Gus Kattengell’s Saints Report – Cowboys Game
The last time the Dallas Cowboys came into New Orleans they handed the Saints their first loss of the season back in 2009, snapping a 13-0 start. Fans around here still haven’t forgotten about that game and since then the Saints and Cowboys have played twice since and each time the Saints have won by three points. New Orleans won 30-27 on Thanksgiving in 2010 and last year it took overtime for the Saints to win 34-31.
New Orleans heads into the primetime matchup having lost two of their last three games and what seemed to be an easy road to the playoffs thanks to a cushy division lead is gone. Carolina has won four straight and sit just one game behind the Saints in the NFC South.
While fans and us in the media look ahead to playoff possibilities or the schedule, for head coach Sean Payton it’s about the next game being the biggest game. “After week five I heard discussions about seeding. I get it and I understand it, but it is like trying to figure out who is going to win the Belmont at the first turn,” says Payton on trying to look ahead. “There is a ton of football here for us and for everyone else in our division, in the conference, and throughout the rest of the league. We are halfway finished and honestly the only way I know how without going crazy is to focus on this game.”
Players this week also were quick to point out that while losing two of three is disappointing the locker room is far from panicking “Here is the tough part, if we were able to put together a drive and win that Jets game we would be sitting here 7-1 and saying we feel pretty good just got a come from behind victory and that kind of thing,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said this week. “Just one thing, you don’t do and all of a sudden you are 6-2. So here we are coming off a tough loss and a game we felt like we should have won. We liked our plan going in (to the game). We feel like we matched up well. We just didn’t get the job done. That part is disappointing. And then you kind of look at the stretch ahead and it doesn’t get easier. It is going to be extremely tough. It is almost like a new season begins. We’ve learned a lot from the first eight games, both good and bad. We know the areas in which we need to improve. We are going to need to see those improvements if we are going to win these games when you look at the stretch. No more important game than this one because coming off a loss you want to get that bad taste out of your mouth, that rock out of your shoe and you want to get back on the winning side of things.”
The Cowboys are 5-4 as they enter the game having won three of their last four games and quarterback Tony Romo knows that for his team to pick up win number six they’ll have to handle a tough task this week. “It is always a very tough place to play,” Romo told New Orleans reporters earlier this week of the Sunday night match-up “It is going to be a tough scheme we are going against, a tough place to play, a tough offense on the other side, all of those things up against it are going to make it a tough situation, but that is what makes the game great. There is a certain recipe going in and to having a chance to go in and win this football game and I think we understand that and you have to go out and do it.”
Looking at this game I see really two big story-lines with those being Rob Ryan’s revenge and the battle of offenses.
This week when Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett spoke to us it seemed as if he was trying to get Rob Ryan a job and not like a guy that fired him last season as their defensive coordinator. Clearly it was owner/general manager Jerry Jones’ call to ax Ryan. “Oh yeah Rob is a fantastic coach. There’s no question about that. He’s a great guy and did a lot for our organization in the two years that he was here,” said Garrett. “Defensively we played very well, particularly last year, for most of the year. Probably through week ten or 1, we were one of the best defenses in the league. We really just got decimated by injuries, and I thought Rob did a good job of keeping everybody together and working through the different players that were in for us. I think he’s a fantastic coach. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that he’s having the success he’s having down there.”
There is no question that Ryan still is irked by his dismissal as he mentioned it the very first time media spoke with him back during OTSs in May. Saints players this week have talked about how they know Ryan wants this game and have tried to not make it a big deal by adding the Saints want this game. I can’t think of anyone better to prepare the Saints defense than Ryan this week for a Cowboys offense that has given the Saints close games in the past.
That brings me to the second big story-line as the offenses are what these teams hang their hats on. Dallas averages 28.6 points per game and the Saints average 27 points a game. Romo and the passing game are ninth in the league with 267.1 yards a game and just 27th in rushing with 75.7 yards per game.
Dallas receiver Dez Bryant is their primary weapon. Bryant is talented and has the attention of head coach Sean Payton. “He’s an explosive player who does a great job of making plays above his head. He’s very good, as good as anyone at run after the catch,” says Payton. “He’s a hard guy to bring down, so I think that’s one of the things that you see in each game. His ability to take the ball and get yards after a reception is exceptional.” Bryant can also be a distraction as I’m sure you’ve seen the video from a few weeks ago of Bryant blowing up on the sidelines at his teammates for not getting the ball or what not. That said last season Saints fans saw firsthand how could he could be as Bryant caught 9 balls for 224 yards and two touchdown passes.
Brees and the Saints offense are 3rd in the NFL in passing with 317.6 yards per game and like the Cowboys struggling running it with a 79.8 yards average per game good for 26th in the NFL. Injuries have taken a toll on the Saints as receiver Marques Colston missed last week and has been limited this week. Running back Darren Sproles suffered a concussion last week and thankfully is okay as he’s practiced fully all week. Tight end Jimmy Graham is playing but clearly he is not the same threat as the foot injury is limiting his quickness in breaks and overall speed.
HOW I SEE IT
These two teams are pretty similar in that they are pass first offenses and look for their defenses to be just good enough and hope to give them a lead.
Dallas' achilles heel this season is their pass defense as the Cowboys are giving up an average of 305.2 yards a game good for 31st in the NFL. I have to believe that Drew Brees and the many weapons of the Saints passing game can take advantage of that and produce points.
The Saints can control this game by doing something they’ve struggled in doing so far this season and that’s getting off to a fast start and forcing the Cowboys to play catch-up. That would give Ryan that extra fire to unleash his defense on Tony Romo.
Saints are the better team to me and it’s as simple as that. Black and Gold win it 34-23.