Thursday Night Football
Dallas Cowboys (6-5) vs. New Orleans Saints (10-1)
Wow, it is officially gameday here in Week 13. The NFC-East leading Dallas Cowboys, who are winners of 3 straight, are set to take on the red-hot, 10-1 New Orleans Saints. The Saints, who opened the season with an opening day loss to the 4-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have rattled off 10 consecutive wins in dominating fashion. The Saints will have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win on Thursday Night Football, while the Cowboys look to stay atop the NFC-East standings.
The Saints, led on offense by Drew Brees, boast one of the most dominant offenses in the league. Drew Brees has a video-game like 29 to 2 touchdown-to-interception ratio thus far in the 2018 campaign, while also completing over 76% of his passes. If this stands, he would break his own record, which was set at 72%. This high octane offense possesses a two-headed monster out of the backfield in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, both of which are having great seasons for the Saints. This “Boom and Zoom” combinations is lethal to opposing defenses, as they compliment each other as well as any backfield tandem in the league. Mark Ingram’s bruising style combined with Alvin Kamara’s powerfulness and explosiveness makes it tough for opposing Defensive Coordinators to sleep at nights. Last, but certainly not least, is Michael Thomas, who is Drew Brees’ top target in the receiving core. Thomas is having a phenomenal season, where he has already surpassed the 1000 yard mark. Thomas has ended up in the endzone 8 times this year, while hauling in a team-high 86 receptions. What is incredible about this Brees to Thomas duo is just how efficient they are, completing nearly 89 percent of targets.
On the other side of the ball, this Saints defense is no joke, either. The Saints possess the top run defense in the NFL, holding opposing rushers well under 4.0 Yards per carry. This Saints defense has yet to allow a 75 yard rusher this season, while allowing only 76 yards per game to opposing teams. In a dominating performance last week against Atlanta, this defense sacked Matt Ryan 6 times while collecting 4 turnovers. This defense is led by captain Cam Jordan, whose explosiveness provides plenty of problems for offensive lines of the edge. Sheldon Rankins bolsters this Saints defensive line, dropping the Falcons offense for 2 tackles for loss as well as a sack in last week’s 31 to 17 win. In the secondary, the Saints are led by ex-New York Giant Eli Apple and Marshon Lattimore.
For the Cowboys, this will be the biggest test yet for this 3rd-ranked scoring defense. Led by young stars Demarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jaylon Smith, this defense has held opponents under 21 points in 7 of the 11 contests this year. This defense will look to build off of last week’s performance on Thanksgiving Day, where the Cowboys provided havoc against Colt McCoy and Company. The Cowboys forced 3 interceptions, while sacking McCoy 3 times as well. This defense has been kept this Cowboys team in games throughout the season, but they have not yet faced an offense like the Saints.
On the offensive side of the ball, there are question marks regarding the offensive line for this Cowboys team. Tyron Smith has been held out of practice all week and has been listed on the injury report as a game-time decision. If Smith is unable to go, Cameron Fleming will start in his place at left tackle. Both Xavier Su’a-Filo and Zack Martin are listed as questionable, but are expected to be suited up and active for this contest. This will be a huge test for Ezekiel Elliott and this offensive line, as they go up against the NFL’s top ranked run defense. Zeke has ran for at least 120 yards in each of the last three games, all of which have resulted in Cowboy wins. Elliott’s 1074 rushing yards leads the NFL, as his 121 yard performance last week allowed him to jump Todd Gurley. Under center, Dak Prescott has seen his play significantly improve with the addition of top receiver Amari Cooper. In the month of November, Prescott boasts a 102.4 quarterback rating, while completing 70% of his passes. This Cowboys offense has seemingly been rejuvenated with the addition of Amari Cooper via the trade with the Oakland Raiders. In the 4 games that Cooper has suited up for the Cowboys, Prescott has yet to complete under 67.7% of passes, throwing 5 touchdowns and only 1 interception over this span. Where Cooper has most impacted this offense has been third downs, where he has proved to be an elite route runner. Cooper has consistently provided separation for Prescott in third down situations, allowing this Cowboys offense to keep drives alive and wear down opposing defenses.
For the Cowboys, this game will come down to execution. There is no secret that this Cowboys team must play a complete game to beat this high-powered Saints squad. In my opinion, this game will come down to the turnover war. If Demarcus Lawrence and this Cowboys defense can apply pressure to Drew Brees and this offensive line (who will be without left tackle Terron Armstead) and force a turnover or two, that may allow this Cowboys offense to stay in this game. The Cowboys must continue to have positive plays on first and second downs to stay ahead of the chains, and Dak Prescott must be effective on third downs to keep drives alive. When this offense gets into the red zone, they must capitalize on these opportunities and come away with 7 points. I do not believe that field goals in the red zone will win this game against such a prolific offense. This offensive line will have a huge challenge against this talented defensive front of the Saints, but I believe if they can create some holes for Zeke, that he will have another big game.
While I do believe this will be a close one on Thursday Night, I think that Drew Brees will take care of the football, and I believe that this Cowboys defense will have a hard time containing Alvin Kamara in the passing game out of the backfield. I believe that while Zeke and Prescott both will have big nights on offense for the ‘Boys, that the Saints offense will make enough plays to continue their winning streak and extend it to 11 games. (Let’s hope that I am wrong.)
Prediction: Saints 31, Cowboys 27.
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