FOXBORO — The New England Patriots have seen their share of big receivers and pass-catching tight ends this season.
But the Dallas Cowboys?
They have the kind of three-headed receiving monster unlike anything this Patriots defense has seen all season. When talking about the Cowboys' passing attack, you have to start with tight end Jason Witten, the team's leader in receptions (27), yards (366) and Pro Bowl selections (7).
"I evaluate (Witten) as one of the all-time greats," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "There's a lot of good tight ends in the league and there's good players at every position, but he's as good as any player and I'm glad we only play him once every whatever it is -- three or four years -- that's plenty."
Dallas also has 6-foot-2 Miles Austin, who had more than 1,000 yards receiving a year ago. And rounding out their trio of talented pass-catchers, is 6-2 Dez Bryant who is . . . we'll let Pats safety Patrick Chung tell you about Bryant.
"He's good. He's big, fast, strong," Chung said of Bryant. "He knows how to go up there and get the ball. He's good after the catch. He's a beast."
New England has had mixed results this season in dealing with big-time wide-outs and tight ends. In the 38-24 win to open the season against Miami, the Patriots had lots of problems trying to contain 6-4 Brandon Marshall who had seven catches for 139 yards.
The following week, New England defeated the San Diego Chargers 35-21, despite Vincent Jackson having a huge game. The Patriots took away San Diego's top receiver at the time -- tight end Antonio Gates -- and did not allow him to make a single catch. Gates had just one ball thrown his way.
"They made it difficult for me to get off the ball," Gates said following the loss. "They made it difficult for me to make a play on a ball. Every time I looked around, there were two guys around me. They had a game plan. They wanted to take me out of the game, and that's exactly what they did."
A similar approach to defending the Cowboys, however, seems unlikely.
Trying to take out any one of their Big Three receiving targets would in all likelihood create more opportunities for the other two to make plays.
However, having seen a number of large receivers and other talented tight ends already this season, should bode well this week for the Patriots in preparation for a Dallas passing attack that's ranked third in the NFL.
"It always helps that this is not the first time we've seen it, going against different guys this season," said Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, who leads the Pats in tackles with 39. "The biggest thing is just the physical nature of the bigger receivers. Most of the time, they're bigger than the corners they're facing. They try and use that to their advantage."
And the Patriots will try to use the momentum gained from a solid defensive performance last week against the Jets, as a springboard going into the Cowboys game.
"That's what you want, to get better from one week to the next," said Patriots defensive lineman Shaun Ellis. "I think with us and our defense, we're doing that."