The 2-1 New Orleans Saints host the 3-0 Dallas Cowboys this evening on NBC's Sunday Night Football. This is the 30th meeting between the Saints and Cowboys, with Dallas owning a 17-12 record against their Louisiana neighbor. The Saints do hold an 8-6 series lead over Dallas in New Orleans however, where tonight's meeting will be played. Often a marquee matchup, this will be the 9th time the Cowboys and Saints have met since coach Sean Payton took over at the helm for New Orleans in 2006, with the eighth game between the two being held on either a holiday or in front of a prime time audience.
The Saints and Cowboys were divisional rivals for a brief time. New Orleans and Dallas were each members of the NFL's Capitol Division in 1967 (the Saints first season) and again in 1969 before the AFL/NFL merger. Their first meeting was in the Cotton Bowl, then the Cowboys home stadium, on October 15, 1967. Dallas won the game 14-10, sending the Saints to their fifth straight loss to start their existence. They would have a rematch just a month later, this time in the Saints home of Tulane Stadium, but the Cowboys again emerged as victor, this time by a 27-10 score. Dallas would actually win the first five times the two would meet (three in New Orleans) and 11 of the first 12 games between the two from 1967-1988. The first time the Saints would defeat the Cowboys would be on October 17, 1971 in Tulane Stadium. The home Saints were outgained by the visiting Cowboys 300-157 in total yardage. The New Orleans defense sacked Dallas quarterbacks Craig Morton and Roger Staubach five times, and forced six turnovers in a 24-14 Saints victory. The Cowboys dominated more than just the Saints through the 1970's and early '80's, with a team littered with Hall of Famers like Staubach, coach Tom Landry, running back Tony Dorsett, Bob Hayes, and defenders like Randy White, Mel Renfro, and Bob Lilly. By the mid 80's, all of the Dallas superstars had began to retire though, and the franchise was just a shell of it's once dominant form. During that same period, New Orleans had built a perennial playoff contender of their own.
The Saints defeated the Cowboys in both 1988 and 1989 (both games in New Orleans), just the second and third wins over their Texas rivals after twelve tries. The second of those two victories came in the 1989 season opener, on September 10th in the Superdome, in what was the first regular season game for new Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson as well as future Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman. Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert completed 16 of his 19 pass attempts, and the New Orleans offense rolled up 199 rushing yards during a 28-0 win, the only shutout by either team in the series. Dallas would subsequently beat the Saints the next three times they played after that loss though from '91-94, as the Cowboys built a team that would win three Super Bowl titles in the span of four years. As that dominant Dallas team began to dissemble in the late-1990's though, the Saints would start to take control of this series.
Since 1998, the Saints hold a 9-3 record against Dallas, with a 5-1 advantage at home. In 2006, New Orleans would hire Cowboys offensive coordinator Sean Payton to take over their head coaching duties, and since then the franchise has had a run of success that they'd so often have to watch their Texas rivals enjoy. Payton's Saints would travel to Dallas to take on his former team during his very first season. New Orleans would fall behind 7-0 early, but rampage for 42 points through the second and third quarters to roll over their rivals. Saints quarterback Drew Brees would throw for 384 yards and five touchdowns and get a combined 288 yards from scrimmage from running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush on the way to a 42-17 victory. The Cowboys would exact a small measure of revenge three years later during the Saints 2009 Super Bowl championship season. On a Saturday evening in New Orleans on December 19th, Payton's Saints would host his former employer and in possession of a 13-0 record. The Cowboys would bottle up the New Orleans rushing attack that evening though, forcing three turnovers and sacking Brees four times. Dallas would outgain the Saints in total yardage, and after jumping out to a 17-3 halftime lead held on for a 24-17 win. It would be the only time the Cowboys would beat the Saints in New Orleans during the Payton/Brees era. New Orleans would beat Dallas the next three times they'd face after that evening, but wouldn't host them again until the 2013 season.
Fans in attendance for the prime time showdown between the Saints and Cowboys on Sunday November 10, 2013 in New Orleans would witness historical offensive production from the home team. The Saints defense played well, holding Dallas to only 9 first downs and 193 total yards, but the home team's offense would put on a showstopping performance this night. Drew Brees would complete 34 of his 41 pass attempts for 392 yards and four touchdowns, finding receiver Marques Colston 7 times for 107 yards and a score. Not to be outdone, Saints running back Mark Ingram would run for 145 yards and a score, spearheading the team's 242 rushing yards on the night. New Orleans would roll up an incredible 40 first downs and 625 total yards on their way to a 49-17 pasting of the Cowboys, the most points scored by either team in 29 games against each other. The last meeting between these two in the Superdome was a much closer battle on October 4, 2015. The Saints had stumbled into the game after an 0-3 start to the season. Brees was brilliant again, throwing for 359 yards and two touchdowns, but a late Cowboys score would tie the game and send it into overtime. On just the second play of the extra period, Brees would find running back C.J. Spiller down the right sideline for a spectacular 80-yd. touchdown pass and a 26-20 victory.
Defenses ruled the night when the Saints and Cowboys met in Dallas last season in a November 29 Thursday night clash. New Orleans sacked Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott 7 times, but the Cowboys defense held Brees and the Saints offense to only 176 total yards and 14 first downs in a 13-10 Cowboys victory. New Orleans will be without Brees for this game, with the future Hall of Famer missing at least another month with a thumb injury. Teddy Bridgewater will get his second consecutive for the Saints, after playing mistake free football in a 33-27 win at Seattle last week.
The New Orleans defense has played well up front this season, led by spectacular efforts from end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis. The Saints will look to again heavily pressure Prescott to contain the Dallas passing game, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore looks to be locked up on Dallas star wideout Amari Cooper in a key coverage battle. The Saints hope to control Cowboys All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott starts by winning the battle up front against a very good Dallas offensive line, leaving Davis in a showdown with Elliott.
Offensively, the Saints need to protect Bridgewater up front and open holes for a running game that struggled in last year's match up. New Orleans wideout Michael Thomas was contained last year by Dallas corner Byron Jones in what was a war between two extremely physical players. Cowboys linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are both extremely athletic, and were able to shut down Saints dynamic playmaker Alvin Kamara last season. The New Orleans offense will lean heavily on the talents of both Kamara and Thomas, even moreso with the absence of Brees. They could look to finally free up tight end Jared Cook, who has been a disappointment this season, in an effort to manufacture yards and points. New Orleans played extremely intense in all phases without their leader while winning in a difficult venue last week in Seattle, and will undoubtedly come out just as focused in front of their home fans. The Saints were beaten physically on both sides of the ball by the Cowboys last November, something that Payton and the coaching staff have reminded players of all week. Even with a backup quarterback behind center, do not expect the same result.