented and his K.C. Jones-like hands-off, laissez faire approach probably mixes well with this level of talent. At least for one year.

Tim: The guy has some pretty unique body language though. I like watching him waddle in double time off the field. In fact, he could be the most intimidating waddler in the league. He’s one of those guys who needs to generate momentum with his arms for his legs to move and I think the No Fun League needs more of that. He’s a throwback in that regard. He reminded me of Pappy O’Daniel at the campaign rally in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? Phillips provided bulletin board material this week twice. Once when he joked about going to the movies with Belichick (veiled reference to the camera infraction) for some laughs at a pool press conference and a day later to Peter King when he said that their titles were compromised due to the video transgression. I am still trying to process this. The head coach of an underdog team calls out the other team’s coach the week of the biggest game of the season? Really? The HEAD COACH, not some rookie from the U? This guy has big balls. He can’t see them without a mirror, and he probably can’t even touch them with those beetlejuice arms, but he’s got them.

Scott: He’s got to pay, pure and simple. Norv Phillips has got to pay. He ought to be paying attention to his own house, and maybe his backwards hat wearing quarterback/Real World housemate wouldn’t cough up five-pick national television appearances. You know what, Dan Cortese? You’re not good enough for Carrie Underwood. Anyway, Matt Mosely of ESPN’s Hashmarks chronicled Shecky Phillips at work this week, working blue on Spygate, and the only thing I can say to Bum’s kid is that come 4 o’clock Sunday, there’s gonna be a more hell than a little bit about what he said this week.

Let’s have a final score.

Dan: Pats, 28-17.

Kevin: In the past 4 calendar years, the Patriots have gone 15-1 against the NFC. They’ve beaten every team in the conference except Washington (the only team they haven’t played at least once), and gone 7-1 against playoff teams, including 3-0 against NFC champion teams. Bottom line: they’ve owned the NFC in recent years, are arguably playing as well as they ever have, and I’m not yet convinced Dallas measures up with the cream of the AFC. Patriots 31, Dallas 27.

Tim: Pats 24-17, and the Cowboys lose a draft pick next week when video evidence of using the cheerleaders in a distracting manner is presented. This leads to speculation about the legitimacy of Phillip’s 11 win season 8 years ago in Buffalo.

Scott: Patriots crush them, 38-13. These people are keep flapping their gums and they’re going to get another championship they can bitch about.