“Welcome to Big D!” Cowboys Defense Stymies Saints, 13-10
Wow, what an awesome night for the Cowboys in a 13-10 upset win over the Saints! The defense absolutely dominated the league’s top-scoring offense led by Drew Brees who was stymied for four quarters. Here are “5 Stories from the Sideline” at AT&T Stadium:
Ron Jenkins via AP
“Welcome to Big D”
About 2 hours before kickoff, it was quiet on the sideline and just a few players were doing some stretching and jogging on the field. Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard, who is also the passing game coordinator, was sitting quietly on the bench. It’s a good time to visit with him each week, so we always chitchat a little bit. I told him I had just done a pregame segment from the outdoor plaza and there were lots of Saints fans arriving early.
“Welcome to Big D,” he replied. “How ‘bout we throw them a welcome party?”
Richard is a confident dude, and his comment was a reflection of the vibe the entire week from the defense. This was a confident bunch. They may have been the only people in the world who believed they could hold the prolific Saints offense to 27 points BELOW their scoring average, but, by golly, they did it! It was a complete team effort. Good pressure up front, excellent run defense, excellent range and plugging the holes by the linebackers and safeties, and terrific coverage by the CBs, LBs, and safeties.
The Cowboys shut out the Saints in the 1st half and 4th quarter. If not for a plethora of defensive penalties in the 3rd quarter, they would have completely held them out of the end zone. And in the 4th quarter, Jourdan Lewis came up with the interception to help seal the victory.
As for that particular takeaway, let me share another sideline conversation with you…
Rod Marinelli is Nostradamus
About 60 minutes before kickoff, I’m having my usual pregame visit with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli. We had already talked about the Cowboys’ team speed on defense and how the Saints can’t replicate that in practice. We had already talked about the emphasis on making solid tackles in open space.
Ron Jenkins via AP
And then I asked him how he would measure the success of the pass rush against a QB like Drew Brees who gets rid of the ball so quickly and very rarely takes sacks.
“The key is to make him hurry the throw and get enough pressure that he has to release the ball early,” Rod told me. “Because when he releases early, we’ll be in zone and the defenders are watching the quarterback. They see the ball come out and can get an early break on the ball.”
That’s exactly what happened on the Jourdan Lewis interception. Give credit to Maliek Collins for getting a big push up the middle of the pocket. Brees hurried the pass and made an errant throw. Lewis was in zone and broke on the ball. Lewis laid-out and made a diving interception, somehow managing to get his hands beneath a low throw just before the ball hit the ground. It was an athletic play and a quick reaction from Lewis to get to the spot.
Rod was correct in his prediction. I swear, that guy is Nostradamus. It’s so much fun to talk football with him just before kickoff because he knows what’s going to happen. His guys did an awesome job of following the game plan and sticking to the mantra of “Assignment, Alignment, Keys & Technique”.
Truth be told, the game was won because of something else Rod said early in the week. The key to stopping the Saints offense is stopping the run first. The Cowboys held the Saints to 65 rushing yards and 3.4 yards-per-carry. They smothered Running Backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Forcing the Saints to pass, they did enough in the pass rush to affect Brees. They sacked him twice, but it was the way the hurried the other passes which was so important, especially on Lewis’ big play.
Ron Jenkins via AP
Oh, Dak’s the Way Uh-Uh, I like It, Uh-Uh
It was not a thing of beauty for the Cowboys offense, particularly in the second half when Dallas was shutout. But those 13 first half points were enough to hold up for the victory.
Dak Prescott was sacked 7 times and a few of those were on him for holding onto the ball too long. He also missed a wide-open Michael Gallup for a sure-fire touchdown on a ball overthrown down the right sideline. But Dak showed why he’s a winner, getting some key first-downs with sheer determination and grit on his runs (and a nice block by Joe Looney on one of those rushes). And he wasn’t afraid to go after the Saints best cover corner, Marshon Lattimore, who was matched-up one-on-one with Amari Cooper. Dak and Cooper connected on 8-of-8 targets for 75 yards. Cooper also drew the pass interference in the end zone prior with 2 minutes to play in the game which gave the Cowboys a first down and let them run down the clock for the win.
But it was the way the Cowboys offense exploited Saints cornerback Eli Apple, the former NY Giant, throughout the first half. Dak found Michael Gallup for two big plays in the opening scoring drive when Apple got torched by the rookie. Gallup also had a 21-yard catch later in the 1st quarter during the touchdown drive.
Speaking of the touchdown drive…and it’s “the” touchdown drive because the Cowboys only had one of them…what a great call and outstanding blocking on the Ezekiel Elliott 16-yard screen for the score. Everybody did their jobs, with extra gold stars for Right Guard Zack Martin and Center Joe Looney for excellent blocks to open space for Zeke. It was a thing of beauty. It put the Cowboys up 10-0 in the final minute of the first quarter.
This was a hard-hitting game and Zeke earned every single yard on Thursday night against a Saints defense that is normally overshadowed by the Saints offense.
Zeke finished with 76 rushing yards on 23 carries…that’s only 3.3 yards-per-rush. That doesn’t sound good, but I’m telling you that Zeke made lemonade out of lemons on some of those runs which should have been negative plays. Instead, he was able to eek-out two or three yards.
Whew, Zeke is going to be sore after this game. Luckily, he and his teammates have three days to rest up over an extended weekend which is well-deserved for all these guys who’ve played 5 games over the previous 26 days.
Michael Ainsworth via AP
Cash in the Kettle
One of those Salvation Army red kettles behind the west end zone has $44 cash in it. There’s the $21 that Zeke deposited after he scored on Thanksgiving Day. Zeke’s $20 bill and $1 bill were still in the kettle for the game against the Saints. Well, another $23 was added by Saints CB Marshon Lattimore after he recovered a fumble.
Lattimore celebrated his fumble recovery by running with his teammates to the back of the end zone and posing for a picture. Then he pulled a $20 bill and three $1 bills from his sock and ceremoniously deposited the money in the kettle. He put a total of $23 in there because he wears jersey #23. Zeke had put $21 in there because Zeke wears #21.
As my Cowboys radio cohort Brad Sham pointed out on Thanksgiving Day, it’s too bad that Antwaun Woods (#99) didn’t score…that would be a huge donation!!!!
Postgame Vibe in the Locker Room
When the media rushed into the Cowboys’ locker room for postgame interviews, reporters and videographers rushed to set up cameras in front of two lockers: Jourdan Lewis and DeMarcus Lawrence. Lewis was asked about his huge interception, of course.
But most of the media wanted to hear from Lawrence who earlier in the week had made expletive-laden comments about hitting the Saints in the mouth and choking them out. It was more colorfully said than that, but you get the idea.
Ron Jenkins via AP
Hey, Lawrence talked-the-talk during the week. But he and his teammates walked-the-walk on Thursday night. And the only people who were surprised were the people outside of the locker room. The Cowboys were expecting this. And while they understand that fans/media had doubts about their ability to limit the Saints, they had no doubts.
And here’s what Cowboys Nation needs to know about the postgame vibe. It was the message by player-after-player-after-player that the team knows it’s not done just because they got this win over the best team in the league. They are already talking about enjoying this victory, but getting back to work next week because the next game is a huge divisional matchup against the Eagles which could determine the fate of the NFC East.
It’s exactly what you want to hear if you’re a Cowboys fan. They are happy with Thursday’s result, but they are not satisfied because they know they have the final four games to play…and they are not done!!!