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With ex-Cowboys on the team, gamesmanship is in play for Patriots’ trip to Dallas

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The Cowboys will switch up their offensive hand signals Sunday because they’re anticipating that the Patriots will interrogate running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Will Grier for information about the Dallas offense, according to Cowboys offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Elliott played in Dallas for seven seasons before signing with the Patriots as a free agent in August. The Patriots signed Grier, who was part of Dallas’s quarterback room last year, to the 53-man roster last week.

“We’re always aware of it,” Schottenheimer said. “Those are things we monitor every week. But we know Will knows where a lot of the bones are buried. Zeke does as well. So those are things you talk about and you think, ‘OK, let’s adjust this.’ We certainly have more than one hand signal for most of our core concepts.”


Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien chuckled when asked about Schottenheimer’s comments.

“Interrogating!” O’Brien said with a laugh. “He is a good guy. I’ve known [him] for a long time.

“I think that’s the way it is every week in this league. There’s going to be guys that come into your organization of teams that you’re about to play, and it goes both ways. It’s always going to happen. So, at the end of the day, you’ve got to study the film.”

O’Brien took a lighthearted approach in downplaying the role that Elliott and Grier’s knowledge could have in the Patriots’ game-planning.

“I don’t think we’re going to pull a light over anybody and, you know, ‘Tell me what you did on July 20 of 2023,’ ” O’Brien said. “We’re not doing that. We’re not interrogating anybody. We’re just trying to put together the best game plan we possibly can.”

Ezekiel Elliott's seven seasons with the Cowboys gives him some valuable intel on the Patriots' Week 4 opponent.Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

No matter what information the Patriots can mine out of the former Cowboys on their roster, the results on Sunday will come down to how the players execute, O’Brien said.


“Everybody’s got to be on the same page with what we’re doing,” O’Brien said. “I’ve never thought in my years in the league that any of that was a real overriding factor in a win or a loss.

“It comes down to the players on the field, and the coaches putting the players in the first position to make plays, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Next man up front

Keion White, Anfernee Jennings, and Sam Roberts each made his first start of the season Sunday against the Jets. They helped the Patriots smother the run game, as New York had just 38 rushing yards on 22 carries.

But the Patriots’ defensive line depth took a hit when Davon Godchaux and Daniel Ekuale left the game with injuries.

Defensive end Keion White logged the first start of his NFL career on Sunday.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

White, Jennings, and Roberts are all 26 or younger. Jennings, who was drafted in 2020, has been with the Patriots the longest of the three. The Patriots drafted Roberts and White in 2022 and 2023. Linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said it was good to get them some experience early in the season.

“Those guys did well,” Mayo said. “The opportunity really presented itself when we started losing some of those defensive linemen.

“But when you think about a guy like Sam Roberts, for example, we know the upside. We don’t know where he’s going to go as far as a player, but he’s very smart and I would say he brings a different skill set than some of the other guys we have, more of a hybrid skill set. He can play the run and also the pass.


“But any time you’re able to get young guys in the game, it’s not only for that game but also for the future. Building their confidence and building just their overall awareness.

“It’s good to get young guys in the game earlier in the season. At some point in time, you’re going to need those guys anyway.”

Returners needed

The Patriots are exploring a number of options in the return game after Marcus Jones was placed on injured reserve.

Myles Bryant had a kickoff return against the Jets. Demario Douglas and Jabrill Peppers each fielded a pair of punts. Kyle Dugger has gotten reps in practices as a returner, in case the Patriots get in a pinch.

“Marcus obviously is a tremendous talent,” special teams coach Cam Achord said. “But as far as changing things, we rep guys throughout the preseason and throughout training camp. We get guys reps for situations. You’ve got to have the next guy ready, you’ve got to have the third and the fourth guy ready, especially at returner.”

Khari Thompson can be reached at