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The Patriots were able to escape Week 5 with a win over the Houston Texans, but it wasn't exactly a confidence-boosting performance, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. After looking very much like a third-round rookie over his previous starts, New England allowed Houston's Davis Mills to complete 21 of his 29 passes on the afternoon for 312 yards and three touchdowns, giving him a passer rating of 141.7. No disrespect to Mills, but the Patriots secondary had no business allowing that level of production and efficiency to a rookie signal-caller. 

The natural thought when seeing what Mills was able to do against this unit is how much damage the Cowboys and their No. 4 ranked offense in DVOA can do Sunday when they roll into Gillette Stadium. Dallas has a much better quarterback in Dak Prescott and a laundry list of skill position players that include Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, and Tony Pollard. That unit is also second in the league in total yards per game and is averaging 34 points. 

When you account for New England's offense, which ranks 24th in the NFL in DVOA (per Football Outsiders), the Patriots are going to need their defense to step up in a major way to help Mac Jones and company. out. 

That starts with corner J.C. Jackson breaking out from his recent slump. 

In the aftermath of Stephon Gilmore being traded to the Carolina Panthers, all eyes are on Jackson to truly ascend to a No. 1 corner who can help anchor the Patriots secondary. Over that past two weeks, however, quarterbacks haven't been afraid to challenge the soon-to-be 26-year-old. Per Pro Football Focus, Jackson has been targeted 18 times and has allowed 10 receptions over that stretch for 154 yards and a touchdown. He was also called for three penalties last week, including defensive pass interference. 

Jackson -- and the entire defense in general -- will need to turn the tide quickly, as he'll likely be called to shut down either Lamb or Cooper on Sunday. Each receiver has the ability to break a game open. 

"Of course. I believe in my secondary," Jackson said Thursday, as transcribed by WEEI. "We've always been good defensively, so I feel like we can match with any receivers in the NFL. We've got a pretty good defense — a couple of veteran players who have been here for awhile…"

Sunday's matchup against Dallas offense also provides Jackson with quite the opportunity to further make his claim for a lucrative contract this coming offseason. The impending free agent is already in a favorable position to cash in somewhere across the NFL, but a shutdown day against Dallas would almost certainly boost his odds of a team -- including the Patriots -- backing up the Brinks truck for him next spring. 

How to watch

Date: Sunday, Oct. 17 | Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, MA)
TV: 
CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Cowboys -3, O/U 50.5

Patriots TEs have strong matchup vs. Cowboys

The Patriots spent big this offseason at the tight end position by bringing in both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. So far, it's taken both a bit to get acclimated in Foxborough, but Henry has specifically started to come on as of late. He's hauled in touchdowns in each of his last two games and had his best statistical outing (six catches for 75 yards) against Houston last week. Smith is still waiting for that breakout game, but his teammate believes it's coming. 

"He's going to come on," Henry told reporters this week of a looming Smith breakout. "I'm excited to see him break out. … He works extremely hard at what he does, so I think he's going to continue to keep coming."

If there was any time where both Henry and Smith could break a game open for the Patriots in the passing game, it could be Sunday's matchup against Dallas. The Cowboys rank 31st in pass defense DVOA against tight ends this season, per Football Outsiders. They're also inside the bottom 10 in the league in yards allowed to tight ends. 

Backfield's bad reputation

Patriots running backs have gained the unenviable reputation of coughing up the football, putting the ball on the ground four times this season through five weeks. The latest fumble came courtesy of Damien Harris, who had his second giveaway inside the 10-yard line this season. While speaking to reporters Tuesday, running backs coach Ivan Fears didn't shy away from the issue his backfield has turning the ball over. 

"That's our reputation right now," he said."That's not a secret. Now, let's be honest. It would be crazy for anybody to think anything other than that. We've turned the ball over on key situations going in for scores. That would have given us two games by now. That would have made the difference in two games. So that is a fact that we've got to deal with and ... it's gonna take us all year to get that out of people's mind. All year.

"And believe me, we're going to be working at it; it's not something where anybody's happy about. I don't think the players are happy about it, we're not happy about it. But we've got to -- the only way you change that stat is you do it during play. That's when you change it."

Belichick's post-NFL career advice to Edelman

Julian Edelman's playing days are behind him, but that doesn't mean he's no longer coached by Bill Belichick in some capacity. The former Patriots receiver is still lurking around the game as an analyst for "Inside the NFL." During his latest appearance on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take" podcast, Edelman revealed some advice Belichick gave him as he stepped into the media arena. 

"So I retired this offseason, and I haven't seen (Belichick)," Edelman said, as transcribed by NESN.com. "I end up going to some little shindig, and he was there. It's been publicized that I was doing 'Inside the NFL' for, like, five months. So he looks at me and he goes, 'So, what are you up to now?' I'm like, 'I'm doing 'Inside the NFL,' ' And he looks at me and goes, 'Oh, you're doing media?' And I go, 'Yeah, you know, it's going to be kind of fun.'

"I didn't know what I could say to him. He's scary. He's intimidating. And so he goes, 'Look, you can't be a homer. … If you have to mother(expletive) us, you can mother(expletive) us.' It felt like a mafia meeting. But it was cool. … He was telling me to do my job. But it was fresh out of a movie, like I was (in) 'A Bronx Tale' at an Italian restaurant and I see the old mob boss."

Edelman joins a long list of former Patriots who have transitioned to media jobs following their playing careers. That includes Tedy Bruschi (ESPN), Randy Moss (ESPN), Willie McGinest (NFL Network), Rob Ninkovich (ESPN), and Rodney Harrison (NBC), among others. 

The Mac Jones era in New England has begun following the stunning release of Cam Newton. How will the rookie fare this season and what does it mean for the rest of the Patriots' players? Download the CBS Sports app to find out! Plus, get insight from our resident Patriots insider, Tyler Sullivan. If you already have the CBS Sports app, make sure to pick the Patriots as your favorite team for up-to-the-minute news.