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Game Day

Image Map


at 1:16 PM PDT
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Gameday Inactives

RB Chris Ivory
FB Jed Collins
LB Scott Shanle
G Ricky Henry
DT Tyrunn Walker
DE Turk McBride
WR Saalim Hakim
LB Kyle Wilbur
G/C Kevin Kowalski
G/C David Arkin
DL Rob Callaway
T Darrion Weems
G Ron Leary
NT Jay Ratliff

Gut Feeling

The Cowboys control their own playoff destiny, needing to win the last two games to win the NFC East. The DallasCowboys.com writers share their gut feelings about the Saints game, along with injury updates & more. Read more >>

Keys To The Game

Saints Win If:

This game for the Saints will come down to how well their defense plays. When he met with the media on Friday, Bill Callahan spoke about playing against Steve Spagnuolo and what he could try and create with pressure and the adjustments that Garrett and the staff would have to make if he was successful. Despite playing well against the Steelers last week, there are still those times where you still worry about the Cowboys offensive line and how they will hold up.

In the games I was able to study, when the Saints really struggled they had a hard time getting pressure and this was very evident against the Giants, so maybe this helps the Cowboys up front. Spagnuolo will take some chances in this game because he knows that his coverage can’t hold up otherwise. Will Smith and Cameron Jordan are his pressure players on the outside so Tyron Smith, Doug Free and Jermey Parnell will need to be on their game. Where the Saints will win this game is if they can control the Cowboys from running the ball successfully but also put pressure on Romo when he does pass.

If the Saints are able to create stops it would put a ton of pressure on this Cowboys offense because the Saints offense is explosive enough to win this game outright.

Cowboys Win If:

I asked Jason Garrett during his press conference on Friday morning if he calls plays in a different way knowing that he is playing against an offense that is as explosive as the Saints. It was an answer that I expected from Garrett that he just tries to call plays and execute the best they can and go from there but actually I believe he knows he has to protect his defense.

Garrett always strives for balance in games and it couldn’t be any more important than playing against this group. What Garrett has to guard against is the Saints struggle in all areas of their defense which might cause him to be a little more greedy than he might want to be. I really believe it will difficult for the Cowboys to win this game if they struggle to finish drives with field goals. I feel that Garrett is going to have to try and steal one or two possessions a half from the Saints if he can to help Rob Ryan and his defense withstand what they are going to face with this Saints offense.

I don’t think the Cowboys win a shoot-out but they do if Garrett can stay patient in his plan. Control the tempo and keep Dan Bailey on the sidelines until it’s time to kick extra points.

- Bryan Broaddus

Key Matchups

Cowboys Defensive Nickel Package against Saints Running Back Darren Sproles:

When you play the Saints defensively, there are so many combinations that you have to worry about. They like to play with multiple personnel groups which makes them difficult to matchup with. One of the big keys in this game for the Cowboys is how does Rob Ryan play against Darren Sproles? One of the best mismatch players in the NFL, Sproles can be a nightmare for the simple reason that he can take little plays and make them huge ones.

Ryan has been very creative this season in the way that he has taken tight ends and receivers out of the game with usual personal groups. When you face Sproles you need a defender that first off has athletic ability but more importantly is comfortable playing in space. Sproles puts so much pressure on your coverage that you can’t just stick a linebacker on him and say cover him. If Bruce Carter was still in the lineup, you could get away with this but not now.

Ryan has options now that Morris Claiborne is back in the mix to use some of his nickel or dime defenders. Guys like Mike Jenkins, Sterling Moore or even Michael Coe understands how to carry guys down the field but also how to play in space. Ryan and his staff are smart enough to know they don’t have a linebacker or safety that could handle this assignment but he will adjust.

Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant against Saints Cornerback Jabari Greer:

When the Saints go with their nickel package, Steve Spagnuolo likes to match Greer with the opponents best receiver. Despite his banged up finger, I believe that Spagnuolo will put Greer on him. Where Greer struggles is that he physically isn’t a big guy weight wise and he will lose those battles to those receivers that are.

Where Greer is good though, is that he is a good athlete to run with all kinds of routes that you throw at him. He does play with a burst and can react well at times. Showed the ability to play with some range. He does have some play making ability and I do understand why he could draw some top assignments. Like I mentioned, where Bryant can take advantage of Greer is when he makes it a physical game because that is not really his cup of tea. Big guys tend to push him around or wall him off from making plays. Plays with a willingness to try and tackle but not always the toughness to finish the job. Have seen him gamble some on routes with mixed results.

Where Bryant has made big improvements has been as a route runner so look for him to try and get in Greer’s head during this game. In the Pittsburgh matchup, Bryant didn’t get frustrated when they tried to take him out of the game, he just kept running routes to Romo found him. Good sign.

- Bryan Broaddus

Players to Watch

The Nemesis
When this Saints offense is really rolling, it is due in large part to the play of their quarterback. Where Drew Brees is really good is at finding the open guy. He always seems like he is throwing the ball to the right guy. He is one of those quarterbacks that plays in rhythm and defensively you have to find ways to get him out of that. His ball place and accuracy is outstanding. You always see him throwing the ball away from defenders. Has a great feel for how to work his receivers open. The more I watched him, the more I believed that you have to find ways to get him off his first read. His mistakes tend to happen when he tries to go from his second or third reads. He is the master of trying to make a great play out of a bad one and there are plenty enough times where he manages to pull this off. He has had some more turnovers this season with some carless throws and defensively you have to take advantage of that. You have to be ready for him moving around the pocket but is not the type of guy that is going to take off and run with the ball, is more like Matt Ryan in this regard. Will get passes knocked down when he tries to throw the slant from the pocket. Plays with a great deal of poise and confidence.
Favorite Weapon
How Rob Ryan plays Jimmy Graham coverage wise will tell you a lot how he feels about him. The problem that Ryan will deal with in this game is how he is able to line up anywhere in this formation and function well out of it. Graham has outstanding size and does a really nice job releasing in routes. He will not have to worry about him as a run blocker but he will as a down field threat. He has very good vertical speed and he can use that to separate. Graham has position flex and the Saints take full advantage of it. He has very natural hands and if the ball is thrown anywhere near him, he can make the catch. Have seen him make nice adjusting catches on the move. The last couple of weeks Ryan has taken Sterling Moore and put him on the tight end to matchup. It was Gresham in Cincinnati and Heath Miller last week against the Steelers. Ryan could try and treat Graham as a wide receiver and now with Morris Claiborne back in the lineup, then Moore could help out in that area or even work as a safety. What the Cowboys will also need to worry about with Graham is how they will defend him in the red zone because he can be a threat quickly or on the fade. Keep an eye on this closely.
Under the Radar
I have to admit, I really do like this guy because of all the ways you can get him the ball and allow him to make plays. Lance Moore is not the biggest guy but he is an outstanding athlete. He can get into routes quickly and with his speed you can see him put a great deal of pressure on defenders to have to stay with him. He is an outstanding route runner and plays with a suddenness. Is especially dangerous out of the slot. Can make moves the would freeze the defender. He has very nice awareness of how to get open in man or zone. Plays with smarts and a crafty style. He is not afraid to catch the ball anywhere on the field. Will make tough plays in traffic. Where you have to really worry about him is making those big catches down the field. Has the total confidence of the quarterback and he is not afraid to launch it in his direction allowing him to make a play. Type of guy that can wear you down because of his ability to convert in clutch situations. Will most likely see Mike Jenkins the majority of the day and the secret to playing him is to make him fight to get off the line and get into his route. The more physical you are with him, the better chance you have to cover him. Jenkins has the speed and quickness to play with him.
The Nemesis
There is no secret of how poor the New Orleans Saints have been defending the run. Only the Buffalo Bills allow more yards per carry than the Saints. When teams are running the ball and gaining a little over five yards a carry, you are going to have problems on defense. Since Demarco Murray has returned to the lineup three weeks ago, the Cowboys have a perfect 3 – 0 record. Where Murray can be a difference maker in this game for the Cowboys is keeping this Saints offense off the field. I am not saying that Jason Garrett becomes Woody Hayes but if he can find ways to gain yards, secure first downs and eat clock to limit the Saints processions, he protects his defense from what they are about to face in Drew Brees and company. As much as you need to score against the Saints, you have to keep your defense fresh to handle them when they do have the ball. Garrett will need to tailor his game plan to allow Rob Ryan a chance to attack this Saints offense scheme wise and DeMarco Murray was help Garrett do this.
Favorite Weapon
I guarantee this is the first time that you have seen me call this Cowboys offensive line a possible weapon in a game. After their performance against the Steelers and the way they were able to create space in the running game but more importantly keep Tony Romo upright when he went back to pass. The Saints are not the Steelers, nor are they the Bengals or Browns when it comes to rushing the passer or defending the run. This is a game where Jason Garrett needs to use his offensive line much like he did against the Ravens earlier in the season where he was able to physically beat up on them and if Murray had not left the game with an injury, had a chance to finish that game like he had against the Bengals. Overall the Saints numbers tell you that they struggle to do many things well up front which includes getting off blocks. The Ravens really struggled to get off blocks and the Cowboys took advantage of that. Look for Garrett to try and do much of the same looking for balance. During this three game winning streak the line has played better. They need to find a way to physical beat up this Saints front.
Under the Radar
After missing several games earlier in the season, Sean Lissemorereturned to the lineup against the Eagles and played a steady game at defensive end but has since been moved to nose to help with the losses of Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent. In his first start there against the Bengals, Lissemore had his share of struggles but last week in a matchup against the Steelers, I really believed that he would struggle badly but he didn’t and actually was able to anchor down inside on several plays but also providing some inside push and playing well on some twist stunts. One of the many strengths of this Saints offense is their guards and the way they are able to keep the front of the pocket clean for Drew Brees who has trouble seeing over rush. Lissemore is going to need to win some battles inside against De La Puente, Grubbs and Evans to get some pressure on Brees who likes to step up in the pocket and throw the ball down the field. Lissemore will also need to do a good job of playing with his hands, staying square and handling the ball right at him. Other than Sproles, the Saints will try and run the ball inside with Thomas, Ingram and Ivory so he needs to be ready to handle that.

-Bryan Broaddus

The Big Picture


Yes, the Saints hold a 6-8 record and will likely be playing more for pride than anything else this weekend at Cowboys Stadium. But don’t expect the Saints faithful to be lackluster. The stadium will be packed with New Orleans fans just as it was with Terrible Towels a week prior, and the Saints haven’t given up on their season by any means. Despite all the knocks against the league’s worst defense, the Saints figured out a way to shutout the Buccaneers last weekend, holding running back Doug Martin to 16 rushing yards, while quarterback Josh Freeman threw four picks.

Predicting how this team will perform on any given week is a tricky task. The Saints allowed 52 points to the Giants, 31 points to the 49ers and none to Tampa Bay. They also scored 41 points against the Bucs after only scoring 13 two weeks prior against Atlanta. This defense can perform historically poorly, and If Brees gets out of his groove, the Saints can be stopped. But that’s easier said than done. The Cowboys’ defensive backfield has suffered numerous setbacks and injuries and seems to be playing someone new every week. Steelers tight end Heath Miller went off last week against the Cowboys, whose job won’t get any easier with Jimmy Graham running down the field.

When discussing the Saints, it’s impossible to ignore quarterback Drew Brees and what he’s capable of doing every single week. But this New Orleans team has also rushed for 100 yards each of the last three weeks following its poor rushing performance against the powerful 49ers defensive front. The Cowboys have lost a lot of pieces on the interior of the defense, and the Saints have demonstrated a willingness to get a running game going recently with a variety of different styles in the backfield, from Mark Ingram to Pierre Thomas to Chris Ivory to speedy receiving threat Darren Sproles.


The Cowboys continue to lose starters to injuries and still win football games. Players who’ve been in Dallas less than a week are contributing almost every week for Rob Ryan’s defense. A lack of name recognition hasn’t translated to poor performances. Dallas is now on a three-game winning streak in December and has won four of its last five, sitting in the driver’s seat to a playoff spot. The Cowboys are getting key contributions from unlikely sources and the defensive veterans are earning their salaries by picking up their play when it matters most after three quarters.

The positive for Dallas as it continues to place new players on injured reserve is that most of the offensive stars haven’t suffered any serious threats. That was, until Dez Bryant. Reports early indicated he might need to undergo season-ending surgery after fracturing his left index finger against the Bengals. That wasn’t the case. Bryant went to head coach Jason Garrett a few days after the injury and told him he’d be on the field against the Steelers. After talking to doctors, he stuck to his word and scored a touchdown in his sixth straight game. The Cowboys’ offense can thrive if Bryant can continue to play the same way through the injury the rest of the season.

Running back DeMarco Murray averaged 5.8 yards per rush against the league’s top-ranked rushing defense last week against the Steelers. The Cowboys’ offensive line, which struggled all season to open any running lanes or keep Tony Romo comfortable in the pocket, played what was likely it’s best game of the season. Murray rushed for 81 yards and scored what might have been his easiest touchdown of the season with a huge lane opened by Tyron Smith. The Cowboys still boast the No. 31 rushing offense in the league, but playing the No. 31 rushing defense could mean another week of success.

- Rowan Kavner

Injury Report

Name Practice Status Game Status
Bishop, Ken FP probable
Bryant, Dez LP questionable
Coleman, Davon DNP Out
Durant, Justin DNP Out
Edwards, Lavar FP questionable
Escobar, Gavin LP questionable
Martin, Zack FP probable
McClain, Rolando DNP doubtful
Randle, Joseph LP questionable
Romo, Tony FP probable
Selvie, George FP probable
Spencer, Anthony DNP Out

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