The Dallas Cowboys face the New England Patriots this week after their first loss of the 2023 season. The Patriots have two familiar faces on their roster: former Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Will Grier.
Will Grier and Ezekiel Elliott’s Homecoming
This gives the Patriots an advantage in knowing the Cowboys’ hand signals and calls since Elliott and Grier were integrated into Dallas’ offense before this season.
Although Grier won’t play, he has in-depth insight into how the Cowboys operate in their new system under Mike McCarthy following his release at the end of August. Since then, the Patriots picked Grier up from the Bengals’ practice squad, making him their third quarterback behind Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe.
Since being released from the team in March, Elliott will make his first start in a Patriots uniform against the Cowboys. Although Zeke might not know the ins and outs of the Texas Coast offense, he knows his former teammates well enough to give him an upper hand going into the matchup.
Elliott can give New England insight into the team’s nuances and their verbal and nonverbal cues on both sides of the ball.
Brian Schottenheimer Will Combat This From Being an Advantage
On Monday, Brian Schottenheimer was asked about this, saying they’re always aware of it happening as a team and acknowledged that Grier and Elliott “know where a lot of the bones are buried.”
“Excited to see Will [Grier]. It will be great to see him, but I’m sure he’s definitely being interrogated and probably spending a lot of late nights with [the Patriots] defensive coaching staff,” said Schottenheimer as he laughed.
As for how the Cowboys combat this as a problem, Schottenheimer described it as a conversation they have had as a team and said there are multiple hand signals for their core concepts.
But he says it can also work as an advantage to the Cowboys, stating, “You can use it to your advantage because they think that they know what’s coming and they hear something they think, ‘oh, hey, it’s this,’ and we’re smart enough to adjust those things.”
The offensive coordinator described this situation as something everyone does when players have been on opposing teams, but coaches are very selective about how much they put into it.
Cowboys vs. Patriots Red-Zone Struggles
The Cowboys have struggled in the red zone for the last three weeks. This was something the team needed to find a fix for, as Elliott was their red-zone guy for the last few years, especially last season.
In 2022, Elliott had 12 rushing touchdowns and was second in the league. The Cowboys also led the league with a 71.43 scoring percentage in the red zone last year. Going into Week 4, Dallas ranked 27th with a 40.00 scoring percentage.
Meanwhile, the Patriots were last in the league in 2022, with a 42.22 scoring percentage. They’re now ranked sixth heading into this week with a 71.43 scoring percentage.
Although Elliott has not had a touchdown this season, he’s helped New England immensely on drives. This could be the week he makes it a point to find himself in the end zone.
Mike McCarthy’s First Impression of Elliott
McCarthy spoke about Elliott on Monday, saying he knew about Zeke’s reputation before coming to Dallas as the team’s head coach and that he was well respected as a player.
He remembers the first time he saw the running back during a Cowboys vs. Packers game in 2016, and his initial impression was, “My God, that guy got a big head. That’s a big man.”
The coach said Elliott has always impressed him as a big, physical runner.
Ultimately, McCarthy said Elliott will always be loved in Dallas and acknowledged that his name usually comes up at least once a week in the Cowboys’ locker room.
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