New Orleans, Dallas tangle tonight
DALLAS -- From here on out every game is a key game for the New Orleans Saints and tonight is no exception as the Saints travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys in a Thursday night contest.
New Orleans comes into the game riding a 10 game winning streak and as everyone knows sits atop the NFC for home field advantage. Dallas is 6-5 on the year and have won their last three games.
One of the good things about the game being away from the dome is that the Saints are 5-0 on the road this year, the only team in the NFL that sports such a record. However, the Cowboys counter that with a 4-1 record on their home turf.
Despite their three win run, Dallas has beaten only one team with a winning record this season (Washington, who is 6-5). In fact the overall record of the teams that the Cowboys have defeated is a weak 25-41.
All five of Dallas’ losses have been to teams with a winning record, with the exception of the Tennessee Titans (5-6). On the other hand the combined record of New Orleans’ opponents are 53-55-2.
One of the biggest keys to the game tonight is how well the Saints defense can handle the running game of the Cowboys, especially Ezekiel Elliott. The third year vet out of Ohio State has garnered 1,074 yards rushing so far this year, an average of 97.6 yards per game.
More importantly, Elliott has picked up 394 yards over the last three games, an average of 131.3 yards per game. Not coincidently, Dallas has won those three games.
“He’s (Elliott) the complete package when it comes to a running back,” said Saints defensive end Alex Okafor. “Good size, and he can catch the ball. But I think his best quality is his vision. He’s so patient. When you talk about patience and vision, I’d say him and (the Steelers’) Le’Veon Bell are in a class of their own.”
There is no doubt the New Orleans defense has improved with every game and they are the No. 1 defense against the rush, holding opponents to 73.2 yards per game. It will be a battle of wills when the Cowboys have the football in their hands.
“Generally, if you’re playing good run defense it’s all 11, getting everyone to the football,” head coach Sean Payton said. “This will be a challenge this week with the way they run the ball and their ability to not only give it to Elliott, but their ability with the quarterback and some of the designed runs. So we’ll have to be on point this week. It can’t just mean eight or 10, and I think that’s been the case.”
Running the ball and controlling the clock will be of utmost importance to Dallas. The Cowboys know that they cannot let the Saint offense get many possessions in the game, as New Orleans leads the league in scoring, averaging 37.2 points per game.
When it comes to facing tough defenses, the Saints will be faced with a challenge tonight, as the Dallas defense is not half bad. The Cowboys only surrender 19.4 points per game and are seventh in the league allowing only 331.1 yards per game.
A big stat that may be missed in the game is third down conversion percentage. New Orleans converts on 47 percent of their third downs, while Dallas allows opposing offenses to convert on third down 44 percent of the time. That is something that needs to be watched throughout the game.