Patriots-Cowboys matchup of the day: Friday

Posted Oct. 14, 2011 @ 11:54 a.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a key matchup to watch in the Week Six game between the Patriots and Cowboys:

Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Patriots defense

When Bill Belichick calls you an "all-time great," you know you've made it, and that's how he evaluated Jason Witten this week on a conference call with Cowboys reporters.

"He's had a tremendous career; still going strong; good at the running game; good at the passing game; plays down the field; clutch guy in tight situations when you need a catch over the middle or third down, red area, those kind of things," Belichick said. "Really, he's a complete player. I don't see any weak points."

Belichick certainly knows the kind of threat the 6-6, 265-pound Witten brings to Sunday's game, the question now is how will the Patriots contain him?

Witten leads the team with 27 catches for 366 yards and has added one touchdown. With WRs Dez Bryant and Miles Austin healthy and plenty of attention heading to them on the outside, things can open up for Witten in the middle.

The Patriots are without ILB Jerod Mayo, who sometimes covers tight ends, but this is not that type of matchup Mayo would want to be in, and the Pats might try to keep ILB Gary Guyton out of situations where he will have to stick with Witten downfield. The onus will likely be on the safeties — James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown and, if healthy, Josh Barrett, as Patrick Chung is better in the box than in coverage.

Brown has struggled this season but has experience covering skilled tight ends, as he now has two games under his belt having to keep an eye on Antonio Gates. Barrett has great size to be physical with Witten and Ihedigbo came onto the scene last week against the Jets.

Belichick likely won't want many situations where only one of his safeties is in charge of covering Witten, so look for there to always be help and for the Patriots' defense to funnel Witten into unfavorable matchups. Gates did not have a catch against the Pats this season and Dustin Keller had one grab for seven yards last week. The Patriots have been very successful in taking tight ends out of the equation, but Witten provides arguably the stiffest test they have faced.