(Photo credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
Running a real-time stress test with their first-time featured back, the Cowboys are planning to give the NFL's leader in touches, Tony Pollard, a breather with the New England Patriots due in Dallas on Sunday.
But Dallas knows this isn't the ideal time for Pollard to exhale with former sidekickand longtime Cowboys bell-cow back Ezekiel Elliott arriving as a visitor to his old stomping grounds for the first time.
Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy believes Pollard's current volume might be sustainable but is monitoring his workload week-to-week.
"He has always shown incredible endurance. I feel like he's definitely built for it," McCarthy said, adding Pollard has proven to be the team's top back in pass protection, another reason it's difficult to take him off the field. "He's doing all the little things we're asking of him."
Pollard set a career-high with 32 touches (25 carries and seven receptions) Week 2, when the Cowboys ran away from the New York Jets. He had 23 carries (122 yards) and three receptions last week, when the Arizona Cardinals clipped the Cowboys, 28-16.
By leaning on Pollard extensively, the Cowboys have camouflaged injury issues on the offensive line and put the onus on their defense to set the tempo in games. It worked for the first two weeks of the season. Then Dallas failed to deliver on the offensive side in a comeback bid at Arizona last week and continue to sputter in the red zone with three touchdowns in 11 trips inside the opponents' 20 the past two games.
"I think clearly, the fact we've been down there 15 times is the best in the National Football League," McCarthy said. "In my experience, that has been the hard part. Clearly, the stat we're all talking about is the touchdown conversions, the efficiency. We need to clearly be better in that."
Dallas (2-1) leads the NFL in turnover margin at plus-6 with only one giveaway. The Patriots (1-2) are minus-2, tied for 20th in the NFL.
Quarterback Mac Jones and the Patriots didn't have a turnover last week, beating the Jets with just 15 points.
"Have to convert and get more points. 15 is not; generally you're going to need more than that. But it was good enough," Belichick said of the point total last week.
New England changed coordinators, bringing back Bill O'Brien to call plays and develop Jones, but the Patriots in the midst of a 16-game stretch without scoring 28 points. The Cowboys have hit 27 or more in 11 of their last 13 regular-season games and beat New England 35-29 in the previous meeting (2021).
Finding points on the road Sunday means containing linebacker Micah Parsons, inasmuch as that's a possible ask. Jones said Parsons jumped off the film in game-planning sessions.
"He's definitely the top player in the league, really. He's the best player we've gone against so far," Jones said.
Dallas sacked Jones twice in the 2021 meeting and has a league-leading pressure rate of 56.4 percent in 2023.
The Patriots owe Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott after he posted 445 passing yards in the last meeting, the most a Belichick-coached team has ever surrendered.
Playing second fiddle to a degree to date in 2023, Prescott faces the fifth-ranked pass defense this week. The Patriots give up just 177 passing yards per game and also rank in the top 10 against the run (93.3 yards per game is ninth).
Elliott has been second on the depth chart to Rhamondre Stevenson in New England. Stevenson is averaging 2.9 yards per carry compared to 4.4 per tote for Elliott. Stevenson said Wednesday he knows he needs to "make more happen."
Dallas gave up 181 rushing yards to the Cardinals in the first half last week and McCarthy said it's one of the "flashing red lights" the Cowboys need to address.
"This is an excellent, excellent challenge," McCarthy said. "It's different than the challenge we had this past Sunday."
--Field Level Media