The Dallas Cowboys will get their toughest test of the season in week four when they travel to the “Big Easy” to take on the New Orleans Saints. Though familiar faces exist — Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and Cameron Jordan — there will be a new face at quarterback this week as the Dallas Cowboys attempt to start the season 4-0: Teddy Bridgewater.
Teddy Bridgewater made his first start in a game of consequence for the first time since quarterbacking the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card round of the playoffs at the end of the 2016 season.
Bridgewater’s career was off to a nice start for the Vikings before suffering a knee injury in training camp of 2017. In his first 28 starts, Bridgewater posted a completion percentage of 65% and a passer rating of 87. Not bad for his first couple of seasons in the NFL. Over that 28 game span, he had 32 total touchdowns to only 21 interceptions, helping the Vikings back to the playoffs.
When the former Louisville standout got hurt in the training camp of 2016, it sparked a series of events that saw Case Keenum lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship game and Kirk Cousins get a fully guaranteed contract. As the Vikings attempted to find their franchise quarterbacks elsewhere, they eventually dealt Teddy Bridgewater to the New York Jets, who later flipped him to the New Orleans Saints.
This offseason, with Drew Brees nearing retirement, Bridgewater agreed to a contract that would make him the richest backup quarterback in the NFL and likely the heir to Drew Brees’ quarterback mantle.
His first start against the Seattle Seahawks was a success, as the Saints jumped out to a 27-7 lead in Seattle with help from their defense and a special teams score. Smartly, New Orleans Saints Head Coach and play-caller Sean Payton didn’t ask him to do a whole lot in the game as the Saints held on for the important NFC victory.
Speaking of Sean Payton, when I was finishing college in 2004 and he was still a member of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, I sold his wife a button-down while working for Banana Republic. Bet y’all didn’t know that I had that fashion knowledge to go with my football knowledge. Okay, moving on.
As you can see from Teddy Bridgewater’s week three passing chart provided by Next Gen Stats, the Saints passing attack didn’t ask him to get very aggressive in the game plan. Bridgewater only attempted 11 of his 27 passes beyond ten yards and had only one attempt beyond 15 yards. Shockingly, he had 12 attempts at or behind the line of scrimmage. When throwing beyond 5 yards downfield, Bridgewater was only six of 12 on the day. Though he averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, he only averaged 3.3 air yards per attempt in the game against Seattle per Sharp Football Stats.
Through the air, the New Orleans Saints were able to manage a 56% success rate despite throwing the ball short of the first down marker on a regular basis. That’s because the Saints were able to kill the Seahawks with yards after the catch. Of their 177 receiving yards on Sunday, the Saints gained 137 of them after the catch at 7.2 yards per after the catch per reception. That’s 77.4% of their receiving yardage coming after the catch. For context, in the first three weeks of the season, the Dallas Cowboys are allowing only 46% of their receiving yards after the catch. On the season, the Cowboys are allowing just 4.56 yards per reception after the catch.
Alvin Kamara, one of the most dangerous players in the NFL after the catch actually had more yards after the catch (105) than he had receiving yards (92).
It’s probable that the Saints took a conservative approach in the passing game to take some of the pressure off of Bridgewater as he made his first start in a meaningful game in several years. Playing in Seattle, a notoriously difficult place for the road team also may have played a factor in the gameplan put together by Sean Payton. Heading home to New Orleans with a big road win against a contending NFC opponent should give a boost of confidence to Bridgewater and Payton as they prepare for the Dallas Cowboys this week.
A former first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater is a very capable quarterback and it’s likely that Sean Payton will give him more options downfield this week. However, if the Saints employ a similar strategy to minimize risk against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, it will be imperative for the Cowboys to tackle efficiently. The Dallas Cowboys will need to rally to the ball well in order to prevent Kamar from busting big plays in the running game or after the catch.
Though Drew Brees won’t be playing in this game, the New Orleans Saints still have a lot of weapons that can beat the Dallas Cowboys and despite not starting much in the last few years, Teddy Bridgewater has the talent to make plays in the passing game. This has the feel of a closely contested matchup, much like the week 13 game from a year ago.
The Dallas Cowboys defense will need to put on a tackling clinic this Sunday night if they want to have the same kind of success they’ve had to start the season. They can’t allow Bridgewater and Payton to get in a rhythm offensively. With Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, and Cowboys’ killer Jared Cook on the outside and Alvin Kamara making plays out of the backfield, there is very little margin for error for the Cowboys defense.