Final Thoughts: Saints' Weaknesses On Defense?

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FRISCO, Texas – Don't let anyone fool you, this is not a game to be taken lightly.

In a game that's so dominated by the quarterback position, it's easy to write off a team without its starter – especially when that starter is a future Hall of Famer, like Drew Brees. Here in Dallas, we all remember what it looked like when the Cowboys lost Tony Romo for two months back in 2015, and it wasn't pretty.

That shouldn't be the case with this talented Saints roster. This is a club that was a couple of breaks away from the Super Bowl last year, and their backup quarterback has already proven he can win in big spots, as he did last week in Seattle.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the key factors in this Week 4 matchup against the New Orleans Saints. This is what I'm keeping an eye on if the Cowboys are going to pull out a fourth-straight win.

  • I would not worry about Amari Cooper and Zack Martin missing practice this week. In talking to folks around The Star that know the situation, it was more precautionary in order to get them both ready for the game. Xavier Su'a-Filo filled in for Martin on Thursday, while Tavon Austin -- coming off his own bout on the injured list -- received some much needed work in Cooper's place.
  • Amazing job by Xavier Woods in his rehab work with Britt Brown, and it looks like he will only miss one game. Initial reports had him missing multiple games, but that wasn't the case at all. Darian Thompson got the start last week and was working with the first unit on Wednesday while Woods was with the backups. By Thursday, Woods was in his normal starting spot and should once again be there against the Saints.
  • I expect to see Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli once again come up with a plan on how to deal with Alvin Kamara. In the last meeting between these two clubs, Jourdan Lewis was responsible for carrying Kamara in certain packages. The staff could go back to what worked at that time, but I believe it will come down to where Kamara lines up. It would be much easier for Lewis to handle him wide if he lined up as a receiver as opposed to running back. Sean Payton could choose to put him at running back and make Lewis fight through to trash to carry him. With no Drew Brees in the lineup, there is no question that Payton is going to lean on Kamara heavily in this game.
  • In my film study I wasn't that impressed with the Saints' safety play on defense. Going back to the opening game against the Houston Texans, they've had trouble protecting the middle of the field. The Cowboys have some nice inside weapons they could use to attack Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams. Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb and Jason Witten can all make it difficult for Dennis Allen to handle. It wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Kellen Moore work this area of the field.
  • The defense caught a huge break not having to face Drew Brees in this game. There are none better than Brees when it comes to carving up a defense. Coordinators have tried for years to combat Brees with various ways of attacking the pocket in order to affect his vision. Sean Payton will have a good game plan for Teddy Bridgewater, but I would expect Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli to come after him with various blitzes. We've seen Jaylon Smith working with the defensive line to create pressure. The Saints have a big offense line, and the more they have to move it can be difficult for them to execute those pickups. Making Bridgewater feel uncomfortable will play a huge factor in the outcome of the game.
  • I don't know if we'll see Kellen Moore take this path, but the Los Angeles Rams did a nice job of getting the ball to the edge on the toss sweep. I would like to believe that, with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard running the ball, plus his athletic offensive line, that Moore would give that a shot. Sean McVay put a great deal of pressure on the Saints -- not only to have to win at the point of attack, but he forced them to have to defend him sideline to sideline. It was clear that it took something out of the Saints' defense as the game wore on.
  • Something to keep in mind about this game plan is how the Saints have struggled with defending Deshaun Watson and the read-option. Watson scored a touchdown when he pulled the ball on a read. Marcus Davenport bit on the play fake down inside, and neither Vonn Bell nor Marcus Williams was unable to fill the alley. It got to the point for the Saints where Bill O'Brien stopped going under center and put Watson in the shotgun in order to continue to attack them this way. The Texans running backs did a nice job of bouncing the ball outside and finishing runs before the Saints were able to react. With as good as Dak Prescott is as a ball handler and the threat of Ezekiel Elliott, we should see if the Saints have improved in this area.
  • The Saints have a solid kicking game with Wil Lutz and Thomas Morstead. Last week against the Seahawks they had a punt return for a touchdown by Deonte Harris where he took it right up the middle of the field -- so he's a guy that needs to be accounted for. But the guy that caught my eye on tape was Justin Hardee. The Seahawks had a hard time blocking him and they had a hard time getting off him when he was on the return. Hardee plays on all units for the Saints. He's the L/R5 on the kickoff team, which is in the middle of the field, and he's generally the first guy down field. He plays flyer on the punt team and once again is first man to down the punt. He blocks on both the punt and kick return and does an outstanding job staying with his man the length of the field. Hardee also lines up on the field goal rush and comes off the edge using his speed and quickness. I promise that Keith O'Quinn and the staff know exactly who he is and have a plan to account for him.

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