IRVING, Texas –It is absolutely amazing the difference one year can make in the ever-changing NFL.
This exact matchup – Saints vs. Cowboys – came in Week 4 last year on Sunday Night Football, and it saw a 2-1 Cowboys team announce their presence with a dominant win.
Obviously, the record is the same, but the circumstances are very different. That's apparent when you read my first big matchup for this game. It was this time last year that Morris Claiborne was demoted for poor play, right before he tore his patellar tendon.
Twelve months later, he was the only Dallas defensive back to hold his own with Julio Jones, and I think he could be crucial in the effort to limit the Saints' passing attack.
My other matchup features two familiar faces. Scott Linehan and Rob Ryan called this game last year, as well – but the cast they're making calls for is so drastically different. It should be interesting to see Round 2.
Let's take a look:
Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne against Saints WR Brandin Cooks
Morris Claiborne is on a stretch where he has played well the previous three games. Brandin Cooks is the Saints' most dangerous receiver.
Claiborne is the best fit, ability-wise, to match Cooks. When you study Cooks, the first thing you notice is that he is not a tall, rangy guy like his teammate Marques Colston. He is built more like a slot receiver than a guy that plays on the outside.
Where Cooks presents problems is that Sean Payton will create opportunities for him to get the ball at all levels and from all positions in the formation. By moving Cooks around, it puts pressure on the defensive coordinator to find ways to match him.
Rod Marinelli can play this a couple of different ways. He can keep Claiborne on the outside with Tyler Patmon playing Cooks out of the slot, or he can just have Claiborne carry him all over the field. It would be a change of character for Marinelli to have Claiborne just stay with Cooks, but we have seen him do things scheme-wise in order to help his players have success.
Marinelli might feel that his secondary can hold up playing Marques Colston, Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead straight up -- which would allow him to use Claiborne how he sees fit against Cooks. By having Claiborne carry him, this route gives Marinelli the chance to control their best offensive threat.
Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan against Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan
This is a rematch of Week 4 last year, where Scott Linehan called a masterful game against the Saints – and Rob Ryan gets another shot to see if he can hold Linehan in check.
Linehan will be missing several key players that he had available the last time these two teams met – so the challenge will be different from that standpoint. Rob Ryan will be facing his own challenges with a defense that has struggled to defend both against the run and pass.
Ryan's system has always been based on creating defensive stops with pressure, but the problem is that Ryan doesn't have the personnel to shut these offenses down like he would. The Saints do have a couple of nice players in Cameron Jordan and rookie Hau'oli Kikaha, but they have spent resources on others that have yet to make a mark.
What we know about Ryan is that despite not having the players, he is still going to hang his hat on the belief that he can get a rusher home before you get the ball off. Ryan wants to choke off the running game by putting the offense in a long yardage situation, then attack. With Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray in the lineup – Linehan was able to keep Ryan off balance with his play calling and the execution of those calls.
Ryan knows that Linehan is shorthanded and he will likely have to call the game in a different manor, but Linehan also knows that the more you throw at Ryan, the harder it is for him to adjust and that is what he is banking on.