IRVING, Texas – This week puts my game prep in a bit of a bind, because there's just no way of knowing whether the Saints will suit up their Pro Bowl quarterback this weekend.
I'm going to spend some time preparing for both Drew Brees and Luke McCown, but at the end of the day I just have to assume the Saints' Pro Bowler will be ready to go when the Cowboys get to New Orleans. Jason Garrett and his team will tell you they're focused on themselves, but the challenges presented by Brees are too significant to ignore.
In addition, this New Orleans defense under Rob Ryan has several young playmakers that we'll need to take a look at, as Brandon Weeden and Co. prepare for a tough road test.
Nemesis: Drew Brees, QB
When it comes to physical and mental toughness, there are few quarterbacks that match what you see in Drew Brees. His work ethic and passion make up for the physical limitations that he has for the quarterback position. His arm strength and talent are not ideal, but he manages to make it work within the scheme the Saints play.
When watching Brees play, I am always fascinated by the way that he works the pocket to make throws. Because of his lack of height, he has to find ways to move around to find throwing lanes to deliver the ball. Brees is never going to sit right in the middle of the pocket, and that makes him difficult to defend.
What also makes him difficult to defend is his fantastic accuracy. It does not matter at which level he throws the ball – he is going to give his receiver a chance. It is rare that you see him make the receiver work for the ball. Brees also plays with outstanding poise and a general awareness of what is going on around him. The tougher the situation – the better he plays. He shows clutch production and is a playmaker in every sense of the word.
If there is an issue with his game now, it is his health. As mentioned, he does not have the strongest arm, and if he is limited there – then that will make it difficult for him to make those plays that we have come to expect from him.
Weapon: Cameron Jordan, DE
For a defense that prides itself on creating pressure on the quarterback – the Saints are struggling this year. On tape their best pressure player is Cameron Jordan, and he needs to be accounted for.
Jordan plays with nice initial quickness off the snap and acceleration. His get-off puts pressure on the blocker instantly. He can defeat blockers one-on-one. He is coming up the field attacking, whether it is run or pass. Jordan's hand use and contact balance is very good. He plays with a strike and explosiveness in his hands – he's a hard guy to move or knock off his feet. He shows body control and balance. When he captures the corner, he shows the ability to get around the edge -- good lower body bend. Flexible.
His motor and effort are outstanding. It's are to see him quit on a play. He plays with range. Consistent, but not up and down in his effort and technique. You can use him on games and stunts because of his athletic ability. He's a hard guy to fool. Will keep his position. Very good key and diagnose. Shows instincts whether it is run or pass.
You have to make sure the he is secured in the scheme – can't leave him unaccounted for because he will finish plays. I think you'll see him get opportunities to rush from both the left and right sides.
Under the Radar: Hau'oli Kikaha, LB
Coming into the draft, I had a feeling that 3-4 scheme teams would fall in love with this player. Kikaha showed the ability to not only play on his feet but also put his hand on the ground and rush. The Saints are playing him as a linebacker, and he is playing just like I thought he would.
Even as a rookie, he does not look uncomfortable at all and is able to execute whatever assignment they want him to play. He's got nice initial quickness and movement, and he plays with leverage to handle blockers. Explosive off the ball. Will be some snaps where he gets tied up with blocker but is always fighting to free himself.
Kikaha has the speed to run down the play from the backside. Will surprise you in how well he really can run. Can capture the corner when he is used as a pass rusher, and he has a plan as he is rushing up the field. He's always trying pass rush moves, and he plays with balance as a player.
He is a physical, wrap-up tackler. Tough to block on the move -- disruptive player. There's no doubt he's better as a rusher than cover man. I never felt like he had a real good understanding of how to drop, search and redirect – this goes back to his college days at Washington. Don't see that discipline it takes to do the job well.
It appears that the Saints agree with me in the way that they play him. He has a real nose for the ball. Plays fast on a defense that doesn't have many defenders that can really run.