The old combat sports adage is “styles make fights,” and the same goes for football. You would be hard-pressed to find two teams that play in such different styles as the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys.
Since Drew Brees joined the Saints in 2006, they’ve been one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL, overwhelming teams with their aerial attack. The Cowboys have been running the same formula since Jerry Jones won three Super Bowls in the 1990s: An attack built on a decimating run game with a great receiver on the outside, complimented by fast, sound defensive play.
Dallas and New Orleans met on a Thursday night in week 13. After dropping the first game of the season, New Orleans was on a tear, winning ten straight. Dallas struggled early and were 3-5 before ripping off three consecutive wins in November against Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Washington. Now back in play for the division title, Dallas wanted to make a statement against one of the best teams in the league, in their home building.
New Orleans wins the opening toss and defers the ball to the second half. Dallas gets the first shot at trying to execute their game plan: Punish New Orleans for being on the same field.
The opening drive was ho-hum for the most part, with Ezekiel Elliott runs for small yardage and Dak Prescott hitting targets underneath. Eventually the Cowboys make their way past midfield for the first big play of the game.
Dallas is in a 12 personnel set with wide receiver Michael Gallup (#13) split wide and Amari Cooper (#19) in the slot. Prescott (#4) uses a play action fake, then flips his head to the left. Gallup gets off the release cleanly then uses his speed to get by Eli Apple (#25). Prescott hits Gallup in the hands as he’s streaking down the sideline. A beautiful throw from Prescott moves the Cowboys 40 yards to the Saints 6-yard line.
On the ensuing sequence, Dallas would struggle to find pay dirt and a David Onyemata sack on third down forces Dallas to settle for an opening drive field goal.
New Orleans gets the ball and promptly goes three and out. Brees threw three straight incompletions and only ate up 15 seconds of game time on the Saints’ opening drive.
Dallas’ next drive would not go as planned either. Starting the drive from their own 29-yard line, the Cowboys would soon face a third and six from their own 33-yard line.
New Orleans is showing blitz by crowding six defenders near the line of scrimmage. At the snap, Alex Anzalone (#47) and Cameron Jordan (#94) drop back in coverage and Vonn Bell (#24) blitzes from his slot defender position. This messes with Dallas’ pass protection up front by overloading the left side of the line of scrimmage with 4 rushers. Notice how the right side of the line has Zack Martin (#70), La’el Collins (#71) and Rod Smith (#45) all blocking one defender. Onyemata (#93) swats away Xavier Su’a-Filo (#76) and gets home to Prescott for his second sack of the game in as many drives.
Dallas punts back to New Orleans, who goes three and out again.
Dallas’ third possession of the game would be successful. Jumpstarted by a good Zeke run and Prescott completing multiple passes over 10 yards, Dallas finds themselves in the red zone after a defensive holding against New Orleans.
This is a really nice play design from Dallas. The Cowboys are in 11 personnel with trips to the field, Prescott motions Elliott (#21) over to the field side before the snap. A quick screen is set up to Cole Beasley (#11) to the trips side, Dak gives a slight pump fake, then flips a pass to Zeke on a delayed screen over to the boundary. Martin does a great job of getting out in front of the play to block Demario Davis (#56), and Joe Looney (#73) decleats Tyeler Davison (#95). Zeke takes off to the pylon and Dallas has surprisingly gained a two score lead at the end of the first quarter, 10-0.
New Orleans gained their first 1st down of the game with the first play of the quarter. Then they promptly went three-and-out.
After the punt, Dallas gained only one yard on first down.
2nd and 9 from their own 33-yard line.
Cooper is split out wide to the boundary with Blake Jarwin (#89) in the slot in this 11 personnel formation. Jarwin clears out on a corner route, Cooper cuts underneath with a five-yard dig route. A relatively simple completion, until New Orleans defenders swarm Cooper as he fights for extra yardage. Marshon Lattimore (#23) gets a fist on the ball and recovers it somewhere under the pile of bodies. New Orleans takes over on the Dallas 39-yard line.
Now in striking distance, Head Coach Sean Payton goes for the big play on 2nd and 6.
New Orleans is in a 12 personnel set and Dan Arnold (#85) motions across the formation to the boundary. Dallas runs a Cover 3 zone but New Orleans has a counter with Arnold running a seam route and Michael Thomas (#13) running a fade. Brees (#9) hits Arnold through a window in the middle of the field. Xavier Woods (#25) comes downfield and levels Arnold. The ball flies out and Thomas dives in to save his team. The call on the field initially was an incomplete pass but New Orleans challenged, resulting in a reversal. New Orleans is on the Dallas 7-yard line.
Payton is an aggressive offensive football coach, who to this point was 11/12 in fourth down conversion situations in the 2018 season. New Orleans is in a balanced-spread 10 personnel set and elects to run the ball into a Dallas front with 7 defenders in the box. Demarcus Lawrence (#90) comes off the edge unblocked and takes down Kamara (#41) at the line of scrimmage.
Dallas’ next drive stayed true to their game plan, and the Cowboys started to take over this game. Starting from their own two-yard line with 10 minutes left in the half, the Cowboys marched down the field. Zeke was having trouble getting going on the ground, while Dak was completing multiple throws for 10+ yards and had a big run as well.
Eventually Dallas is facing a 3rd and 7 from the New Orleans 19-yard line with 1:39 left in the half.
Dallas is thinking touchdown on this play, coming out in a balanced-spread 11 personnel formation. New Orleans crowds the line of scrimmage, showing blitz again. Linebackers Anzalone and Davis drop into coverage on the snap, and the four down linemen rush Prescott. Onyemata is matched up once more against Xavier Su’a-Filo. Onyemata pushes Su’a-Filo all the way into Prescott with brute strength. As Dak’s arm comes down from a pump fake, the ball is out of his hands. Prescott miraculously recovers his fumble, but the Cowboys are going to have to settle for a 46-yard field goal.
Drew Brees is going to get a final shot to score points before the half, with 51 seconds and one timeout remaining.
New Orleans is in 11 personnel with trips to the field. Brees gets to the top of his drop, gets ready to fire, and loses the ball. Lawrence and Randy Gregory (#94) both get excellent rushes off the edge and fold the pocket in on Brees. Brees stays on his feet and is able to land on top of the ball. Any momentum New Orleans gained from the goal line stand evaporated.
The half would end after a Brees to Kamara completion for five yards.
New Orleans gets the ball for the second half and puts together an efficient drive. There wasn’t a big play over 10 yards, but they worked down to the Dallas 15-yard line and got their first points of the game with a Wil Lutz field goal from 33 yards out.
Dallas converted a quick first down on their first series of the half, moving the ball to their own 36-yard line. New Orleans wanted to stop this drive before it even got going.
Dallas is looking to throw out of this 11 personnel trips formation. New Orleans plays Cover 1 and sends A.J. Klein (#53) on a delayed blitz. Jordan forces his way through Cameron Fleming (#75) and Klein has a direct line at Prescott.
The sack sends the Cowboys back to their own 27-yard line, and a punt shortly followed.
The Saints finally have something to build off of after getting points on their first drive of the half. New Orleans converts a first down but then began to struggle. Fortunately for the Saints, Dallas was willing to help them out.
A Byron Jones pass interference would move the Saints up 17 yards on a first down. Jones was called again for a defensive holding on a 3rd and 10, giving New Orleans another automatic first down. Finally, on 4th and 3 with the Saints punting from the Dallas 48-yard line, Gregory would fall victim to a roughing the kicker call, moving the Saints farther into Dallas territory.
Three plays later, it’s 3rd and 7 from the Dallas 30-yard line.
New Orleans is working a tight bunch to the boundary in this 11 personnel formation. Dallas is playing Cover 2 man and the Saints are going with another downfield seam-fade concept. Keith Kirkwood (#18) is the closest receiver in the slot and runs by both defenders guarding him. Brees delivers an accurate deep strike and the Saints have worked their way back to a one score game.
A holding call would neutralize Dallas’ offense, resulting in a quick punt to start the quarter.
On the ensuing New Orleans drive, the Dallas defense would get home to Brees again. Lawrence came screaming off the edge and clobbered Brees. The ball was loose and Tyrone Crawford recovers for Dallas. All was for nothing though; Gregory had lined up offsides on the play. The New Orleans drive would eventually sputter out at the Dallas 42-yard line, leading to a punt.
Dallas regained possession with 9:15 left on the clock. Another long drive for points would essentially end the game.
The Cowboys pick up an early first down and face a 3rd and 10 their next series.
Sometimes the quarterback just has to make a play. Despite all his critics, Dak made a play few quarterbacks in the NFL could make here. New Orleans crowds the line of scrimmage and shows another blitz. The Saints are in Cover 1 and rush six. As the pocket collapses, Prescott steps up and shakes off Jordan. Dak jukes Klein and runs over Apple before stretching for the first down marker. A gain of 11, and the Cowboys are fired up.
The next play is ammunition for Dak haters.
Dallas is in 11 personnel and New Orleans only rushes four. Prescott looks to the field trying to find Cooper or Jarwin, nothing is there. Dak snaps his body back to the boundary and uncorks a bomb for Gallup, who just cooked his defender on a hitch-and-go route. Gallup is open by at least seven yards, but the pass soars just over his fingertips. New Orleans dodges a bullet.
Dallas would eventually convert on the series, moving the ball to the New Orleans 45-yard line.
To this point Elliott had been effective, but he had yet to produce a big run. After staying true to the run all game, the floodgates finally opened. Dallas is in 10 personnel, running an inside zone read option. Dak does an excellent job of riding the mesh point and attacking the line of scrimmage even though he doesn’t keep the ball. Alex Okafor (#57) respects Prescott’s ability to run and isn’t able to recover to make a play on Elliott. Elliott shows patience at the line of scrimmage and burst as he explodes through the hole into the second level. Zeke finishes off the run by slamming into Apple and barreling forward for a gain of 21 yards.
The Cowboys were running on all cylinders and worked their way into the red zone, eventually finding themselves on the New Orleans 6-yard line.
Dallas is in 11 personnel with Cooper and Beasley lined up to the field, Jarwin is also lined up tight to the field. New Orleans disguises a blitz and Jordan gets a great jump off the line of scrimmage. Jordan beats Collins, drawing a penalty in the process, and gets to Prescott to force and recover a fumble.
Dallas succeeded in manufacturing a long drive, but the turnover was absolutely killer. No matter how much he struggled on this day, Brees with over two minutes left and a timeout was a terrifying sight.
On the second play of the drive, Dallas’ defense comes up huge.
New Orleans is in an 11 personnel set with Thomas split into the slot at the bottom of the screen. The Saints are trying to run a combo route with Thomas and Kamara. As Dallas’ pressure begins to close in quick, Brees locates Kamara underneath. The moment Brees slings the ball out to Kamara, the running back breaks to the sideline and Jourdan Lewis (#27) is in perfect position to secure the interception. A killer turnover that effectively ended the game.
Dallas has completed their goal, and the clock slowly counts down to triple zeroes. The Cowboys win 13-10, giving the Saints their second loss of the season. It was a game that stunned nearly everyone in the NFL community.
MVP of the Game
Giving MVP to an entire side of the ball might be a cop out, but the entire Dallas Cowboys defense could have been MVP. The secondary played sticky in man and zone coverage, the linebackers were flying around making plays and hitting hard, and the defensive line wrecked Drew Brees’ day. But Dak Prescott shined in the face of adversity. The Cowboys’ offensive line allowed Dak to be sacked seven times, but the quarterback still willed his team to a win with the use of his arm and legs.
Re-live this game and watch the highlights here.