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Inside The Numbers: Cowboys’ Defense Key to Week 4 Victory Over Saints

Coming into this week 4 matchup with the New Orleans Saints, national observers and fans of other teams have been reluctant to describe the Dallas Cowboys as a good team, despite their success the first three weeks. There are doubters everywhere, which makes this game a very important one for the confidence of the Dallas Cowboys moving forward.

If the Cowboys are who we think they are, then they’ll find a way to win this game against a tough opponent in one of the toughest environments in the NFL. With the whole world watching on Sunday Night Football, this is an opportunity for the Dallas Cowboys to prove to themselves and to the rest of the NFL that the results of the first three games of the season aren’t a result of who they played. They have a chance to prove to the world that they are in fact a legit NFC contender.

This week marks a rematch of the week 13 game that saw the Cowboys take out one of the best teams in the NFL to that point in a 13-10 defensive struggle. The performance by the defense in that game was nearly perfect and they’ll have to be as good to come out on top this week.

Let’s go Inside The Numbers.

Can’t Tackle What You Can’t Touch

Team tackling will be the most important factor in this week’s matchup with the New Orleans Saints. Running backs Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara rank second and third in Pro Football Focus’ “elusive rating.” This rating is calculated by factoring in missed tackles forced, touches, and yards after contact.

Murray is second in the NFL in yards after contact per attempt, while Kamara ranks 13th, per PFF. Kamara, on the other hand is second in the league in avoided tackles.

The Dallas Cowboys defense has had some issues with tackling in the first three weeks of the season, though they’ve played a few elusive and physical backs in Saquon Barkley, Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Kenyan Drake, and Kalen Ballage. The name of the game for the defense will be a total team effort.

They’re really good at getting several players to the ball carrier in order to bring players down and they’ll have to do so this week as well. On the outside Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis will need to keep containment and not allow clean escapes for the running backs to the outside. If they aren’t able to get the back or receiver down on their tackle attempt, they’ll have to at least slow them down for another player to finish them off.

Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, Sean Lee, Jeff Heath, and Xavier Woods will need to be at the top of their games roaming sideline to sideline. That’s how the Cowboys were able to beat the Saints in week 13 last year. An excellent tackling performance. In order to get to 4-0, they’ll need the same kind of effort tonight.

Saints Scoring but Not Dominant Offensively

While the New Orleans Saints have done a good job putting points on the board, it’s been a total team effort.

In week three against the Seattle Seahawks, the Saints were the beneficiaries for a special teams score on the first punt return of the game and a defensive score to start their scoring off. The rest of the offense managed 20 points, but were playing with a lead for most of the game.

In week two when Drew Brees went down with his thumb injury, the Teddy Bridgewater-led Saints only scored nine points in their NFC Championship Game rematch with the Los Angeles Rams.

Brodgewater is a good quarterback but he’s not Drew Brees.

On the Season, the Saints offense ranks 12th in points for, 22nd in yards, 13th in yards per play, 21st in yards per attempt, 20th in air yards per attempt, and 18th in quarterback rating.

Where they’ve been really good as a passing offense is in sacks allowed, as they’ve only allowed three.

They’ve made a concerted effort to get the ball out of Bridgewater’s hands with safe throws, but heading home to New Orleans, I wonder if they’ll allow him to take some shots deep. In week three he attempted only one pass beyond 15 yards per Next Gen Stats.

With an emphasis on the short passing game, it’s going to be difficult for the Dallas Cowboys to generate a lot of pressure. Again, this puts the emphasis on tackling.

Cowboys Putting Up All the Numbers

Where the Saints have had to get scoring in a variety of ways, it’s the Cowboys offense doing all the heavy lifting in the early going. Dallas ranks fifth in points, third in yards, second in yards per play, fourth in total first downs, and third in scoring percentage.

Regular season Tom on Twitter

Just found another interesting set of numbers. The Cowboys are sixth in passing yards this season. But they are only 27th in passing attempts.

The success of the 2019 Dallas Cowboys offense can mostly be attributed to the improvement and success of the Dallas Cowboys passing attack. They’ve been incredibly explosive and efficient in the passing game. Dak Prescott has put up the best completion percentage, QBR, and quarterback rating of his career through the first three games of the season. He’s on pace to shatter his previous career highs in yards and touchdowns.

AdamJT13 on Twitter

Also second in points per drive (3.34) despite having the second-worst average starting field position (own 22.3). https://t.co/44MhNPw7rj

The Dallas Cowboys are scoring at an incredible rate given they’ve started with the third worst field position through three weeks of play. In fact, no team in the top ten in points per drive has a worse average than the Dallas Cowboys. They start their drives on average at their own 23.3 yard line. For reference, the Kansas City Chiefs start a drive on average at their own 29.9 yard line. That six yards per drive makes a difference in field position.

Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys are concerting third downs at an NFL best 58.1%. In the red zone, they’re scoring touchdowns at the third best rate in the NFL at 81.8%.

That’s an excellent combination for excellent offense.

Dallas Defense Not Dominant, but Good

A lot has been made about the Dallas Cowboys defense not dominating their opponents with sacks and turnovers, and I think that’s been a bit overblown. The three teams they’ve faced have attempted to get the ball out quickly against the Cowboys pass rush.

Though they haven’t converted a bunch of sacks, they’ve had effective pressure on their opponents, forcing short passes or off target throws. They’re doing a good job at limiting the amount of points scored. They’re third in the NFL points allowed and fourth in the league in touchdowns allowed.

Yes, they’re giving up yards, but they’re also clamping down when teams cross the 50 or get into scoring range. It would be nice if they forced more three and outs, but they’re doing what needs to be done to win the football games.

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Prediction

This game has the makings of a very tight contest, one that will be in doubt until we’ll into the fourth quarter. Both sides are playing good football and the Saints are coming off of a huge win on the road in Seattle.

The Dallas Cowboys may not be nearly as battle tested as the Saints, but they’re coming in with big wins over two divisional opponents and shook off some early game struggles against the Miami Dolphins.

The Saints have playmakers on both sides of the football, but I still see the Dallas Cowboys as the more talented team. It won’t be an easy win like we’ve grown accustomed to early in the 2019 season, but it will be a Dallas Cowboys victory.

Dallas Cowboys 27 – New Orleans Saints 20

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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