The Dallas Cowboys are riding a 3-game winning streak. More specifically, they are 3 and 1 since acquiring Amari Cooper and limiting the degree to which defenses can stack the box against Ezekiel Elliott. In spite of that, however, it’s worth mentioning this is a team with just one win against an above .500 team -that coming Thanksgiving Day against the 6-5 Redskins. Other such teams against whom they registered loses were the Carolina Panthers (6-5), the Seattle Seahawks (6-5), and the Houston Texans (8-3).
If that was all we were basing this matchup on, what chance could the Boys possibly have against Drew Brees and the mighty 10-1 New Orleans Saints? As it turns out, plenty.
As mentioned above, this team has been a completely different animal offensively ever since Amari Cooper put on the Star. Not only has the presence of a true number one receiver changed the ways defenses have to guard Dallas, allowing Zeke to run roughshod over opposing defenses in the process, but it has even managed to energize the defense… aside from that first game against the Tennessee Titans.
Sure, Dallas’ defense has been solid all season, ranging anywhere from the top 5 to 10 depending on the statistical category, but one area in which the team had largely struggled has now become a hot trend throughout this win streak: turnovers.
Over the past three games, the Cowboys defense has forced 5 of its 13 total takeaways, gifting a once-struggling offense additional possessions and a shorter field to work with. As for whether or not Dallas can continue that trend against the Saints, who have turned the ball over just 9 times all season, remains to be seen. Of New Orleans’ 9 turnovers, however, 2 have come in the form of fumbles on the Saints opening drives. For a team like Dallas, for whom the first two drives are so crucial for building momentum offensively, this could present a golden opportunity.
And while the Saints average more than 416 yards and 37 points per game, this Cowboy defense has held opponents under 20 points on average, good enough for the 7th best scoring defense. If Dallas can even slow Brees and company down a little bit, it could go a long way toward a massive upset.
Another aspect to consider is the run game. Yes, New Orleans is the number 1 rated rush defense but we’ve seen this before. Teams with the ability to get ahead early limit the number of rushing attempts faced throughout a game. This skews the numbers in a way that is not always indicative of a team’s true ability to stop the run. To their credit, the Saints give up 3.6 yards per carry and 73 yards per game this season. But I expect Dallas to exceed that on both fronts.
Throughout the win-streak, Ezekiel Elliott has averaged 131.3 yards per game and 5.79 YPC, reclaiming his place as the league’s leading rusher. The Saints haven’t seen many backs like that this season. The only who would qualify would be Saquon Barkley, a special back lacking an offensive line, and Todd Gurley. Against Gurley, the Saints allowed just 68 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, making it even more evident Dallas will need to start hot in this game. If you fall behind early, Zeke will become a non-factor, and as good as Cooper has been for this offense, Dallas cannot rely solely on Dak Prescott’s arm to win a shootout.
The Saints 10-game win streak is the second longest in franchise history. The franchise’s longest streak, 13 games, came in 2009, where it was brought to an end against the Dallas Cowboys. Obviously, such a fact is trivial at best given the nearly full decade that has passed, but if history is able to repeat itself, this 2018 Cowboys team could propel itself forward into the playoffs just as that 2009 squad did.