With the 10-1 New Orleans Saints coming to town, much of the Dallas Cowboys fan base is preparing themselves for the potential letdown to come tonight on Thursday Night Football. Riding high during this three-game winning streak, there’s a lot of optimism, but if we’re keeping it real, this game looks like an insurmountable task for the Cowboys.
Man, I hope I’m wrong.
The Saints are the best team in the NFC. They beat the Los Angeles Rams and put a whoopin’ on the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. It was an eye-opening, cold-blooded beat down that put the rest of the league on notice.
The Saints have won 10 in a row since their week one defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they’ve been scoring at an incredible rate along the way. This is a game that has the looks of a Saints win, but it’s an “any given Sunday” (or in this case, Thursday) league. The Dallas Cowboys have the personnel to beat the Saints, but a lot has to go right.
With that, here are some final thoughts.
Pressure the Passer
A lot of pundits will tell you that getting pressure on New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees is the defensive key to the game, and they’d be right. It’s huge. Problem is, Brees doesn’t let himself get pressured very much.
Brees has only been pressured on 23.8% of his drop backs in 2018, which is the second lowest rate in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 250 drop backs. His 61% completion percentage while under pressure is also second in the NFL.
There are several reasons for that, but the first is Drew Brees’ ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly. He’s third in the NFL in time to attempt at 2.41 seconds. Brees makes quick decisions and lets the ball fly. For perspective, Dak Prescott is releasing the ball closer to 2.8 seconds on average. A nearly half-second difference may not seem like much, but every hundredth of a second in the NFL matters.
Another reason is that Drew Brees has weapons in Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara who get open quickly with their quickness and route running and give excellent windows to throw to. Brees is an amazingly accurate passer and is leading the NFL in completion percentage at 76.4%. The next best passer rating is Matt Ryan and he’s five percentage points lower than Brees.
So how can the Dallas Cowboys hope to slow down this amazingly efficient passing game?
The answer lies in their coverage.
This game is going to require an excellent effort from the linebackers and the defensive backs to not allow the New Orleans Saints pass catchers to get quick and easy releases. We know Byron Jones will have a good game and will help to limit the damage done by Thomas, but the Cowboys need Chidobe Awuzie to have his best game of the season this week.
Awuzie’s become the focus of opposing team’s passing attacks because he hasn’t consistently been able to keep receivers from maki g catches, even when he’s in the right spot. He needs to make some plays on the football and not allow any big plays to his side of the field.
I would like to see them play more press man with the linebackers providing some zone help underneath to take away quick and easy completions by Kamara and Thomas.
The Dallas defense will have to be really good against the run, which they have been all year to keep the Saints in less than manageable down and distances. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the history of the NFL. They bring different body sizes and running styles, but both aren’t excellent runners who would challenge for the league lead in rushing if given 250-300 carries.
Dallas and Dak are Rolling
For the first time in forever, the Dallas Cowboys Offense looks like a formidable foe. They’ve been able to consistently run the football and the passing game broke open for a couple long scores last week against the Washington Redskins.
Those two long Amari Cooper touchdowns are huge for the confidence of this offensive group moving forward. They haven’t been able to find explosive plays on offense prior to the last three weeks. Having another weapon in Cooper on the outside puts more stress on the defense, which will continue to open up opportunities for everyone else, most notably Michael Gallup and Cole Beasley.
For nearly a year, teams defended Beasley by bracketing him with two defenders. They discovered he was Dak Prescott’s favorite weapon and the Cowboys passing game didn’t look the same. Now with Cooper to garner some attention, Beasley, who is still a very important player moving the chains and in the red zone, will find more room to run as teams begin to shade coverage Cooper’s direction.
The Cowboys passing game is the key to their chances of victory on Sunday and I think they’ve begun to hit their stride at the right time of the season. Obviously they’ll want to get the running game going, but they need to find a rhythm early in the game through the air to provide the best opportunity for success for the running game.
Force Field Goals
Obviously it’s easier said than done, but the Dallas Cowboys defense can’t break or at least can’t break very much for the Cowboys to have a chance to beat the Saints.
How good has The @Saints offense been this season? The Saints have scored on a league-leading 61 % of their drives. According to Elias, that would be the highest rate for any team since the schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978.
Remember how dominant the Tom Brady and Randy Moss-led New England Patriots were? They went undefeated in the regular season and the AFC Playoffs and were unreal offensively before running into the New York Giants dominant front four in the Super Bowl.
Well, the Saints led by Drew Brees have been even better.
The Cowboys can’t give up big plays and have to be excellent in the red zone, like they were against the Houston Texans. Have to make the Saints settle for field goals, because they are going to get into scoring range more often than not. Don’t allow them fourth and short opportunities so they don’t have a decision to make.
Its going to take a total team effort from all 46 guys that suit up tonight, but the Cowboys have the talent to pull it off.
I see this game being a bit of a high scoring affair, but the Cowboys keep the Saints from breaking the 30 point mark. I believe the Dallas Cowboys are in the right track and are well positioned for a playoff berth. This isn’t absolutely a game they can win, I just don’t think they will. The Dallas Cowboys offense’s will play well, but I think the Saints take this one in a close game. Regardless of the outcome of this game, the Cowboys are heading in the right direction.
Saints 27 - Cowboys 24
Who you got?
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
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