Most NFL followers have more or less penciled the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans into the NFC Championship Game (barring serious injuries, of course), and understandably so. These teams led by superb offenses have been dominating, with each taking a 10-1 record into Week 13.
Well, the Saints are now 10-2, after losing 13-10 to the Dallas Cowboys (7-5) on Thursday Night Football at AT&T Stadium.
As the score would indicate, Dallas played exceptional defense in the upset victory.
The Cowboys’ front seven really rattled NFL MVP favorite Drew Brees and the secondary had terrific coverage on the Saints’ receivers. Brees completed 18-of-28 passes for only 127 yards (4.5 avg), with one touchdown pass, one interception, and a 71.6 passer rating. The interception came on this Jourdan Lewis pick in the final two minutes to basically close out the game.
— NFL (@NFL) November 30, 2018
And Dallas did an outstanding job at stopping the New Orleans run game as well. Alvin Kamara was held to 36 yards on 11 carries (3.3 avg), and was stuffed on this 4th-and-goal carry in the second quarter.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) November 30, 2018
Today’s NFL is a quarterback’s league, a league where most of the top teams have high-powered offenses. And this is the best path to sustained success now in the NFL.
But terrific defensive play can still beat terrific offenses as the Cowboys showed on Thursday night. Pressure the quarterback and cause disruption, shut down the running game, force some key turnovers, and you have a chance. It’s how the Denver Broncos shocked the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, despite Peyton Manning having the NFL’s worst passer rating that season at 67.6.
The Saints and Rams are still the teams to beat in the NFC, and they’re still likely to get a bye. They’re likely to host second round playoff games. The Saints would obviously be much, much more difficult to shut down in New Orleans than they were on Thursday night in Dallas.
However, teams like the Cowboys, Chicago Bears, and Minnesota Vikings now have to feel a little bit better about their chances in January against the Rams and Saints. We’ve now seen the recipe to beating the Saints without an offense like the Rams and Chiefs have. It takes a remarkable defensive effort, talent, coaching, and probably some breaks to go your way, but it can still be done.