The New Orleans Saints won their first game without Drew Brees as their starting quarterback since November 21, 2005 last Sunday with a 33-27 road victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The Saints gained a total of just 265 yards in the game, but made key plays when it counted and controlled the ball well after special teams and defensive touchdowns sparked a 20-7 halftime lead. New Orleans will likely be without Brees for at least five or six more games, so the offense will be expected to continue to manufacture points in different ways. The 2-1 Saints now host the 3-0 Dallas Cowboys this Sunday, a team that contained their offense and held them to only 10 points last season with Brees in the lineup. With Teddy Bridgewater again under center for the New Orleans offense, let's see how they match up against a Dallas defense that's given up just five touchdowns so far.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. COWBOYS PASS DEFENSE
Lost in the absence of Brees was the fact that Bridgewater won his first start since the season finale of the 2015 season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Bridgewater played a solid and mistake-free game against Seattle, completing 19 of 27 throws for 177 yards with 2 touchdown passes and no interceptions. The 26-yr. old signal caller didn't throw a pass over fifteen yards, but smartly took what the defense gave him underneath. He was particularly effective on drives to end the first half and beginning of the third quarter. Bridgewater was 11-14 for 116 yards and two touchdowns on those 2 drives, extending his team's lead to 27-7. The Saints leading receiver on the year is of course Michael Thomas, who has 25 catches for 266 yards and a score so far. Thomas caught five balls for 54 yards and that touchdown against Seattle, but did not have his first reception until the final drive of the first half. Running back Alvin Kamara, as expected, was heavily involved in the passing game against the Seahawks, and finished with 9 receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. Kamara, arguably the best receiving back in the league, has caught 17 passes for 179 yards and a score thus far this season. Wideout Tre'Quan Smith may miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, but the Saints must get both tight end Jared Cook and receiver Ted Ginn Jr. more involved in the offense. Bridgewater may need to step out of his comfort zone to take downfield shots to Ginn, who has only two catches in the last two games after 7 receptions for 101 yards in the season opener. Cook, arguably the offense's biggest early season disappointment, has 3 drops and has caught only five of his 12 targets for 69 yards. Bridgewater did a nice job moving around the pocket against the Seahawks, but he was the beneficiary of great protection. Saints tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead did an outstanding job of eliminating the Seattle edge rush, while rookie center Erik McCoy keyed an interior effort that prevented inside pressure. The offensive line will have to repeat that performance against a Dallas rush that had alot of success against them last year, a game Armstead missed with injury.
Dallas has given up 246 yards per game, but just 3 scores through the air so far this season. Similar numbers to last year, but they have had sizable leads in each of their three games, forcing opponents to throw more often. Despite increased passing attempts, only five teams have less then the five sacks the Cowboys have accumulated so far, 3 of which came against the Dolphins last week. Dallas does have a disruptive edge, with Demarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn (combined 2.5 sacks this season), but may be without end Tyrone Crawford with a hip injury for the second consecutive game. Lawrence and Quinn are both capable of harassing quarterbacks into mistakes, and are even more effective when tackles Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder, and Maliek Collins provide inside push. Linebackers Jaylon Smith (a very good blitzer) and Leighton Vander Esch are two of the most athletic 'backers in the league, and are capable of staying with any back or tight end in coverage. The Cowboys secondary is a very physical crew, but the knock on them is the lack of turnovers they create. Dallas has yet to record an interception in 2019 after picking off just nine passes last year. Cornerback Byron Jones is one of the best at the position, and sets a physical tone for the rest of the back unit. Chidobe Awuzie is an underrated number two corner, and Jourdan Lewis provides quality depth. Dallas safeties Jeff Heath and Darian Armstrong are both good tacklers, but have limited coverage skills, something that Jared Cook may be able to exploit.
Matchup to Watch:
Michael Thomas vs. Byron Jones
The Cowboys defense limited Brees and the Saints to just 111 net passing yards in a week 13 Dallas victory a year ago. Much of the reason for this was that Kamara struggled to break loose against Smith and Vander Esch, catching eight passes but for only 36 yards. New Orleans wideout Michael Thomas also had a tough game that night though, catching 5 balls but totaling just 40 yards. Thomas and Byron Jones were locked in a fierce physical battle for most of the game, with Jones winning most of the matchups flag-free. Thomas is the most important weapon in the Saints intermediate passing attack, and must win his battles with Jones and the Dallas secondary if the passing game is to be effective.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. COWBOYS RUN DEFENSE
Coach Sean Payton stayed patient with the run game against Seattle last week, allowing the Saints to stay balanced. They netted just 88 yards on the ground, but picked up important yards in a couple key moments. Alvin Kamara has 211 rushing yards and a touchdown while averaging five yards per carry, and is dispelling any remaining doubt that he can be a featured back. Latavius Murray is pushing Jared Cook for the Saints most disappointing offensive player over the year's first month. Outside of a 30-yd. scoring run in week one, Murray has a paltry 22 yards on 12 carries. Taysom Hill has not been used much as a runner so far, but he has shown that he is more than capable of being effective between the tackles. The New Orleans offensive line is one of the NFL's most physical, with guards Larry Warford and Andrus Peat also athletic enough to get to a defense's second level quickly.
The Dallas defense is giving up an average of only 90 yards rushing per game, and had a top-5 rushing defense last year. Part of that statistic this season is misleading upon closer look though. The Cowboys have had sizable leads in each game, often causing the opponent to abandon the run. Dallas is surrendering 4.7 yards per carry, ranking just 21st in the league. Their defensive personnel is nearly identical to the group that was dominated by the Los Angeles Rams for well over 200 rushing yards in last year's playoff loss and surrendered 121 yards to the Giants' Saquan Barkley in the season opener. Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the team's two leading tacklers, and the effectiveness of the run defense is based on their ability to make plays. Although they are spectacular sideline to sideline, neither player has yet to register a tackle for loss, and the Cowboy defense has only five. Tackle Antwaun Woods, one of the Cowboys best interior defenders, will also miss this game with a hamstring injury.
Matchup to Watch:
Kamara vs. Smith/Vander Esch
The Cowboys held Kamara to only 72 total yards in last year's meeting, including 36 rushing. The third year's versatility and dynamic ability is well known, but he also exhibits excellent balance and vision. The Saints line must control the point of attack to get Kamara to the second level, where his gamebreaking skill would be on full display. The Dallas linebackers present a significant challenge to him as a runner and receiver, but Kamara will obviously be a major part of the game plan, with success or failure dependent on his production.
Many of Bridgewater's passes in the last two games have been a bit high, limiting his receivers ability to gain extra yardage after the catch. New Orleans will certainly use Thomas heavily on short and intermediate routes, along with leaning on Kamara in the running game and swing passes. The Saints may need Bridgewater to take a shot or two down the field to loosen the Dallas defense underneath. One wild card could be wideout/return specialist Deonte Harris and his magnificent open field running skills. Payton hinted earlier this week that the rookie could be used on wide receiver screens or end arounds. Establishing the line of scrimmage will be paramount to success. Something that the Saints weren't able to do in last season's 13-10 loss to Dallas, when they were held to just 176 total yards. Bridgewater should be even more comfortable in his second start, and being at home won't encounter the weather issues faced last week in Seattle, which could lead to more down field shots. The Dallas defense has faced offensively-challenged teams in the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins to begin the year. A charged up Superdome crowd for a national television game, coupled with the Saints offensive weapons will test them in a way they have yet to face in 2019. Sean Payton will have a unique and physical game plan focused on balance and around stars Kamara and Thomas. The strategy should prove to be successful, as long as Bridgewater can make the plays asked of him and New Orleans can win the physical battles both up front and at the second level of the Dallas defense.
What is the most important match up for the Saints offense against the Cowboys defense?
This poll is closed
Kamara vs. Smith/Vander Esch
Michael Thomas vs. Byron Jones
Terron Armstead/Ryan Ramczyk vs. DeMarcus Lawrence/Robert Quinn
Jared Cook vs. Jeff Heath/Darian Thompson
Peat/McCoy/Warford vs. Dallas DT's