Although they lead the all time series with the New Orleans Saints 15-10, recent history shows that New Orleans has been anything but The Big Easy to the Dallas Cowboys. The Saints have taken 7 of the last 8 meetings with Dallas, including last December's 34-31 overtime shootout. The outlier, however, was a victory that Cowboys fans have still not forgotten, one that was a rare dent on the Saints' Super Bowl season.
To kick off Week 15 of the 2009 season, fans were treated to the NFL's two remaining undefeated teams playing on NFL Network before Sunday. On Thursday, the Indianapolis Colts kept their streak alive, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars in 35-31 thriller (yes, the Jaguars were actually contenders at one point!) and the Saints were scheduled to take on the Cowboys on Saturday night, December 19. Many experts had given the game to the Saints, and few could blame them. Dallas was coming off brutal back to back losses, further exaggerating the legend that they were unable to win in December. Following a painful 31-24 loss to the divisional rival New York Giants, the Cowboys fell at home to the San Diego Chargers 20-17. They were barely holding to a playoff spot, and things only looked bleak going into New Orleans, especially at the Superdome. Now the Saints had been challenged before the Dallas game, but no one figured Dallas would be the one to help the 1972 Miami Dolphins breathe easier. They came in boasting offensive weapons like QB Drew Brees, RB Reggie Bush, WR Marques Colston, and plenty of other names to give teams nightmares. They were coming a 26-23 win over rival Atlanta, which required a game winning field goal by K Garrett Hartley. By kickoff, the 13-0 Saints were 7.5 favorites over the 8-5 Cowboys, who did receive good news when it was revealed DeMarcus Ware, who was carted off the field late in the San Diego game, was ready to play.
The game got off to a shocking start...the Saints high powered offense got the ball first but went three and out. Starting at their own 21, Tony Romo got the Cowboys to midfield, where he found Miles Austin on a 50 yard strike to put Dallas up 7-0. Many expected a quick New Orleans retaliation, but the Saints again went three and out...the first time they had started a game with back to back three and outs. After Patrick Crayton returned a Thomas Morestead punt 28 yards to the Dallas 40, Romo engineered another scoring drive, getting the Cowboys into the red zone on a 26 yard strike to the Saints 15. Three plays later, RB Marion Barber, ripped all week for not scoring during the Charger game, punched it in from 3 yards out, his first touchdown in seven weeks. Though the Cowboys were up 14-0 after the 1st quarter, the raucous Saints crowd was not panicking. Carolina had jumped out to a 14-0 lead after one on New Orleans six weeks ago, and the Saints ended up winning that one 30-20. The Cowboys did give up a 34 yard Hartley field goal in the second, but negated that with a 44 yarder by K Nick Folk. Folk's field goal was set up by Ware's strip and sack of Brees, whose fumble put Dallas on the New Orleans 24. The Cowboys were up 17-3 at the half, and talks of an upset began to circulate.
On their first 2nd half possession, the Cowboys scored on a 13 play, 74 yard drive that lasted exactly seven minutes. Barber scored his 2nd touchdown of the day, and the Cowboys had a 24-3 lead after three. However, Brees and the Saints offense finally started to wake up. Brees engineered a 9 play, 80 yard drive that made it a 24-10 game, with RB Mike Bell punching in the score from one yard out. Roy Williams's drop led the Cowboys to another punt, and Brees again took the Saints on a scoring drive, this one going 70 yards in 7 plays. Brees threw the score himself this time, a 7 yard pass to WR Lance Moore that sent the Superdome in a frenzy.
The Cowboys got the ball back after a Morestead touchback and quickly faced 3rd and 7. Romo found Miles Austin for a 32 yard gain that put Dallas back into New Orleans territory. They went even deeper on the very next play, a 23 yard hookup with TE John Phillips. Not only was Dallas moving the ball, but they were taking time off the clock as well, forcing New Orleans to start calling their timeouts. Eventually the Saints, after using all their timeouts, forced the Cowboys into a field goal, sending Folk and the rest of the unit out. Folk had not had a good warm up session in the Superdome, and NFL Network was kind enough to play a clip of it before he lined up for a 24 yarder. Folk's attempt clanged off the right upright, and New Orleans got the ball back. It was the 2nd time in 3 weeks that Saints fans had seemed a situation like this play out, as Shaun Suisham's miss from 23 yards gave the Saints the opportunity to pull off a comeback win against Washington. As for Folk, it ended up being his final kick as a member of the Cowboys. He was let go two days later.
Given new life with 2:16 to go, Brees tried to keep the undefeated streak alive. On 4th and 10, he found Colston for a 14 yard gain. Brees eventually worked his way to the Dallas 42, where the Saints faced 2nd and 10 with 12 seconds to go. Brees dropped back and searched for an open receiver downfield....but the ball never made it there. Out of nowhere came...well, Ware. The then-linebacker sacked and stripped Brees for a second time, and the ball was recovered by Jay Ratliff, sealing a 24-17 win for the Cowboys. Romo finished the game 22-34 for 312 yards and a touchdown, with his favorite receiver being Austin who nabbed 7 catches for 139 yards and a TD. Brees, despite his turnovers, finished 29-45 for 298 yards, a touchdown and an interception to Mike Jenkins.
The momentum was huge for the Cowboys. After defeating high powered New Orleans offense, the defense posted back to back shutouts of Washington and Philadelphia en route to the NFC East division title. Even sweeter, they picked up their first playoff win in over a decade, defeating those same Eagles in the NFC Wild Card round. Sadly, a rematch with the Saints was not to be as the Cowboys fell to the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional round. New Orleans, meanwhile, went on to win their first ever Super Bowl title over the Colts that February.
So while New Orleans may go into Sunday night's game favored, just remember...the Cowboys used a prime time win over New Orleans to propel them to a division title before...who's to say they cant do it again
Could NY Giants Be a Surprise Threat in the NFC East?
The NFC East is a wild, wild division. Since 2004, the division that hosts some of the most popular franchises in the NFL hasn't seen the same team winning the NFC East title two years in a row. It's crazy! Who expected the Dallas Cowboys to become the #1 seed in the conference in 2016 after seeing Tony Romo go down during the preseason? Who was able to predict the Philadelphia Eagles' amazing run for the Super Bowl last year?
It's an unpredictable league, but the NFC East side of things can really amaze you on a yearly basis.
Heading into 2018, it all seems to be about the Eagles and the Cowboys. Being the last two teams to win the title, it's only logical to expect them to be the only teams in the division that have what it takes to own the NFC East crown.
But maybe, just maybe, we are overlooking the New York Giants.
Coming from a 3-13 record in 2017, the Giants have quite a bit to prove if they want to become a winning team once again and return to playoff contention. With Odell Beckham missing most of the season and with good ol' Ben McAdoo calling the shots, the team was never able to get a break.
Listen, we all know Eli Manning has been struggling lately. Many thought the Giants should've drafted a quarterback when they held the #2 overall pick back in April. But whether we like it or not, New York seems to have a plan: take advantage of Manning's last years on the field.
Instead of taking a young QB for the future, they drafted the best player available to take the load off Manning's shoulders. Saquon Barkley will probably be able to do what Ezekiel Elliott was able to do in 2016: lead the offense by running the football 20 times a game and have several 100-yard performances.
Not only that, but the front office did make an effort to re-build a disastrous offensive line by bringing in a talented left tackle in Nate Solder and by stealing the UTEP product, Will Hernandez in the second round of the draft. If the Giants are able to finally groom Ereck Flowers into a decent starter at right tackle, this could be a pretty solid offensive line.
Of course, Manning will not only be benefited from the running game, but his superstar wide receiver will be back on the field. Beckham is one of the NFL's best wide receivers and will surely be back at terrifying opposing secondaries week in and week out.
The Giants are bringing in Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher, who did a nice job for the Arizona Cardinals' defense over the last few years. With some talented defensive players, the team might not have the best squad in the league, but it doesn't seem like a defense that will struggle throughout the season.
Last but not least, the Giants will have a new head coach in form of Pat Shurmur. He's had some success in the league, lately as an offensive coordinator for a Minnesota Vikings team that managed to get to the NFC Championship with Case Keenum at QB. It was a good hire for the team, and I'm pretty sure it will be easy to do a better job than McAdoo's work with the Giants.
If I was to make a prediction, I'd say the Giants will have a handful of wins in 2018. However, I don't see them getting back into the postseason just yet. An 8-8 record sounds about right. Having said that, though, it really seems like a team that could surprise everyone and emerge as a surprise contender in the NFC East.
Do you think the New York Giants could be a surprise threat in 2018?
Where Cowboys CB Marquez White Fits In 2018
In the 2017 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys selected four new defensive backs, three of which saw significant playing time during their rookie season.
Those three, of course, are Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods. That fourth defensive back, however, should not be forgotten about as we enter the beginning stages of the 2018 season. That player is former Florida State cornerback Marquez White.
Rather than playing alongside his rookie counterparts in the secondary, White spent time on the Cowboys practice squad in 2017. The former sixth round pick was signed to a futures contract at the end of 2017, however, and now has a chance to compete in camp once again.
Entering their sophomore seasons the starting secondary already appears to be taking shape. Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones are just about locked in to the outside cornerback jobs, Xavier Woods is expected to start at safety beside Jeff Heath, and Jourdan Lewis is battling with now third year player Anthony Brown for the slot corner role.
So where does Marquez White fit into all of this?
Well, the aforementioned players are locks to make the 53-man roster, but Marquez White should be the favorite to win the 5th cornerback spot going forward. White's raw talent is undeniable, and he has the ability to play under both man and zone responsibilities.
The main reason we should be optimistic about Marquez White's chances to land on the final roster, however, is his athletic profile. At 6'0" tall, just under 200 pounds, and long arms White fits the mold for what new secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard tends to look for in his cornerbacks.
And, for better or for worse, Richard clearly values these measureables highly. This is evident in how second year corner Jourdan Lewis has been used thus far in mini camp and offseason activities; being relegated to second team and the slot rather than allowed to compete for an outside cornerback job with Awuzie and Jones.
So with the arrival of Kris Richard, the departure of Orlando Scandrick, the underwhelming play of Anthony Brown, and the raw talent he already possesses, Marquez White has a very strong chance of making the final 53-man roster in Dallas.
Can Jaylon Smith Challenge Vander Esch For Starting MIKE Role?
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world basically assumed he would be the starting MIKE linebacker week one of the upcoming season.
After all, the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens to free agency and none of the injury replacements had much success during the 2017 season.
Now just a couple of months shy of that week one match up with the Carolina Panthers, a battle for that middle linebacker spot appears to be occurring.
Former 2016 second round pick Jaylon Smith has seemed to find his health, and his movement skills and agility look like they did back when he was at Notre Dame. Whether or not these offseason hype videos will actually mean anything on the field remains to be seen, but just the fact that Smith is working out and playing without the knee brace is obviously a good sign.
Unlike Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith did play for the Dallas Cowboys a year ago. Sure Smith had his share of growing pains, but he seemed to find his groove late in the season. It probably isn't a coincidence, though, that Smith's best games came when coming off the bench in a limited role and when playing beside veteran Sean Lee.
During the offseason activity thus far Jaylon Smith has gotten the majority of snaps at middle linebacker, but Vander Esch has also been sidelined with an injured ankle. Leighton Vander Esch clearly fits the mold of a MIKE both physically and athletically, but at his best Jaylon Smith does as well.
Despite the resurgence of Jaylon Smith and the injury to Leighton Vander Esch, I still do expect Vander Esch to snag that MIKE role moving forward. While showing glimpses of productive play, Smith did not impress enough to earn him the unquestioned starting job last season, and may best fit as a SAM backer and situational pass rusher/blitzer in the current scheme.
Allowing Jaylon Smith to conserve his energy and provide a boost off the bench is the best way for the Cowboys to structure their defense. Of course, this is only true as long as Vander Esch becomes the player they expect him to be, though.
If Jaylon Smith does return to the player he was at Notre Dame prior to his horrific injury, the Cowboys will possess three incredibly rangy, athletic, and talented linebackers on their roster.
Of course, that if is a very big if at this point, however.
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