When this game was booked, it looked like it had all the makings of another classic in what has become a bit of a rivalry over the past eight seasons or so. The New Orleans Saints under Sean Payton have had the upper hand in these contests over the course of his tenure and as have won eight of the last nine contests dating back before his hire. In fact, the Cowboys only win at the Superdome since 1994 came in 2009 when the Cowboys stunned the undefeated Saints 24-17, that would be the same year the Saints went home with the Lombardi.
The tide has turned in NOLA as the Cowboys comes marching in for their primetime bout. The Saints have struggled with and without Drew Brees so early in this season and their record reflects that with an 0-3 start. However, the Saint will be ready tonight to give the Cowboys everything they can muster in hopes to save their season. Only one team has ever reached the postseason with an 0-4 start, the 1995 San Diego Chargers. Needless to say, the Saints crowd will start off as loud as ever in hopes they can get this W. How do the Cowboys stop that from happening without their tow biggest stars in Tony Romo and Dez Bryant?
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure
Drew Brees is set to start tonight after a bruised throwing shoulder kept him out of action last Sunday. The Cowboys must make him re-think his decision to play. That starts with pressure up the middle from Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden along with the rest of their defensive tackle rotation. Hayden had the game of his life last week where he tipped three passes. Brees has always had issues with pressure up the middle being that he is a shorter quarterback and he hasn't had elite play from his guards lately. The Cowboys must get him to the ground and that is something the Cowboys failed to do last week. Brees has only played in two games and has been sacked six times. With a three sack per game average, if the Cowboys cannot bring Brees down then they have some problems. This isn't just a key to victory, it's probably the key victory with all else being added pluses.
Seal The Edges On Defense
The Cowboys must seal the edge in this game. It helps that Jeremy Mincey will return to the lineup along with DeMarcus Lawrence on the opposite side. They got killed along the edge last week and it rendered the defense practically useless. Dallas must stay disciplined to their scheme and stop with the over-pursuing because it causes them to have poor tackling technique. Mark Ingram cannot have the day that Devonta Freeman had last week or these Cowboys are dead in the water. It's time to revert back to the defensive effort they gave against the Philadelphia Eagles and allow these linebackers to make plays on the ball. They cannot allow a struggling Saints offense to bleed them dry around the corners. Stay focused and no mental lapses on defense.
Run The Football
The Saints have given up an average of 126 yards per game on the ground, the Cowboys have to be able to run the ball here. With the combination of Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden, we need to see every run in the book today because I would bet that Rob Ryan is going to try and sell out to stop it. After lighting up the league last year, the Cowboys are averaging only 105 yards rushing per game and that ranks them 17th. That's not good enough for a team that prides themselves on smash-mouth football. With Ronald Leary returning to the left guard spot, this would be as good a game as any to display some offensive dominance. All the talk about the Cowboys vaunted offensive line has been hot air at this point. It's time for this offensive line to get nasty and start dominating defenses like they did last season.
Make Plays Downfield
Brandon Weeden will get plenty of opportunities to make this Rob Ryan defense pay downfield in this game. Though Keenan Lewis and Jarius Byrd look to return, Ryan has a tendency to put his own players in harm's way. If he does in fact sell out to stop the Cowboys' running game, make him regret that decision with Terrance Williams or Gavin Escobar. With Williams, put him on slants or crossing routes and do your best to exploit him against Brandon Browner because that guy has lost more than a step. It's time for the Cowboys to see Weeden's gifted arm and he needs to step up in the pocket and let it fly...to the open receiver, of course. The talent on this offense even without Bryant and Romo should be able to get the job done against this porous Saints' defense.
Receivers Stop Hand Fighting
Speaking of these receivers, they must step their game up and help out their quarterback. This offense has many different tricks up their sleeves but these receivers really need to find ways to get open. They cannot all try and be Dez Bryant, they are just not that type of player. All they need to do is get open and be there when the ball comes. Williams had opportunities last week that left you shaking your head. It was no surprise that he was disappointed in his performance but it wasn't Weeden making bad throws, it was him not catching. In Bryant's absence, Devin Street, Cole Beasley and Gavin Escobar also need to answer the call of duty. The Saints are giving up 271 passing yards per game, go out there and get yourselves a piece.
Turnovers, Fresh Out Of The Oven
One of the things that makes this Cowboys defense good is when they are getting turnovers. They have to start that trend again in New Orleans and force some mistakes. When this defense is getting turnovers, everybody is benefiting. The secondary has been playing very well but they have missed some opportunities for interceptions in each of their three games. Sean Lee is on pace for a monster season and the Cowboys need to continue to put him in the right place to make plays. Last year the Cowboys' linebackers dominated in getting takeaways and you know Lee couldn't to feast. The whole purpose of defensive football is to make stops and get turnovers, step it up D!
The Cowboys have the opportunity to take advantage of a weaker opponent tonight, we do not need see them let the Saints hang around in this game. The Saints defense is struggling giving up 28 points a game, the Saints offense is struggling to score. It's time to put all the sluggish starts and finishes behind. The Cowboys are 2-1 and they need to be 3-1 by the end of tonight. What better team to take advantage of and have a rebound performance against? Don't worry about them, just worry about you and get the win.
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