Strief: Saints on a mission - got that DeMarcus Lawrence?

Zach Strief
November 29, 2018 - 9:48 am

The Saints trounced the Falcons on Thanksgiving to mark their tenth straight victory.  The win was powered by a defensive effort that included 4 forced turnovers and 6 sacks, but this week’s game is a different bird all together.  The Cowboys await the visiting Saints sitting on a 3-game winning streak.  Dallas has returned to their winning ways by way of Ezekiel Elliott and a defense that has been excellent all year long.  Comments from within their locker room did nothing to extinguish the flames of anticipation of this Thursday night matchup.  Let’s take a deeper look into the how these teams stack up.  It shows a Cowboys team that may very well struggle against the Saints.

Before I start this let me begin by saying, the Saints going from Thursday to Thursday and having to travel could very well play a factor in this game.  How big a factor?  We will have to wait and see.  For years, since Thursday night games began, the league sold the concept by claiming Thursday night games were okay, because they’re followed by a “mini-bye.”  As far as I know, this is the first time a team has done a Thursday to Thursday schedule, and obviously the Cowboys have done the same.  It’s hard to explain how you feel after a Thursday game.  It’s kind of a mixture of pain and delirium.  Have you ever been so tired you can’t sleep, and also hit by a car the same day?  Well, if you’re curious how one feels after a Thursday game, it’s like that.  When your body doesn’t have time to recover properly, it takes far fewer snaps before you start feeling the effects of muscle exhaustion.  That can lead to increased injury, though there isn’t any real evidence that has actually occurred.  Then again, usually following that game you get a lot of rest to fully recover.  This game not so much. 

Of course the Cowboys are in the same boat, but getting up in a plane and traveling, then not sleeping in your own bed, leads to problems of their own.  This could play out as an issue for a Saints defense that will be tasked with slowing down the leading rusher in the NFL.  Ezekiel Elliott comes into the game with 1,074 yards on a league leading 217 carries.  With over 80 touches over the length of this 3 game winning streak, it is clear Dallas has returned to their roots and started over with a dedication to the run game.  Thus far it has paid off. 

The Saints have not allowed a 100 yard rusher all season, and Thursday may present the greatest danger of that happening.  Unfortunately for the Dallas offense their dominant offensive line has looked, not so dominant.  After losing Travis Frederick in the preseason, the Cowboys turned to veteran journey man Joe Looney to take over the pivot at center.  Next to him sits a rookie guard, Connor Williams.  While Zack Martin (guard) has been his normal dominant self, those two interior players mixed with an inconsistent Cameron Fleming at tackle have led to a line that has struggled all season long, as proven by the league worst 38 sacks they’ve surrendered.  Not a good sign for the defense with the 4th best pressure rates in the NFL.  That leads the conversation to Dak Prescott.  After such a promising start to his young career, years 2 and 3 have proven to be far more difficult.  Dallas’ quarterback currently sits 26th in passing yards in the NFL and has been abysmal in the red zone, posting one of the 5 worst red zone ratings in all of football.  Their defense, however, has been excellent.

The Cowboys come into the game with the 4th best scoring defense in the NFL.  They’re led up front by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, more on him later, and rookie middle linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who leads the NFL in solo tackles.  They have been good, but not great on the outside and have struggled to take the ball away from offenses this year to the tune of just 7 interceptions.  For Dallas, all success starts up front and it’s no difference on this side of the ball.  Lawrence, (DE) Randy Gregory and d-lineman Tyrone Crawford have all shown the ability to get to the quarterback this year and have been equally impressive against the run.  They sit at 4th in the NFL in that metric as well. 

Earlier this week DeMarcus Lawrence made some comments that I can’t repeat in this article, because I promised my mom I would eliminate the “F word” from my vocabulary when I had a child.  The basic message to the Saints was, bring it.  It’s an odd strategy really.  Maybe it was intended to send a message to his own team.  Maybe he’s jealous of the success the Saints have seen to date this season.  Maybe, he genuinely thinks the Saints front can’t match his intensity.  Whatever the reason, DeMarcus Lawrence has not learned the one last point I’ll deliver, DO NOT doubt this Saints team. 

For a few weeks now it’s been, “well is it a trap game” or “maybe this will be a letdown” or “I mean its Thanksgiving and you know how rivalry games are.”  I’m a victim of this thinking as well.  Fortunately for Saints fan everywhere, it appears this team is on a mission.  The mission is not even just to win, but to destroy.  They know how difficult a matchup they are and the Black & Gold are not afraid of it.  For years, the discussion in New Orleans has been, well, the defense.  Not anymore.  The Saints have been dominant the past three weeks.  They are taking the ball away 2.5 times a game and sacking the quarterback at an alarming rate.  The addition of cornerback Eli Apple seems to have settled the secondary and this team is playing with an edge on the defensive side of the ball we haven’t seen in about 9 years. 

Much has been written about how dialed in Drew Brees has been this year and he has only been bolstered by a bevy of skill players and the most dominant offensive line in football.  No, a letdown is no longer my concern.  The Saints know how big a game this is, and how big every game moving forward will be.  Their reward for not having a mental lapse the last 5 games of the season?  Home field advantage and likely a trip to the Super Bowl. 

I’m sure that message has been sent and received.  Demarcus Lawrence was hoping to send a message to the Saints by calling them out.  Well, like Mike Thomas said, they’re not going to receive it. 

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