clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Saints vs. Cowboys Matchups: New Orleans defense vs. Dallas offense

New, comments

Will the Saints defense be able to create enough pressure to defuse a rolling Dallas offense?

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis took over the duties of giving the pregame team huddle speech usually given by the injured Drew Brees prior to the Saints game at Seattle last Sunday. Davis and his teammates then went out and played intense football in all three phases of the game, leading to a 33-27 upset win. New Orleans needs continued team performances like that if they hope to remain in contention until Brees returns from his thumb injury. The 2-1 Saints will especially need inspired efforts on the defensive side of the ball to avoid the prospect of a shootout without their Hall of Fame quarterback. New Orleans did create some big plays against Seattle last week, despite giving up alot of yardage. The Saints now host the undefeated Dallas Cowboys in a prime time showdown this Sunday, hoping that their defense can create more game changing plays to put themselves in position to win a key conference battle.

SAINTS PASS DEFENSE vs. COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE

Dallas Cowboys v New Orleans Saints Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

New Orleans has 9 sacks on the season so far, despite failing to get a sack on Seattle's Russell Wilson in last week's win. Even though they failed to get the mobile Wilson to the ground, the Saints still put heavy pressure on him at times and forced him out of the pocket on numerous occasions. Ends Cameron Jordan, Trey Hendrickson, and Marcus Davenport have combined for six sacks and 12 quarterback hits, consistently disrupting the pass pocket. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is nearing a return from his Achilles injury, but David Onyemata has played well inside, along with contributions from veteran Malcom Brown and rookie free agent Shy Tuttle. While the defensive front has played well to start the season, New Orleans continues inconsistent play through their secondary. Only three teams have given up more passing yards than the Saints after three contests, who have also surrendered six touchdowns through the air and allowed a 100-yd. receiver in all three games. Part of that number is slightly skewed by the fact that Russell Wilson threw the ball 50 times (for 406 yards) after falling behind by 20 points in the third quarter last week. Still, the team continues to have breakdowns on the back end that often lead to big plays. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, P.J. Williams, and Eli Apple have played adequately, but the defense needs more big plays and better lockdown performances from each of them against opposing receivers. Lattimore is among the Saints most active defenders, along with safety Vonn Bell, who has given the team good coverage in the slot. Free safety Marcus Williams has the team's only interception, but the entire unit must cause more big plays than they have to create scoring chances for the offense.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott is making a strong early season case for a huge contract extension. The fourth year quarterback has a 35-16 record as a starter, and has completed 74.5% of his passes for 920 yards with 9 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions so far this season. He has been sacked only two times this year, a testament to not only his mobility but also outstanding protection up front. The Cowboys offensive tackles of Tyron Smith and La'el Collins are among the league's best ,and will present a big challenge for the Saints edge rushers. Prescott's favorite receiver is the underrated Amari Cooper, who has 16 catches for 238 yards and four touchdowns. Dallas will be without injured wideout Michael Gallup, but veteran offseason addition Randall Cobb has 11 receptions for 116 yards plus a touchdown and is extremely dangerous in the open field. Gallup's injury moves former Jets first round draft pick Devin Smith up the depth chart. Smith has great speed, evidenced by his 113 yards on just five receptions, and will test a suspect New Orleans deep coverage. Tight end Jason Witten returns to the Cowboys after a one year retirement, and splits pass catching duties with Blake Jarwin at the position.

Matchup to Watch:

Marshon Lattimore vs. Amari Cooper

NFL: NOV 29 Saints at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lattimore often plays his best when he's asked to match up one on one with the opponent's top wideout. He will likely take on such a task this Sunday against Cooper, who caught all eight of his targets for 76 yards against the Saints a year ago. Cooper has caught 71% of his targets for 82 receptions, 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns in his 14 games with Dallas since joining them in a midseason trade last year. Apple, Williams, and Bell must be able to hold off big plays from Cobb and Smith, but Lattimore's ability to contain Cooper could be the key to limiting the effectiveness of the Dallas passing game.

SAINTS RUSH DEFENSE vs. COWBOYS RUSH OFFENSE

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have surrendered an average of 135 yards per game on the ground and have given up five rushing touchdowns in three games. While that ranks just 25th in this young season, a closer glance reveals a less concerning statistic. The Saints have allowed less than 100 yards per game and just 1 score against opposing running backs, much closer to the effectiveness of the 2018 unit that finished 2nd against the run. Linebacker Alex Anzalone's season ending injury effects the Saints pass defense moreso than against the run, but A.J. Klein and Kiko Alonso will be counted on to make more plays. Demario Davis is probably the Saints best all-around defender, and is a dynamic playmaker against both the run and pass. The New Orleans defensive line must get push up front with and keep the talented Cowboys offensive line from opening up lanes for one of the best running backs in the game.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott has 289 yards and 2 scores while averaging 5.3 yards per rush, and is one of the most consistent offensive players in the league. Rookie Tony Pollard (149 yards, 1 touchdown) provides a nice change of pace, but the offense is built around Elliott's immense talent. The Cowboys offensive line paves the way as well as any in the NFL. Guards Connor Williams and Zack Martin, along with center Travis Frederick pave the way as well as any line in the league, while tackles Smith and Collins set the edge against any defense.

Matchup to Watch:

Demario Davis vs. Ezekiel Elliott

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Elliott is not just a dangerous runner, but an extremely skilled receiver out of the backfield. Davis has the athleticism to match up with the Cowboys All-Pro back. Elliott had the Cowboys lone score in their 13-10 victory over the Saints last November, as he accounted for 135 total yards on 29 touches. Davis had 11 tackles against Dallas last year, and will spearhead the effort to control Elliott. Success in doing so would mean shutting down the Cowboys most important offensive weapon.

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

New Orleans sacked Prescott six times in a 13-10 loss at Dallas last season, led by 3 takedowns from Onyemata and 2 from Cam Jordan. The Saints must again apply heavy pressure on the Cowboys backfield if they arw to have a chance against a Dallas offense that's averaging over 32 points per game. New Orleans has had trouble against mobile quarterbacks this season though, and must get the mobile Prescott to the ground to avoid being vulnerable to the big play. Expect the Saints defensive backs to employ tight coverage at the line against Cooper and the Dallas receivers, hoping that the pass rush cause disruption quickly. Winning the battle at the line will also give Davis more of a free reign, perhaps giving him an advantage in his showdown against Elliott. The Saints defense gave up 515 yards to Seattle last week, but much of that was after New Orleans had jumped to a 27-7 lead. The Saints scored a defensive touchdown, held the Seahawks to just 5-18 on 3rd or 4th downs, and made big plays in a number of short yardage situations. Such performance in key spots must be repeated if the Saints are to emerge with a win against their fellow NFC contender in a prime time showdown.

Poll

Which is the biggest key for the New Orleans defense to contain the Dallas offense?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Jordan/Davenport/Hendrickson vs. Smith/Collins
    (39 votes)
  • 27%
    Marshon Lattimore vs. Amari Cooper
    (45 votes)
  • 22%
    Demario Davis vs. Ezekiel Elliott
    (37 votes)
  • 14%
    Apple/Bell/Williams vs. Cobb/Smith
    (24 votes)
  • 10%
    Onyemata/Tuttle/Brown vs. Williams/Frederick/Martin
    (17 votes)
162 votes total Vote Now