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Saints #1 Key to Victory vs. Cowboys: Protect #9 at All Costs

0.91 or just a little less than one per game. That’s the grand total of sacks (10) in 11 NFL Football games allowed by the New Orleans Saints offensive line this season, a remarkable accomplishment for a unit that has achieved success on a level of unprecedented heights.

And without question, their ability to dominate opposing defensive lines will become a key factor in Thursday Night’s looming showdown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (suburban Dallas) against the NFC East Division-leading (6-5) Cowboys; a team with a defensive line more than capable of creating havoc for opponents — including one that’s won 10 games in a row and has a future Hall of Fame quarterback running its offense.

With that in mind, it goes without saying that the overall performance and play of the Saints O-Line is the #1 key to victory for (10-1) New Orleans against Dallas, and protecting #9 at all costs obviously will be their top priority once again.

It’s been because of the O-Line’s dominance that the ageless Brees is having what might be the greatest year of his entire 18-year NFL career up to this point; as the soon-to-be 40-year old leads all quarterbacks with a career-high 127.3 rating, which would best Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’ 2011 NFL record 122.5 rating.

Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Hebert/NewOrleansSaints.com

Additionally, Drew’s interceptions percentage is an incredible 0.6, which easily is the lowest of his entire career. He has thrown 29 touchdown passes and two interceptions — by far and away the best TD-to-interception ratio of any QB in the League. PERIOD.

Bottom line: the O-Line deserves a ton of credit for Brees’ achievements this season; and Saints head coach Sean Payton has heaped a ton of praise on them for doing so.

“Clearly, it’s good to see the type of season he’s having and I think overall as a team they’re playing close attention to what wins games,” Payton said. “Each week it has been a different way, yet we’re finding ways to come out on top.”

By contrast, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is already well aware that stopping Brees is their only true hope to win this highly-anticipated contest; meaning that they’ll need to do whatever it takes to keep Brees off the field.

“There’s really nothing on the field he can’t do,” Garrett told reporters in his press conference the other day. “He’s a great leader, a great decision maker, tremendous athleticism, accuracy, confidence, the ability to deliver the ball to anywhere on the field. His command of what they do is incredible.”

In addition to only allowing the 10 sacks on Brees this season, the League’s leading MVP candidate has only been forced to scramble out of the pocket a grand total of just four times.

Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Hebert/NewOrleansSaints.com

That speaks volumes as to just how well the O-Line is protecting Brees this year; and it’s the reason why the Cowboys will be looking to disrupt him at every single opportunity to do just that.

As it is, Brees has essentially had the Cowboys’ “number” ever since he arrived in NOLA 12 years ago,

Brees has played a total of 7 different times against Dallas since he signed with the Saints back in 2006 and has  completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 2,571 yards (367.3 yards per game) with 18 touchdowns but only 3 interceptions; which is good enough for a passer rating of 112.7.

In other words: Brees has carved up Dallas just about every time that’s he’s ever faced them.

Which is exactly why Dallas undoubtedly will turn loose 5th year defensive end Demarcus Lawrenceone of the very best pass-rushers in the entire NFL — in this contest; in the hope that they can at least neutralize Brees somewhat, if they can’t truly hope to “stop” him.

Lawrence is certainly very capable of having a huge game, and as noted by Dallas-Forth Worth NBC affiliate Channel 5 Sports Anchor / Cowboys analyst Jean Jacques-Taylor: right now, Lawrence might be the most complete defensive end in the game, a player who plays the run as hard and as he rushes the passer. Taylor says that Lawrence plays with a relentless fury matches by few others in the League, and adds that he’s the proverbial “poster child for every NFL coach on how to play the game.

But as Taylor also observes: Lawrence isn’t just about pure athleticism, but he’s about utilizing the proper technique and learning the nuances of the position to help him remain successful at all times.

Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Lawrence had a “breakout season” last year in 2017, recording 14.5 sacks (nearly twice his career high) just a year removed from undergoing two back surgeries in his first three NFL seasons.

This season thus far after 11 games played, Lawrence is currently ranked 4th among all NFL defensive linemen League-wide, with 47 tackles, 8.5 sacks (which ranks him 13th in NFL), and tied for 3rd overall with 13 tackles for loss.

And according to the good folks over at the analytics website Pro Football Focus: Lawrence has rushed the passer 323 times this season, and has tallied 45 pressures; a combination of sacks, hits and pressures on the quarterback which is the same as Houston’s J.J. Watt. PFF notes that only four players have more.

For every bit as much as Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper or Dak Prescott are considered “superstars” for Dallas, so too is Lawrence; who is a play-maker on an unparralelled level at the moment; as evidenced by his first-ever career interception in which Taylor says the former Boise State University star did with a unique combination of athleticism and agility.

As it turns out, the Saints O-Line will have more than just Lawrence to worry about.

Cowboys 7th year defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford — one of three original Dallas draft picks from Boise State along Lawrence and rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch — is putting together what might be the best season of his career.

(Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Crawford, the Cowboys 3rd Round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, has posted at least a half-sack in four straight games now for the much-improved Dallas defensive line and is now currently up to 4.5 sacks on the year, putting him one away from a career-best figure.

Also, the Dallas defense received even more good news just yesterday when it was announced that 2nd year defensive end Taco Charlton returned to practice, and is expected to be in the line-up against the Saints.

Charlton had missed all three straight games of Dallas’ current winning streak, due to a lingering shoulder injury issue that’s bothered him for the past several weeks but now finally appears to be nearing a full recovery.

The expected return of Charlton, the Cowboys’ top pick in last year’s 2017 NFL Draft from the University of Michigan, would be a notable boost to Dallas’ defensive front 7, especially since 3rd year veteran DT Maliek Collins has also been out their line-up while nursing a knee injury.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Bottom line: the Cowboys D-Line is getting healthier and is now getting closer to full strength; and they undoubtedly will be looking to create as much havoc as they possibly can to disrupt Brees and get him out of his rhythm. 

They are more than aware that if they can’t stop Brees from having another typical Brees-like performance, then they more than likely will have ZERO CHANCE at winning this game and pulling off the upset of the heavily-favored New Orleans team that will be seeking its 11th straight win in a row.

It’s the whole reason why the #1 key to victory for the Black and Gold this Thursday Night will be to protect #9 at all costs — something which the Saints dominant O-Line has done better than anyone else, in what has been an unforgettable 2018 NFL season….

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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