Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
It's funny what one week in the NFL can do. A pair of convincing blowouts took place in week 15. Saints over Bucs has convinced some that New Orleans has become a powerhouse and will be able to beat Dallas. Strangely, Falcons over Giants is considered an anomaly, and the Giants are still world-beaters. One good game against Tampa does nothing to convince me that the Cowboys will be disappointed on Sunday.
Uh-oh, the Saints destroyed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - we Cowboys fans better brace for a loss. At least, that's what some Saints fans might want to believe. Somewhere between lamenting that we ended their chance at an unbeaten season and the knowledge that their head coach's heart is in Dallas, a bitterness has arisen in Saints fans that I was quite frankly unaware of until this game popped onto our schedule.
This is nothing new, of course. As a Cowboys fan, I regularly check into our upcoming opponents. When I enter these investigations, I begin by thinking, "oh, the xxxx? I've got nothing against them." But then, I begin looking at opposing team views, and inevitable come across some awful venom. "I can't STAND the Cowboys! I HATE them!" Why? I prefer Philosophy over Psychology, so I've got nothing on that.
Does this work against us, somehow? They say that there's nothing like going to the house of a hated rival and beating them. Others say that you prepare with more focus. Any way you interpret it, the Cowboys rarely reciprocate these feelings. Does this contribute to their seeming lack of a home-field advantage? Or perhaps their presumed comparative lack of focus? It's possible they simply don't get hyped to play other teams the same way other teams get hyped to play them. We're the Cowboys; they aren't. I'll take that compromise, though.
Anyway, there are plenty of reasons why I'm not worried about the Saints, even given their recent triumph over the Bucs (who, by the way, we've also beaten). Two primary factors contribute to a shutout, blowout victory. The offense dominates the opposing defense (the blowout). The defense dominates the opposing offense (the blowout).
As for the blowout portion, I don't think we're a team vulnerable to getting blown out. We don't come out with butterflies, stacking mistakes on top of each other and making a four-quarter disaster out of it. If we make mistakes, we generally recover from them, at least ending up with a close game at some point.
More specifically, the Saints offense dominated a Buccaneers defense which bares absolutely no resemblance to the unit we'll be trotting out Sunday afternoon. The Buccaneers are a 4-3, Cover 2 defense with its strength focused primarily on the defensive line. The defensive line of this Cowboys team, however, is far from its strength. Rather, the Saints offensive line will have to adapt to blitzing linebackers and a pair of very dangerous outside rushers. With Claiborne healthy, we have enough corners to effectively cover Brees' fleet of receivers, another strength that the Buccaneers don't have, especially since trading Aqib Talib to the Patriots. Put simply, the Saints' productivity against the Buccaneers means nothing against the Cowboys.
Now onto that notion of a shut-out. Does anybody here honestly think that shutting out the Buccaneers offense is predictive of future success against the Cowboys? I don't think so. When you look at New Orleans defensively, they've not been able to stop anyone most of the season, especially on the ground. Suddenly, Tampa Bay comes to the Super Dome - led offensively by rookie running back Doug Martin - and gets shut down completely. Did the Saints suddenly manifest a run defense, or did they simply have enough familiarity with Josh Freeman to know that he was not to be feared? My money's on the latter, and a glance at his sub-55% completion percentage this year reassures me. The Saints took away Doug Martin and challenged Josh Freeman to beat them. Freeman responded with 5 turnovers and a 37.5 passer rating.
Now, who believes that the same strategy will work on the Cowboys and Tony Romo? If the Saints are willing to put 8 or 9 in the box against Romo, I'd welcome it. Teams that can honestly stop the run, that is stop it in their base sets, have been causing the Cowboys problems all year. That isn't the case with this Saints team, however. They were only able to stop the run because the run was the only thing that needed to be stopped. Tony, Miles, Dez and Jason will not allow a similar situation to arise. And if the Saints play to stop the pass - which they should - Murray should continue to provide us with vital ground support, helping to keep Drew Brees on the bench.
I'm sorry, New Orleans, but I don't see this game ending with a 'Who Dat?' chant. Remember, these are the Saints that got blown out by the Giants, who in turn got blown/shut out by the Falcons. The odds of New Orleans repeating last week's performance against a team legitimately hunting for a playoff spot are miniscule.