This Thursday, the 10-1 Saints will take on the recently surging Cowboys who have turned their season around with a three game win streak. Riding their own 10 game win streak, the Saints have steam rolled their opponents and refused to fall into any trap games.
Looking at the remainder of the Saints’ schedule, this road game in Jerry World may actually be the toughest of trap games. The renewed Cowboys defense has found new life behind two former Boise State standouts, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
Currently ranked seventh overall, the Cowboys defense has given up 331 yards and 19.4 points per game compared to the 15th ranked Saints defense, which has given up 358 yards and 23.3 points per game. The Cowboys also hold opposing passing offenses to roughly 50 yards less per game than the Saints.
Though both run defenses are excellent and give up less than a 100 yards per game, the Saints’ number one ranked run defense yields 20 less yards per game than the Cowboys. Offensive power is what sets these teams apart more.
The Saints average 37 points per game while the Cowboys average 21 points. Though I’m confident the Saints offense will maintain their dominant form, my memory of their loss to the Cowboys in 2009 has me feeling a nagging bit of apprehension.
After starting the 2009 season 13-0, the Saints lost to the Cowboys at home 24-17. I know, this is a game being played almost ten years later and these teams’ rosters have almost completely turned over. In fact, the only current players that played in that game are Jermon Bushrod, Thomas Morstead, and Drew Brees.
But I still see many similarities to the positions both teams find themselves in today. While the Saints are again close to locking up their division and are making a final push for the number one seed, the Cowboys are fighting for their division title and a win this Thursday would increase their chances of doing so by 80%.
Former Cowboys running back Marion Barber is long gone, but an even more explosive runner in the form of Ezekiel Elliott has taken his place. Barber scored two of the Cowboys three touchdowns in 2009 and Elliot is more than capable of repeating a similar performance.
There was even another DeMarcus ruining Brees’ plans back in 2009, DeMarcus Ware. Just as Brees was leading the Saints down the field at the end of the first half down 14-3, Ware sacked Brees causing a fumble which was recovered by Dallas. The Cowboys squeezed another field goal in before halftime to put the Boys up 17-3.
Later, in the fourth quarter, after the Saints had surged back into the game, Ware sacked Brees again causing another fumble which was again recovery by Dallas. Game over. The Cowboys’ current DeMarcus, DeMarcus Lawrence, is just as explosive. With 8.5 sacks and a forced fumble, Lawrence can easily recreate Ware’s memorable performance.
The keys to the Cowboys’ upset of the Saints in 2009 were causing turnovers and controlling time of possession. The Saints had three turnovers including Ware’s two forced fumbles and an interception by Mike Jenkins on a pass intended for Devery Henderson. The Saints’ time of possession was a paltry 23 minutes and 34 seconds to the Cowboys’ 36 minutes and 26 seconds.
I bet these facts aren’t lost on Sean Payton or Drew Brees. Securing the football and maintaining possession with a solid ground game are absolutely crucial for the Saints to continue their hot streak and keep the Cowboys from replicating their 2009 upset.
Don’t be fooled by the Cowboys’ 6-5 record. They are more dangerous now than any other time during this season. A loss to an NFC team could be the difference in a tie breaker for the top seeds in the Conference, and the Saints know this. And they have Bushrod, Morstead, and Brees to remind them of the importance of not over looking any of their opponents from week to week.
The lessons from that December 2009 upset are still applicable today, and the Saints now have the blueprint to learn from them and continue their quest towards their ultimate goal.