IRVING, Texas** -- Sean Payton's return to the sideline for the New Orleans Saints after a year's absence has truly made a world of difference for the way this squad plays.
Payton brings a different dynamic in the way the offense is run, and with Rob Ryan now handling things on the defensive side of the ball, it is clear this team will be a formidable challenge for the Cowboys to have to deal with on Sunday night in New Orleans.
Where Monte Kiffin and his defense have not caught a break this season is the level of quarterbacks they have already have had to face through these first nine weeks of the season. Whether it has been Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning or Matthew Stafford, it has been a difficult road to deal with.
Against the Saints it will be no different, when they face Drew Brees.
From my scouting perspective, there are few in this league who are better than Brees. He might not have the ideal height or physical numbers, but what he has is that "It" factor that we all look for in a quarterback and leader.
One of the greatest quarterbacks that I had ever seen, accuracy-wise, was Troy Aikman in the way that he never seemed to make a receiver have to work for the ball. No matter how well the receiver was covered, the ball was always right there.
Brees has that same kind of ability. He is outstanding at throwing receivers open, but he does them favors as well by using his eyes to keep defenders out of their area.
It's rare that you see Brees make a bad read or a poor decision with the ball. When defenses have been able to slow him down, it has been by attacking the middle of the pocket. He does have to move in order to give him throwing lanes.
I have seen him get the ball quickly out to the sideline from the middle of the pocket, but he will mainly move just so he can see. He's hard to defend, because he will throw the ball to all levels on the field. He might be one of the most impressive deep passers that I have ever seen because of his touch and accuracy.
On the outside, the Saints have worked around the knee injury to Marques Colston, who missed the Jets game last week but will be looking to get back in the lineup this week. Where Colston gives defenses so much trouble is his ability to work the middle of the field.
There is no hesitation for Brees, despite how well Colston is covered, to get him the ball because of his ability to adjust to make the catch no matter where it is thrown. High or low, left or right, it doesn't matter -- he can make the play.
Kenny Stills has been a nice pickup as well for this offense. He's never afraid to take his routes anywhere, but he is extremely dangerous down the field. I have liked him better than what I have seen from Nick Toon and Robert Meachem. Veteran Lance Moore plays with a great deal of skill along with savvy. When the situation gets tough and tight, this is the direction that Brees will go to.
Jimmy Graham is listed as the tight end, but he really is a big wide receiver. With Colston out, he lined up more as a receiver than a tight end. What surprises me about Graham is his ease of movement.
He can really cover some ground with his stride and route running. His hands are outstanding, and no matter how well you cover him, he is going to find ways to get the ball. Has a real nose for the goal line and the closer the Saints get, to it, he will be in the mix.
He was not physically right for the New England game, but he appears to be moving around better than that day. It will be interesting to see if Kiffin treats him as a receiver or matches him with a safety or linebacker.
This offensive line does a nice job when it comes to protection, but what could give them trouble is quick movement. You do not want to rush Ben Grubbs or Jahari Evans down the middle because they will just overpower you. [embedded_ad]
The Jets did a really nice job of attacking the edges on these guys, and it caused them some problems. The more you have to make Charles Brown, Brian De La Puente and Zach Strief have to move and adjust, that's when the protection breaks down and Brees has to hurry with the ball.
In the running game, they are a zone blocking group that likes to lean on you and push-shove to allow their backs to make the reads and cut the ball. This team wants to throw the ball first and the longer you can make Brees have to hold the ball, the more likely their protection will struggle. Quickness is the strength of this Cowboys defensive front and they will need to take advantage of that.
It's a unique group at the running back spot for the Saints, and the mix of players they have there. Pierre Thomas is the starter and really an all-purpose-type of player. He runs well enough and can make some plays in the passing game. He is steady as a blitz pickup guy – he has good awareness for this.
Mark Ingram will hammer the ball at you, and they like to get him the ball on these zone runs and let him make physical cuts attacking the defense.
Darren Sproles suffered a concussion in the Jets game last week, and he must pass the battery of tests before he can even practice, much less play. If Sproles is out of the lineup, that is a huge break for this Cowboys defense that would have had their hands full having to deal with his explosive play-making ability.
Sproles is such a dynamic player in what he can do because of how much pressure he can put on you out of the backfield. He can make plays all over the field. Screens, wheel routes -- you name it, he can do it. Offensively, he is just as dangerous as Brees, Colston and Graham in my book.