FRISCO, Texas – Ain’t this delicious.
Cowboys-Saints, 7:20 p.m. Thursday at likely a busting-at-the-seams AT&T Stadium. National TV (Fox/NFLN). Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.
New Orleans Saints, 10-1, winners of 10 consecutive games, vying to prove they are the best in the whole wide NFL.
Dallas Cowboys, 6-5, winners of three straight, vying to prove for now that they are the best in the NFC East.
Saints, the No. 5 offense in the NFL, the No. 1 scoring offense, too, averaging 37.2 points a game.
Cowboys, the No. 7 defense in the NFL, the No. 3 scoring defense, giving up an average of 19.4 points a game.
Starting to get you geeked, right? But there is more.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, returning to his Texas roots, growing up in Austin.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, growing up in Haughton, La., knowing all about how Brees led the home-state Saints to the Super Bowl championship that 2009 season, and Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith, growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind., well aware of what the 6-foot Brees did during his college playing days at Purdue.
Brees, putting up a fantasy-like stat line in 11 games, throwing for 3,135 yards, completing 76.4 percent of his passes while averaging a robust 8.81 yards an attempt, and stacking up 29 touchdown passes against just two interceptions for that league best 127.3 QB rating.
Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s leading rusher, already in just 11 games carving out his second 1,000-yard rushing season, riding three consecutive 100-yard performances (394 yards) to boost his season total to 1,074 yards.
Saints head coach Sean Payton, the one-time Cowboys offensive assistant head coach under Bill Parcells and offensive coordinator (2003-05), resurrecting the Saints in 2006 following the Hurricane Katrina disaster that nearly wiped out the city of New Orleans and sent the natives fleeing south Louisiana, a whole bunch of those Cajun folks ending up out here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Payton will be coaching his 200th game Thursday night with the Saints.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, serving as the New York Giants backup quarterback from 2000-03 with Payton back then as the Giants offensive coordinator (2000-02).
Oh, and if that’s not enough to grab your attention, don’t forget Gil Brandt is being inducted into the Cowboys prestigious Ring of Honor at halftime, which is sure to bring out many of the past stars for the celebration. This is well deserved and hopefully serves as a precursor for Gil’s selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Super Bowl weekend.
Storyline after storyline after storyline.
Also making for some delicious shots.
· No Poking Intended: There are some out there thinking that the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence, he of now 8.5 sacks with five games to go, was poking the big, bad Saints. Not his intention. Lawrence was just trying to give his young mates a shot of confidence going into this game, not wanting all these youngsters to be walking on the field in awe of this Saints team, when he began ranting, “They're going to have to match our intensity, (ahem), for 60 minutes straight. If you hit a mother (ahem) in the mouth and then they ain't doing what they're regularly doing, putting up 50 points, they start to get a little distressed. Now you got them where you want them, and then you (ahem) choke their ass out.” This didn’t just happen. It was premeditated when he jumped up on the locker behind linebacker Jaylon Smith with all the cameras rolling. D-Law knew what he was doing.
· Cool Brees: These are just the facts. Brees has played eight games against the Cowboys, seven with the Saints and one when he was in San Diego. He’s gone 5-3 total, 5-2 with the Saints. And here is Brees’ eight-game stat line if you can bear to look: 232 of 336 for 2,780 yards, a completion percentage of 69.0, with 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions. QB rating? Well, cover your eyes: 107.7. And in those eight games his teams have averaged 29.9 points a game. Yep, the Cowboys would be advised to hit him. But here is the problem. He’s only been sacked 10 times in 11 games this season. And to think, he’s thrown 356 passes already in 2018.
· Tackle Cam: All eyes will be on the game-day inactive list when it’s revealed 90 minutes before kickoff, or at 5:50 p.m. Thursday. That’s when we’ll officially know if Cowboys Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith will play in this game. Smith, still dealing with the stinger he suffered in that Atlanta game that caused him to miss the Washington matchup on Thanksgiving Day, has been withheld from practice all week and, as Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has said, will be a game-time decision. But he’s been listed as “questionable” to play. If he can’t go, all eyes will be on backup Cam Fleming, the surprise starter against the Redskins. At least this time he got first-team reps during the three days of practice, unlike on Thanksgiving when he found out about 20 minutes before kickoff that he’d be starting. Now, the Cowboys did give him some help over there, lining up a tight end to that side at times and also motioning wide receiver Noah Brown over there. His performance was acceptable. But guarantee you if he has to start again, this will not be a surprise to the Saints, who likely will target him with their defense.
· All Saints Shots: What might be fair for the goose is also fair for the gander, as they say, since the Saints already have ruled out their starting left tackle Terron Armstead, suffering from a pectoral injury. His backup is Jermon Bushrod, who has played in eight games this year with three starts, will step into the starting lineup again, and wouldn’t be surprised if D-Law takes a few snaps over there on the Cowboys’ right side … Believe I knew this, but sort of forgot, that Saints top receiver Michael Thomas is the nephew of former Cowboys wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Good family genes … And former Cowboys cornerback Aaron Glenn (2005-06) is now the Saints’ secondary coach, along with former Cowboys tight end Dan Campbell serving as the Saints assistant head coach/tight ends.
No kidding, a dream game for Shots this week.