The Dallas Cowboys performance against the New Orleans Saints will be remembered for how the defense showed up and played four quarters of dominant football. There were strip sacks, there was a great fourth-down stop, and it even included a game-ending interception. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen them do in those color rush jerseys and now the league is on notice - the Cowboys defense is pretty darn good.
The pass rush was fantastic, led by soon-to-be super rich defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. He talked the talk this week with some choice words that demonstrated the confidence he had in his teammates and they all had his back and walked the walk. It wasn’t just Lawrence that was all over the place. Maliek Collins was extremely disruptive, Tyrone Crawford quietly plays well, and Antwaun Woods was making key short-yardage stops. Even Randy Gregory, who had a slew of mental mistakes that resulted in penalties, was flying around causing all kinds of havoc for the Saints left tackle. The “Hot Boyz” were certainly hot that night.
And let’s not forget the great play of the linebacker group. Leighton Vander Esch was howling all night (and so was my living room) as he was weaving through blockers attacking the ball carrier. Jaylon Smith was outstanding and came up huge near the goal line with big open field tackle on Alvin Kamara on third down. That duo is going to be special for years to come. Sean Lee wasn’t allowed to be a member of the Hot Boyz, so Ezekiel Elliott’s mom suggested the linebackers come up with their own nickname. Any ideas?
While the front seven have been nothing short of magnificent, the secondary had themselves an outstanding game against the Saints pass offense. Drew Brees was held to just 127 yards passing which is just unheard of and it was a collective effort from the corners that got the job done.
Byron Jones is having his best season, which just so happens to be his first full year at cornerback. Michael Thomas gave him fits at times as Jones would get flagged for a couple penalties, but overall - it was still a good performance from the Cowboys new shutdown corner.
Byron Jones has probably been the BEST cornerback in the NFL this season. Good work at the line of scrimmage. Take away the space. Make the receiver work laterally. Strong punch w/inside hand. Wash receiver down the line. Break up pass. He’s consistent with his technique. pic.twitter.com/pXbGRJNLCW— CrockTIME (@eric_crocker) November 30, 2018
Jones has been consistent and he’s showing up week after week. His name has always come up in the Pro Football Focus grade rankings this year and now he is the “success rate” leader.
Byron Jones has allowed a 50% catch rate, and on seven of his 23 catches allowed, he’s made a tackle for a stop. That 65.2% success rate is the best rate for all cornerbacks this year. #CowboysNation— PFF DAL Cowboys (@PFF_Cowboys) November 29, 2018
Read: https://t.co/fqnq9ks6x2 pic.twitter.com/knOwihh6Hq
Opposing team's view Byron Jones' side of the field pic.twitter.com/qpe6rkK425— Dalton Miller (@Cowboys_DBM) November 30, 2018
On the other side of Jones is second-year corner Chidobe Awuzie. He doesn’t get the recognition Jones gets, but Chido can make plays.
This is just fantastic coverage by Chidobe Awuzie. Dallas was sitting on the underneath stuff all game long. pic.twitter.com/0dLQcl6JUF— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 30, 2018
If there is a knock on Awuzie, it’s that sometimes he doesn’t get his head turned around and that causes him to miss out on some pass break ups or interceptions, but you can always count on him to be smothering his man in coverage.
While Jones and Awuzie are the two outside corners that have impressed, the depth of this group is what limits their opponent’s passing attack. Anthony Brown is having a great rebound season. Against the Saints, he did a great job breaking up passes, was a strong tackler, and for the second time in as many games - had a sack on a blitz play. Even on the Saints only touchdown of the game, it took a last second push off on Brown to get the separation needed to come down with the catch.
He has been very reliable in coverage this season and looks more like the rookie version than he did last season.
And then there is the game’s hero, Jourdan Lewis. It felt as if the Cowboys could’ve had several takeaways against the Saints, but the ball wasn’t bouncing their way. Luckily, that wasn’t the case when Lewis read a Brees pass perfectly and raced in for the interception. Lewis is very good about keeping tabs on the ball and almost had an interception earlier in the game on a similar play.
The Cowboys did an excellent job in scheming against the Saints biggest playmaker, Alvin Kamara. They would tag-team this task with Leighton Vander Esch on early downs and then sub in Lewis on passing downs. It was a great plan and the second-year corner from Michigan was up to the task as he was all over Kamara.
#DallasCowboys CB Jourdan Lewis again subbing in to cover Alvin Kamara on passing down and making play— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) November 30, 2018
Huge staple of #Saints passing game is passes underneath to RBs in mismatches that turn into run after catch 1st downs (Saints 8th in league in RAC avg)#coachingmatters pic.twitter.com/TqGKv9e0vc
The Saints are great gaining yards after the catch, but they were going nowhere against this Cowboys defense.
The Cowboys completely remodeled their cornerback group last year after letting players like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne walk in free agency. They now have four young corners playing under rookie contracts. While it’s taken a while to figure out how to properly utilize their guys, it looks like the coaching staff has finally figured it out because this group is playing well.
This defense is something to be proud of and the play of their young corners is a big part of that. When you look around the league and see all those potent offenses out there, it sure is great to have four guys they can trust in coverage. That’s a luxury most teams don’t have. On Thursday night, they held a team that averages 37 points a game to just 10 points. It was a collective effort and the cornerbacks are definitely doing their part.
I’ve always loved the idea of having a dominant defense, you know, like say... Jacksonville.