FRISCO, Texas – It's finally time to wrap up this same schedule.
By the time this day is done with, we'll have seen the Cowboys play three games in 12 days – two of them coming on a week night. It's been a fantastic run through November to this point, as we've seen this team pick itself off the mat to develop into a playoff contender. Now, they'll face their toughest test of this stretch.
You're familiar with the talking points and the matchups by now. So let's just get right into it with one last look at what I'm expecting to see when the Cowboys kick off against the Saints tonight at AT&T Stadium.
· We need to take a "wait and see" approach about Tyron Smith this week. The Cowboys' athletic trainers are going to take Smith right up until game time to see how things play out. If he does get any practice time this week, it will only be the walkthrough that the team will have Wednesday. Cam Fleming has taken the majority of the snaps this week in his place and would once again start if Smith is unable to go. The Cowboys would have to do some shuffling around if something were to happen to Fleming. Connor Williams I believe would be the swing guy at a couple of different spots just in case.
· I've thrown out a couple of different ideas for how I would play Alvin Kamara in this game. I don't think you can just put a linebacker or safety on him and expect to get a great result, even though the Cowboys have a talented group of linebackers. I think you have to treat Kamara like he's a wide receiver and play him with a cornerback. The key to slowing him down will be to try to deny him the ball. Linebackers and safeties are not always comfortable in coverage, especially against a player of Kamara's ability. This is the game that I would consider using Jourdan Lewis more in special situations. I don't believe you can do this all the time but just to change up the looks for Kamara and Drew Brees might prove beneficial.
· I'd keep an eye on the injury situation for the Saints at left tackle. Jermon Bushrod started last week against the Falcons for Terron Armstead. In looking at their injury report, Armstead hasn't practiced so his availability is in question. Of the Saints' starting five, Bushrod would be the weak link, which means a possibility of Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory and Taco Charlto having some success over there. But I would consider a snap or two with DeMarcus Lawrence taking a run at him. This is a good matchup for the Cowboys, regardless.
· Eli Apple has been a nice addition for the Saints, but he's not Marshon Lattimore. When you study the Saints, Lattimore is the one that jumps out on tape. He's a sticky player and is capable of playing on either side of the field and playing well. As good as Amari Cooper has been for the Cowboys running routes, I'd try to avoid putting him on Lattimore's side. Let him work against Apple until the Saints feel they must adjust their coverage to take Cooper out of the game. Even then, Cooper is skilled enough to work through that -- but attacking Apple would be the best avenue for me.
· I know this is going to sound funny, because we haven't seen much production from Rico Gathers as a pass catcher -- but this might be an opportunity to get him going. Gathers has primarily been used as a blocker and has done a solid job, but something else needs to come from these tight ends. Geoff Swaim was playing well but they need more. There has been plenty of focus on the skill guys for both clubs but none on Gathers. Someone is going to make a game-changing play that we're not thinking about.
· This will not be an easy task because the Saints are very good on the interior of their offensive line. But the Cowboys' defensive line is going to need to win inside in order to affect Drew Brees. When you study Brees, you notice that he likes to sit in the middle of the pocket, then make slight adjustments -- either left or right -- in order to find throwing lanes. You also notice that Brees tilts his body back in order to see over the top of the defensive line. Pressure in his face causes him the most problems due to his lack of height. If these defensive tackles can win quickly right off the first step and then get in on Brees, their chances are better to affect the way he throws the ball. A clean front of the pocket for the Cowboys, defensively, is a very bad thing.
· Nobody loves playing nationally televised games more than Sean Payton. When the whole world is watching, that's when Payton likes to break out his bag of tricks and show everyone what a brilliant coach he is. He's made a living calling onside kicks in the Super Bowl or calling a throwback pass to Drew Brees on fourth down. Coaching by the book is not in his DNA. Payton will not call a conservative game, and the Cowboys' staff needs to be ready for that. I promise there will be something in his plan that turns this game in a different direction.
· My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mike White, WR Tavon Austin, LB Sean Lee, LB Chris Covington, OT Tyron Smith, TE Geoff Swain, DT David Irving.