Looking to continue their 3-game winning streak, the Dallas Cowboys (6-5) must defend their home turf against a juggernaut, the New Orleans Saints (10-1). A stout Cowboy defense enters confident against the historical Saints offense, but it could be the opposite side of the game that decides the outcome in the end.

Cameron Fleming

Coming off his first start on the season, Fleming’s time filling in for Tyron Smith may just not be over yet. As stated by owner Jerry Jones, Smith remains as a game-time decision, still dealing a stinger and elbow injuries.

Making his debut against a very respectable Washington Redskins front-seven, Fleming has to improve quickly. On 38 passing downs, Fleming gave up 1 sack, 2 QB hurries, and 3 pressures.

As for the play above, this is pure IQ of the game. While the DE did a great job of setting up his rush, it acted as a mirage for the stunt that came around the edge on Fleming. He has to be able to be mentally process this quicker and peel off the initial guy, especially with a Saints DL that has Marcus Davenport, Sheldon Rankins, and Cameron Jordan.

Here’s the difference when Fleming actually sees the stunt and stays squared on his base.

Matching up against rookie EDGE Marcus Davenport, Fleming will have his hands full. In the past two weeks, Davenport has accrued 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 QB hit, and 5 hurries. He’s a lengthy body with great speed and a combination of rush moves that gets offensive tackles beat quickly.

Just look how fast Davenport was able to reach Alex Smith after a delayed stunt, that gave LT Trent Williams no chance on the play.

A game that will get the attention of how will the Dallas defense stop the Saints offense, it will take the Cowboys OL to set the tone for long drives with this being the most important matchup of them all.

Randy Gregory

Similarly, the LT situation that’s at play for Dallas, the Saints must face an issue of their own. LT Terron Armstead continues to miss practice due to a pectoral injury, that has sidelined him for the past two weeks. Could it be an ultimate fate that is lining itself up for Dallas on Thursday?

While Demarcus Lawrence will have his hands full with Ryan Ramczyk, Gregory could make a statement. An elite bag of intangibles mixed with size, speed, and strength, the game is slowly but surely returning itself to Randy.

In the past three games, Gregory has a total of 10 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits, and possibly the most important stat, 6 hurries. Reason being, Drew Brees ranks second in the NFL in time to throw the ball at 2.57 seconds. It’s a major reason that they are rank 1st, tied for a league-low 11 sacks given up. The difficulty sits in being able to tackle Brees, but if pressure can be created, Gregory can be an excellent complement for Lawrence.

Ezekiel Elliott

The focal point and crux of it all, RB Ezekiel Elliott can change everything. Dallas wins and they would be in the driver seat of the NFC East, with a monumental amount of confidence to close out the season. It will start and end with Zeke though.

It’s not surprising to ever say this or read about when talking about the Cowboys offense. He’s the main cog of it all that affects every aspect of it. While Dallas is on a 3-game winning streak, Zeke is on one of his own that he must continue. On average, he has rushed for 131.3 yards on 5.97 yards per carry and a rushing touchdown. To add on, his utilization has increased as a pass catcher hauling in 18 passes, the largest amount for a 3-game span at any point of the season. Flip the script to realize that the Saints are first in defending the run, allowing only 73.2 YPG, 3.6 YPC, and 1st down conversions on a league low 14.6% of rushes. Every codex can be broken though.

Fellow writer and editor of the FPC Cowboys, Tony Iosso, wrote that “New Orleans has also faced the least amount of rushing attempts in the league. Teams have been down by such large margins so quickly that they are forced to abandon the ground game almost immediately”. While the talent is evident and there for the Saints front seven, he’s right. Teams get caught in a bind to keep up with the Saints high-powered offense, that they fail to maintain a constant running attack. It’s a smart approach given the situation the Saints are in. Have your offense be your best defense, but except in the case of churning out long drives, 40 points are waiting to be unleashed in the numerous of ways New Orleans can attack you.

Dallas will have to return to the reason why the offense is built how it is, but can not stall out. By quarter, the Cowboys do not average more than 5 points in quarters 1-3 ranking them 22nd or worse, but are ranked 9th in the fourth at 8. To lessen the worry for Cowboys fan though, Dallas has seen their second-half scoring increase from 14 to 16 to 21 in the past three weeks.

To add on above, New Orleans has not allowed a rusher go for more than 75 yards, but when the Saints blew the Eagles out, RB Josh Adams was on his way. Ending the night with 53 yards on 7 carries with a long run of 28, Philly found success.

An excellent play design by Pederson, while the TEs act as they are pulling for lead blocks to the right, the OL blocks in the way if the run was going in their direction. Giving him an option to either follow the TE or cut to the left, it freezes the Saints defense for an open TD.

Once again without nitpicking,  JoeMixon ran well against this Saints defense rushing for 61 yards on 11 carries. For the play below, notice how the pre-snap motion causes the LBs to cheat over a little before the ball is snapped, making it easier for the OL to climb to the second level, opening Mixon up for a nice gain.

 

 

If Dallas wants to be successful on offense, Linehan will have to be creative with Zeke. A lot to ask for and not much to expect out of, the potential is there for a big night out of Elliott.

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