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Cowboys Game Plans - Week Four: Scouting The Saints' Defense

Let's look at the Saints defense to see exactly what the Cowboys are preparing for in Sunday's featured contest.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Week Four

Opponent: New Orleans Saints

Head Coach: Sean Payton

Defensive Coordinator: Rob Ryan

Base Defensive Alignment: 3-4

Projected Starters:

  • DE - Cameron Jordan - 94
  • DE/OLB - Junior Galette - 93
  • NT -  Brodrick Bunkley - 77
  • DT/DE - Akiem Hicks - 76
  • ILB - Curtis Lofton - 50 (Probable)
  • LB - David Hawthorne- 57 (Questionable)
  • OLB - Parys Haralson - 98
  • CB - Keenan Lewis - 28
  • CB - Corey White - 24
  • SS - Kenny Vacarro - 32
  • FS - Jairus Byrd - 31

Base Run Fits: Multiple
Base Coverage: Multiple


The name Rob Ryan is certain to draw a reaction from Cowboys fans, his two years as defensive coordinator of the Cowboys ended full of rumor and controversy as the franchise made the transition to the 4-3 based scheme they have employed under Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli in 2013 and 2014. His multiple fronts, varying pressure schemes, and complex combination coverages give offenses a lot to prepare for, but his volatile personality and coaching style have drawn criticism from various places.

Is It Really A 3-4 Front?


With the Browns in base personnel here, the Saints are lined up in a very clear 4-3 over front, similar to a front we see from the Cowboys week in and week out. This illustrates the mix of odd and even fronts (odd=man head up on the Center) that the Saints will employ in a game.

Vulnerable To The Run?


Here we see a look from the Saints week one match up with the Falcons. The Falcons are in 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) personnel, and the Saints have countered with a Nickel look. But what drew my attention here is the depth of the safeties. With depths of 15 and 20 yards respectively to help prevent the big play in the passing game, they leave only six players in the box, in this situation the Falcons have six blockers immediately available in the run game, which should be a favorable running opportunity. It is likely that Bird and Vacarro are taught to fill down hill very hard in the run game. This assignment could put them in a bind if their eyes start to wander into the backfield rather than focusing on their run/pass keys. If their eye discipline falters they will be easy play action targets for big plays on the outside, and over the middle.

Bringing The Heat


Of course you can't talk about a Rob Ryan led defense without mentioning the pressure schemes. Here the Saints are in a 3-3-5 (3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB) nickel look, and all 6 members of the front are coming on the blitz. With the two defensive ends coming off the edge on the rush, the inside is where the magic happens. The nose tackle scoops all the way to the closed (TE side) B gap, while the three line backers cross each others paths to attack both A gaps and the open B gap. This type of rush can be a challenge for offensive lines to diagnose and sort out in their protections, and really puts a lot on the RB to find the correct man and execute his block. Any sort of miscommunication by the guys up front will result in very quick inside pressure, which is trouble for any quarterback.


After a stellar season in 2013 this Saints defense seems to have taken a step back in 2014 (sound familiar?), but they have a lot of talent on the front and back ends. If I was in the offensive game plan meetings at Valley Ranch this week, I'd be talking about using a lot of no huddle and "sugar" huddle looks this week, especially after successful third down converstions, in an attempt to catch Ryan's group in some unsound personnel groups. I'd also be emphasizing running out of 11 personnel, something that this team has done well, but something that will also present challenges for Ryan if he wants to use special tactics to account for guys like Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley in the pass game. We saw above that he likes to put his safeties in position to help prevent big plays outside on his less than stellar CBs and this added attention to the pass catchers could leave ample room for DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys rushing attack.

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