The Cowboys have a chance Sunday night to get their third win of the season and Brandon Weeden's sixth win of his career. In order to do so, they will have to be more disciplined on defense than they were last week in which saw Julio Jones light them up in the air and Devonta Freeman rush for 140+ yards on the ground. This defense needs to find a way to revert back to the unit we saw crush the Philadelphia Eagles.
The New Orleans Saints have struggled to be the offense they once were. Drew Brees has a bruised throwing shoulder but even before that he's broken even with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also lost a few fumbles and has had a tough time getting his team points as the Saints are averaging only 20 points per game. Gone are the big targets like Jimmy Graham and Brees has been forced to improvise. It hasn't helped that the Saints offensive line has had some nicks and bruises to deal with to some key guys. That being said, Drew Brees has also been sacked six times, an average of three times in his two contests.
The red zone is where this New Orleans offense has seen the lion's share of their issues. In week one, Brees threw for over 350 yards but could only muster one touchdown and the Cardinals forced four field goals. In week two, Brees was sacked four times and only notched one touchdown and an interception. They were able to add two rushing touchdowns but were denied on two consecutive extra-point tries. One was a blocked kick, and the other was an incomplete two-point try by Brees. Last week, without Brees, the Saints scored ten points to start the game but followed it up with two punts and a turnover. After they gathered some momentum from a rushing score, Luke McCown threw an interception with 2:41 on the clock and the Panthers all but iced the game.
If you take that short synopsis into account, the Cowboys rank right below the Cardinals and Panthers on total defense at 8th. They actually are a better pass defense than the Panthers and a better run defense than the Cardinals, statistically speaking. My point is they should be able to have some success against the Saints as well, they just have to play better. Last week was an out of character performance for a Rod Marinelli defense and it has to be corrected this week.
The Cowboys especially had issues with setting the edge due to the absence of Jeremy Mincey. With him back in the fold, it makes the rotation better therefore guys should be able stay disciplined in the scheme. Dallas also needs more help from the middle of their defensive front. Nick Hayden had one of his best games against the Falcons but it was disguised by an even better outing by the Falcons' fullback Patrick DiMarco and their rushing game. DiMarco was punishing the Cowboys' linebackers leaving open holes for Freeman to run right through on his way to a career-high. Dallas has got to plug the holes in this game and stifle Mark Ingram. Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens will need to up their game and not allow themselves to be chipped by blockers.
That means better play from the defensive tackles, too. Tyrone Crawford was pretty hard on himself this week but he should be after they couldn't get to Matt Ryan last week. Marinelli's scheme is based on pressure and turnovers, two fields in which the Cowboys failed in last week. Drew Brees is not the guy you want to let get on a roll. That means more gap discipline from the lot of these defenders. As far as the corners, Morris Claiborne is putting together a nice start thus far and has given up zero touchdowns. Both Brandon Carr and Tyler Patmon have played well, too. They should have the opportunity to play good defense against these receivers. Brandin Cooks will be a load to deal with but Marques Colston is not the same guy anymore and it showed with his two crucial drops last week.
For this game, the defense needs to show up and not commit so many mental lapses as they did last Sunday. This defensive gameplan has always been known to be simple to run, the Cowboys juts have to execute better and this is the perfect team for them to make an example of. It starts with the pass rush. It really doesn't matter who is behind center, if given ample time, they will complete passes all over the field. The front seven has to create pressure and let the corners and safeties make plays. If the Cowboys fail to set the edge, it's going to be one long Sunday nightmare in NOLA. They have to get to the quarterback and force turnovers, the two most important requisites of a Rod Marinelli defense. With the troops rolling back in next week, the Cowboys must focus on getting the win in the interim.
This defense is going to have to carry the load in some of these games because the offense is simply not the same without the threats that Tony Romo and Dez Bryant bring. The defense that we saw in week one and two gave you hope that they could be a top-flight unit. Now, they must revert to their stingy ways and make this defense ferocious and a force to reckon with in the NFL. Their next test is the New Orleans Saints, hopefully they're up for the task and can play some inspiring football in primetime.