I watched the Saints/49ers game from last weekend to get a scouting report on New Orleans. They played the game without Marques Colston and without Joe Horn after he aggravated his groin injury on his first catch of the game. With those two in the game, the Saints offense is a different animal, but it's unclear if either or both will play this weekend. If they do play, the Saints are a much more dangerous deep passing team. As referenced by Parcells in a press conference this week, they have a mountain of deep pass plays this year. If they don't play, then the Saints will probably have to play a game much like the one they did this week.
On offense, Drew Brees is the main man; he's the key to making it work. Watching the game it became clear why he's been sacked so few times this year. In some ways, he's like Romo, he's got a quick release, he has a good sense of when he's in trouble in the pocket, he's athletic enough to get out of the pocket and he throws OK when moving. The Cowboys have to maintain some kind of discipline in their rush because Brees can make them pay if he can move around. The Saints weren't dominating the 49ers pass rush, there were times when the rush was getting to Brees. The 49ers were most effective when blitzing from the edges with LB's or defensive backs.
With two of their main threats in the vertical passing game unavailable, the Saints went to a short passing game that relied heavily on Reggie Bush. Bush was lined up all over the field and they got the ball to him in numerous different ways. When he caught the ball in the flats, he used his open-field moves to torment the 49ers defense. Bush wasn't involved heavily in the running game out of the traditional TB position. The 49ers defense was also guilty of some atrocious tackling in the game, something the Cowboys defense will have to be much better at to contain Bush.
Deuce McAllister received the bulk of the carries in the running game and was used mainly between the tackles. He was the workhorse and still has enough quickness to get to the hole and some deceiving power to break through arm tackles. Instead of attacking the edges with their run game, they used short passes out in the flats. DeMarcus Ware and Al Singleton need to be especially sharp in this game.
Devery Henderson wasn't effective in this game, probably because the 49ers could key on him with Horn and Colston not playing. But he also dropped two passes that would've been nice plays.
On defense, the Saints were not going to let Frank Gore beat them so they were very aggressive in stacking the box with eight players (sometimes nine) and they played their safeties close to the line of scrimmage. Their strategy was to make QB Alex Smith beat them and he wasn't up to the task. They did an excellent job of containing Gore by stacking the box and limited him to only 40 yards rushing.
I doubt they would be so aggressive against the Cowboys balanced offense, so I expect them to back off some and respect our passing game. Especially with Sean Payton's intimate knowledge of Romo's game. But they do appear to be an attacking defense that's not afraid to blitz, so the Cowboys may want to run some misdirection plays to take advantage of it. The 49ers ran a flea-flicker and had a man open deep, but Smith couldn't complete the pass.
In the passing game, the Cowboys need to go after RCB Fred Thomas. San Francisco receiver - and ex-Cowboy - Antonio Bryant was able to get behind him deep on several occasions and scored on a 48-yard bomb where he was wide-open. A couple of other times, Smith threw poor passes when Bryant was deep resulting in incompletions. On the other side Mike McKenzie had two interceptions on the day and did a better job of covering his man.
Ex-Cowboys Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita start at the outside LB positions and Shanle was particularly active in the game. Terrance Copper also saw time as a WR but was not involved in any plays.
Without Horn and Colston, the Cowboys should be able to handle the passing game relatively well and could move Roy Williams closer to the line to help contain Bush. If either of those two play, the Cowboys will have to be content to keep Williams back and keep the Saints receivers in front of them. To create pressure on Brees, the Cowboys should bring pressure from the edges with Ware and Singleton or blitz a safety/CB.
When they hand the ball to McAllister, the line needs to pinch down towards the middle and let the OLB's push in but keep contain. When Bush is on the field, he could be lined up anywhere so they need to mark him and understand that the Saints will be relying on him heavily in the pass game without Horn and Colston. It's easier said than done, but the Cowboys have to be sure tacklers on Sunday or Bush will hurt them.
On offense, the Cowboys should punish the Saints deep on Fred Thomas' side of the ball. Romo needs to be aware of the Saints pass rush because they can get pressure on the QB and the 49ers did a very poor job of making them pay when they brought extra guys.
Also, the Saints will be without DT Hollis Thomas, suspended for steroid use, so Dallas will want to probe the interior run defense of the Saints early. Gore found a little success going up the middle, and without Thomas and the safeties needing to respect our passing game, this area might be ripe for picking.
The game was much closer than the score indicates. The 49ers were within 4 points in the second half with the ball after a surprise onsides kick. But Smith threw an interception on the next play and the Saints converted it for a TD. He then threw another interception which basically closed out the game for the 49ers. The message being that you can't give the Saints extra opportunities with the football.