The Dallas Cowboys have traveled through the easy part of their schedule with double-digit wins over the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Miami Dolphins. But now, they’ll have to travel to the Big Easy to face their first real test of the year - the New Orleans Saints. The Cowboys have already moved up the power rankings as the Los Angeles Rams (also 3-0) are the only NFC team positioned ahead of them. Dallas will try to keep things rolling, and a road win against the Saints will do wonders to silence people that have been downplaying the Cowboys good start.
It’s a big game on a big stage, and the Superdome will be filled with energy. Here are five things to watch on Sunday night.
1. Will Teddy be ready?
On the surface, the Saints five-touchdown performance in a rainy Seattle environment is quite impressive, but let’s provide a little perspective. Two of their touchdowns came directly from their defense and special teams as a punt return and fumble recovery led to their first two scores of the game. Despite the 33 points on the scoreboard, the Saints offense only had two drives the entire game where they gained over 28 yards.
Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a fine game last week, but his plate was manageable. He was 19/27 for 177 yards, but all of that came on little chunks as Bridgewater settled for short underneath passes over and over. His longest completion was for 29 yards and that was all thanks to Alvin Kamara’s legs.
It’s hard imagining this formula working again for the Saints this week. The Cowboys will let teams have things short, and capitalize when their opponents fail to sustain drives. It’s going to take a more aggressive Teddy for the Saints offense to get it done on Sunday night.
2. Corral Kamara
The Saints know they have a special player in Kamara. Last week, they leaned on him heavily as he led the team in both rushing and receiving. Kamara finished with over 160 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. He’s an elusive runner, but the Seahawks didn’t help their cause any with some sub-par tackling.
Bold strategy by the Seahawks to not even consider tackling Alvin Kamara pic.twitter.com/7Zr7c8PELO— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) September 22, 2019
The Cowboys defense did a great job against Kamara last year as he finished with 72 yards on 19 total touches. They employed a strategy that consisted of using Leighton Vander Esch on running downs, followed by Jourdan Lewis on passing downs. Every time Kamara touched the ball, the Cowboys defense wrapped him up. It’s going to require a similar effort to keep the Saints star running back contained. The Cowboys have been hot and cold when it comes to tackling this season, but if they put out a shaky effort, Kamara will make them pay.
3. Matchup to watch
Right tackle La’el Collins is the early favorite to be the Cowboys player most likely to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl. And if you’re keeping track at home, that would make four offensive linemen. Collins is having a great season so far and Pro Football Focus has him as the highest-graded offensive lineman in the league so far. After surrendering 46 pressures last season, he’s only allowed one through three games this year.
Collins will have his work cut out for him this week when he squares off against All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan. The Saints veteran pass rusher has recorded double-digit sacks in three of the last four seasons. Jordan offers an assortment of pass rushing moves, but Collins is quick out of his stance and should put up a good fight.
Dak Prescott has only been sacked twice this season, and both times came after he rolled out of the pocket. If Jordan can’t get the better of L.C. and get pressure on Dak, it could be a long day for the Saints defense.
4. Highway to the Danger Zone
Fans were pleasantly surprised when the Cowboys ended the Saints 10-game winning streak last year. But what was even more surprising was that they did it with their defense as the team prevailed in a low scoring affair, 13-10. While it was great to see the defense come up big, the Cowboys offense just couldn’t ever get going. That’s not going to happen this time around.
The Saints defense has played well in spurts, but overall hasn’t done a very good job. They’ve allowed 27+ points in every game so far this season. And it’s not just one aspect of their defense that is struggling. They are allowing the third-most passing yards in the league, and are in the bottom five in yards allowed per rushing attempt. That is music to our ears when you consider what awaits for them on Sunday night.
Not only are the Saints defense a little suspect to open the season, the Cowboys offense has been red hot. Dallas is ranked third in total yards (481 per game) and fourth in points scored (32.3 per game). They can beat you with the run (ranked third with 179 ypg) and the pass (fourth with 302 ypg). It may take a moment for them to get warmed up, but once they get in a rhythm, look out!
In each of the Cowboys games this year, they have gone through spurts of total domination, outscoring their opponents 35-3, 31-7, and 21-0. This is the danger zone.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) September 27, 2019
The Saints don't want to find themselves in the danger zone on Sunday night.
5. Special teams could end up being a difference maker
The Saints have two wins on the year, and in each of them, special teams turned out to be a difference maker. They got a game winning 58-yard field goal from Will Lutz in a Monday night thriller in Week 1. Last week, Deonte Harris returned a punt 53-yards for the Saints opening score. And let’s not forget punter Thomas Morstead who averaged 54 yards a punt last week, including pinning the Seahawks inside their 10-yard line on three separate occasions. It was good enough to earn NFC Special Team’s Player of the Week honors.
The Cowboys haven’t shown much on special teams this season. Their kicking situation is always up in the air. Fortunately for them, they haven’t had to attempt too many field goals this year. Tavon Austin, who has been out these last two weeks with a concussion, is practicing again.
Dallas doesn’t necessarily have to win the special teams battle on Sunday, but keeping the Saints from churning out big plays in this department will be important in getting out of Louisiana with a victory.