The Dallas Cowboys have a big game coming up, with a juicy sideline story for good measure. Dallas takes on the 6-2 New Orleans Saints, with a defense coached by Rob Ryan. The Saints have looked like the better team for most of the year, but did struggle and lose against the Jets last week. Can the Cowboys make it two losses in a row for New Orleans? Here are four keys.
1. Stop Jimmy Graham. Or, more accurately, try to contain him as much as possible. Graham leads the Saints in a few categories, but the big two for me are touchdowns and targets. The Saints have 21 receiving TDs on the year, Graham has 10 of those and missed one game due to injury. Graham is easily Brees' favorite receiver on the team, targeting the TE on 75 passes for the year, 30 more than the next Saint. Will the Cowboys man him up with Brandon Carr, letting B.W. Webb play on the outside when Graham is in the slot? (hat tip to Joey and rabblerousr for first bringing that up in an email this week). Will they use a more traditional linebacker/safety combination when Graham is inline?
2. The Saints don't run the ball well, but they sure do pass to their running backs, a lot. After Graham, the two most targeted pass receivers are Darren Sproles (48) and Pierre Thomas (44). This is their de facto running game, but Sproles and Thomas can be explosive catching passes, especially Sproles. Both have four catches of over 20 yards on the season. They have combined for three touchdowns in the passing game. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, along with Barry Church, have to be smart about covering the running backs and making sure tackles once they catch it.
3. The Saints defense doesn't defend the run well. Even though the Cowboys have had mixed results in the run game this year, and have abandoned it for long stretches, this might be the week to go a little more with the running game. Over the last four weeks, the Saints defense has given up 510 yards on the ground averaging 4.4 yards per carry. The Cowboys should attempt to take advantage of this fact. In the Saints two recent losses, they have been dominated by the opposition's run game.
4. Tony Romo has to play a better game. For all the praise heaped on Romo earlier this year, and that was deserved, his accuracy is flagging recently. Up through the Denver game, his completion percentage was 72%. Since that game, it's been 59%. And it's not all on dropped passes, bad route-running, or pressure - as we saw last week, too many times Romo's making the easy catch into a difficult one. When Romo is on he's almost always leading his receiver to space, lately he's been late with some passes. Romo needs to be razor-sharp in this one.
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