At this point, Cowboy fans are probably exhausted from being bludgeoned over the head with the narrative that the Cowboys haven’t beaten any viable opponents. In the social media era, it’s probably not a stretch to assume that the players themselves have heard enough of it as well. As irritating as it may be, it’s not entirely untrue.
As we have all heard ad-nauseum, the 3 teams the Dallas Cowboys have beaten have a combined record of 1-8. This fact seems to get a lot more press than the fact that the same is true for the 3-0 San Francisco 49ers, and the 3-0 Buffalo Bills. Opponents of the 3-0 New England Patriots opponents are 0-9 thus far. You can only play out the schedule in the order dictated by the NFL powers that be. The Cowboys have handily beaten three substandard opponents, as good teams should, we still don’t have the slightest clue how this team stacks up against the leagues better teams. Thankfully, we will all have a better understanding of what the Cowboys are made of, what’s in their “D.N.A.” starting Sunday night in New Orleans.
Saints QB Drew Brees is likely out until November after suffering an unfortunate hand injury in week 2. His absence however does not make New Orleans a pushover. Backup QB Teddy Bridgewater is a capable pro. The Saints offense is littered with weaponry, and the defensive front is fast and active. Call it a soft factor if you want, but a prime time game in the Superdome is an absolute hornet’s nest regardless of the quality of the team the Saints put on the field. That stadium is going to be rocking, New Orleans Saints voodoo is going to be swirling all over that place, and everyone seems to take it up another notch when the Cowboys come to town.
What every Cowboy fan hopes to see is a team that can block out “clutter,” dial in, and focus on each opponent week after week. A slow start last week vs. the lowly Dolphins made anyone watching wonder at least a little bit, whether or not the Cowboys were maybe buying into their own hype. Last Sunday’s first half vs. Miami featured dropped passes, busted coverages, poor tackling and the first appearance of “Greedy Dak,” before settling in and taking care of business in the second half. On one hand, one could hypothesize that the Cowboys didn’t take the Dolphins seriously. On the other hand, taking the Dolphins seriously is not the easiest thing to do, so there might be cause to grant a pass for that disorganize first half.
There is probably a near-zero chance that the Cowboys will take a prime time game in New Orleans lightly.
This won’t be about underestimating an opponent or environment. This will be a test on how buttoned up the Cowboys can be. Can they focus, and block out the noise right away? Can they communicate over the crowd on offense on 3rd downs? Can the staff make urgent adjustments on the fly? Can the team counterpunch, and stymie momentum if things start to get away from them early?
Those questioning the Cowboys will begin to collect answers soon. What has to give Cowboys fans the most comfort is the fact that being one of the youngest teams in the league, it seems to have a fantastic locker room. At least in the Dak Prescott era, you haven’t seen any major disruptions. You have seen this team be beaten handily on occasion, but you have not ever seen it fail to compete, point fingers, or show even the most preliminary signs of implosion. Effort and accountability are healthy with this group, and this is why you aren’t allowed to laugh at Head Coach Jason Garrett’s “right kind of guy” talent acquisition stipulation. There doesn’t seem to be a bad apple in this bunch. That absolutely matters, and it would be unfair not to credit the head coach.
As far as the on field matchup itself, it’s hard not to feel some positivity about the Cowboys chances. Despite being a talented bunch, New Orleans’ defense is surrendering 27.3 points per game. CB Marshon Lattimore seems to be in a state of regression, and CB Eli Apple is still Eli Apple as the Saints have given up over 300 yards per game in the air. You can mix up coverage all you want, but trying to hide two guys that can’t stick with their man is like trying to drown an alligator. If the Cowboys offensive line can continue to expertly protect Dak Prescott, the group of wideouts should be able to eat Sunday night. The Saints have a formidable front, but the Cowboys offensive line has thus far played at an elite level. Dallas should be able to impose the run game by force if they absolutely need to.
When the Saints have the ball, the plan has to be to avoid death-by-Kamara, and make Teddy Bridgewater beat you with his arm. As previously stated, Bridgewater is capable, probably the league’s best backup QB. Nonetheless, he only attempted four passes at a depth of more than 15 yards last week vs. Seattle, and put the ball in danger on a handful of occasions. Contain Kamara, cover the mid-to-short passing game until Bridgewater gives you a reason to take the long game seriously.
The Saints are both a formidable opponent, and a winnable matchup for the Cowboys. Philadelphia, who after week 3 looked like a piñata two whacks away from spilling all over the place, picked up a big win in Green Bay. A Cowboys loss Sunday Night in New Orleans would be all of the encouragement the Eagles need to prime themselves to go on a run. It’s early in the season, but it’s still imperative to keep the pressure on the trailing Eagles. A 4-0 start give the Cowboys an 83% chance of making the playoffs historically, a two game lead in the NFC East and a feather-in-the-cap road win that might silence a few of the doubts. This is an opportunity that the team absolutely needs to seize.
Good or bad, Sunday night should begin paint us all a clearer picture of what’s in the 2019 Cowboys’ “D.N.A.”