FRISCO, Texas – These are the two biggest keys to determining a winner in this much-anticipated showdown on Thursday night between the Cowboys and Saints.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
Let's be honest: nobody is giving the Dallas Cowboys much of a chance of winning this game. Sean Payton's crew has been on a roll since their opening day loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The narrative on the Saints is that no opponent can match their firepower on offense nor handle their improving defense.
The Saints make you have to play a perfect game and not many teams can do that. The Cowboys have played outstanding football during this three-game winning streak -- but not perfect football. I wasn't confident they could have beaten Philadelphia and Atlanta on the road and then taken down a Washington squad which was fighting to extend its NFC East division lead -- but they did.
For the Cowboys to win this game, it's going to come down to their defense. I am not just talking about making stops or creating turnovers, but more importantly not making mental mistakes. There is so much that goes on with this Saints offense when it comes to the "eye candy." Formations, motions and different personnel groupings make this offense difficult to prepare for. It's easy to get lost with all that goes on pre-snap and once Drew Brees has the ball in his hands.
The Saints thrive on creating chaos with their scheme and that's what the Cowboys must avoid. Line up and stay aggressive but make sure you play smart. Don't give Drew Brees and their offense any easy plays because you're out of position. They're good enough that they don't need your help.
New Orleans Saints Win If:
Dennis Allen's defense doesn't nearly get the credit it deserves. The numbers might be skewed due to how well their offense has been playing. Opponents tend to go away from the run because they tend to get behind in games and are forced to pass in order to try and catch up. One might feel that the best play is in order to beat the Saints you have to hold the ball. Where that theory has some legs is if you're holding the ball from their offense but you're also finishing drives with touchdowns.
The Cowboys are built to operate in a conservative manor by running the ball with Ezekiel Elliott, but now with the addition of Amari Cooper they're better equipped to convert third downs if the running game struggles to gain traction. Allen has to believe that his secondary with Eli Apple and Marshon Lattimore can hold their own, allowing him to commit to slowing down the Cowboys running game. This can be dangerous for Allen, especially if Scott Linehan finds ways to put Cooper with Apple and stay away from Lattimore.
Since Cooper has arrived, not many opponents have attempted to double-team him, believing that Dak Prescott couldn't pass well enough to take advantage of the single coverage. But Prescott has shown that with Cooper he has been able to make clutch throws. Defending the run will be big for the Saints but how well they handle the Cowboys throwing the ball will be the difference.