IRVING, Texas – Here they are, my two biggest keys to this game on Sunday night against the Saints.
One of these keys focuses more on the players themselves, but my biggest takeaway for the Cowboys heading into this is the New Orleans coaching staff – particularly their defensive coordinator, who you're no doubt familiar with.
Dallas Cowboys Win If
If the Saints have a flaw, it is with Rob Ryan and his defense protecting a lead late in games. Since Ryan became defensive coordinator for the Saints in 2013, they have blown four games while holding a lead with three minutes or fewer remaining. Two of those four losses have come in this current season -- against the
Falcons and Browns. For the Cowboys to win this game on Sunday night, they can't have what happened to them in New Orleans in 2013 – where, while holding a lead, they allowed the Saints to blow the game wide open. The Cowboys never put Ryan in a position where he was mentally taxed to have to come up with some key stops. Where Ryan is at his best is when he can free wheel it with his defense and run his blitz packages to cause problems in the offensive scheme. The less pressure that he feels, the more he is willing just to keep attacking. When the situation gets tough and tight for him, the more he struggles with those calls. For the Cowboys to win this game I believe it will come down to one simple thought – keep it tight on the scoreboard and make Rob Ryan have to call the entire game defensively because history will tell you that it is a spot that he is least comfortable dealing with.
New Orleans Saints Win If
Since Sean Payton and Drew Brees have been together in New Orleans offensively they have been one of the top units in the NFL. Payton's creative talents to create mismatches and Brees' ability to execute the plan flawlessly is what makes defensive coordinators struggle to match them scheme-wise. Payton and Brees tend to play the game one play ahead. In studying their attack, the ball is not just going through one player, and that makes them difficult to shut down. If you try and key on Jimmy Graham and get him slowed down, then Marques Colston or Kenny Stills finds a way to get open for a big play. Maybe you get one of them under control, then rookie Brandin Cooks takes a "Fly Sweep" for a huge chunk of yardage. The only time I have seen this offense struggle is if Brees is not properly protected. I thought the Browns really did a nice job in Week 2 of not only knocking Brees around and off his spot, but forcing him into make some uncharacteristic throws. Sacks would be nice for this Cowboys defense but consistent
pressure would be even better. The Saints are starting a new center in Tim Lelito for the injured Jonathan Goodwin, so that will be a big switch. I feel that if this Saints offensive line is able to control the line of scrimmage Sunday night, their skill players will be too much for this Cowboys defense to have to deal with and that will be enough to secure the victory.