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Cowboys get next shot at Tom Brady

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' pass rush will have one of its biggest challenges of the young season Sunday afternoon when it faces Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

It's not an impossible task, but Brady has been sacked just 49 times the last three seasons. Of quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts, Brady has been sacked the second-fewest times. Only the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning has been sacked less.

Brady succeeds by getting rid of the ball fast, moving around the pocket and standing behind an offensive line that gives him time. He gets sacked and takes hits but continues to succeed.

He's won 30 consecutive home games, thrown a touchdown pass in 21 consecutive games and leads an offense that has reached 30 points in 13 straight games, one short of the NFL record.

The man in charge of employing a defense to stop him has beaten Brady before.
Last year with the Cleveland Browns, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan handed the Patriots one of their two losses.

Brady was sacked once, hurried twice and threw one interception against the Browns, whose secondary also had five pass breakups. Ryan, now with the Cowboys, had a bye week to prepare for the Browns' 34-14 beatdown of the Patriots in November. That was also the last time the Patriots failed to score 30 points.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said his team will watch the tape of that Browns victory, but he understands that things are different now.

"The makeup of their team is different," Garrett said. "The makeup of the Cowboys team is different than the Browns team in 2010. We watch a lot of tape. The New England Patriots are awfully good on offense. They have been for a number of years.

"They have a great offensive system. They have a great quarterback. They have a number of weapons they can get the ball to in the run game and the passing game."

One of those weapons is Wes Welker, a wide receiver who dominates the game from the slot position.

Orlando Scandrick is scheduled to cover Welker in the slot. He's athletic and physical enough to handle Welker on slants and, if necessary, jam him to prevent the speedy receiver from getting downfield.

According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Welker has been targeted 20 times with 13 receptions on passes of more than 10 yards downfield this season.

If Brady beats whatever pressure is thrown at him, he seeks Welker.

"It's a huge challenge," said Scandrick, who is expected to play after missing the last three games with a high ankle sprain. "They said he's on pace for 2,600 yards or something crazy, but going into this game, I'm going to make him work. We're going to see what happens. It's going to be a great challenge."

There are other things to worry about, like whether the Cowboys can get to Brady. The team has 13 sacks, but none in the Week 4 loss to the Detroit Lions. An empty backfield allowed the Lions to get an extra protector for quarterback Matthew Stafford, who also got rid of the ball quickly.

The Cowboys have an elite outside linebacker, DeMarcus Ware, along with a punishing nose tackle in Jay Ratliff for the pass rush. Ryan is also lining defensive players up in different ways to confuse the offense.

Sometimes, Marcus Spears and Ratliff line up as linebackers. The Cowboys might have one down lineman, maybe two -- whatever it takes to get to the quarterback.

"We've just got to be persistent and got to keep going," linebacker Anthony Spencer said. "This guy is going to get the ball out fast. He reads the coverage pretty quickly and he gets the ball out. We just have to keep at it, and the times he does hold the ball we've got to get pressure on him."

The Cowboys, however, are not deterred by what they might see against the Patriots.

"He's the guy who makes that offense tick and he has a lot of weapons," Spears said of Brady. "He completed the ball to 12 different guys [last Sunday]. We've got our job cut out for us, but we feel good about who we are, too."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.