IRVING, Texas – If you watched last week's game against Atlanta, then the two big keys this week should sound familiar to you – they're both goals the Cowboys failed to accomplish in that game.
It's pretty straightforward while Tony Romo is out. The Cowboys are going to need to run the ball, and they'll need Brandon Weeden to make some plays for them – it's a continuation of last week's game plan, but it needs to be improved.
Defensively, a lot of this game hinges on whether Drew Brees plays for New Orleans, and we'll get into that question belowe.
Here are my keys to Sunday:
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
If you have ever spent any time around Jason Garrett, you come to appreciate those times where he does try to explain the game of football to us in the media. I will be the first to admit that I don't know all there is to know, but having lived through many of the situations that he addresses – I feel like I do have some working knowledge.
It is often that I do agree with Garrett and his explanations, but during one particular press conference this week, I found myself questioning his reasoning. When Garrett was asked about the challenge of preparing for two quarterbacks, he spoke about preparing for a system and not the players -- which is likely just coach speak. Garrett is not fooling anyone with his logic here, because he knows that preparing for Drew Brees is clearly more difficult than preparing for Luke McCown -- system or no system. I personally feel that Brees will play, and Garrett's staff has prepared that way all along.
If the Cowboys are going to win this game they are going to have to take advantage of this Saints' offensive line -- which has struggled not only blocking second level players in the run game but also giving up inside pressure throwing the ball. Keeping the Saints' line on the move and making them have to adjust puts a great deal of pressure on them.
The key for the Cowboys in this game will be how their front seven plays and whether or not they control Drew Brees.
New Orleans Saints Win If:
As difficult as this might sound for the Saints, if they are going to win this game it is going to fall on the shoulders of their defense. Rob Ryan's group has not played well at all this season and are largely responsible for the 0-3 start.
Teams have been able to run the ball on them with success, but the most alarming stat is how they have allowed opponents to throw for more than nine yards per completion. That is a staggering number for a defensive coordinator that prides himself on pressure and getting rushers to the quarterback.
What is playing into Ryan's favor is that when these two clubs met last season, the majority of the damage was done by two players that will not be in the lineup Sunday night in – Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray. I believe the route that Ryan will take in this game will be to sell out on the run and hope that these Dallas running backs have limited success, putting the offense in longer down and distance situations. That is where the Falcons had success, because it forced Brandon Weeden to have to make plays to convert -- which he wasn't able to do.
If Ryan was playing Romo, this would be a terrible plan -- but with Weeden under center it's a different story. For the Saints to win this game, Rob Ryan is going to need to force Brandon Weeden into beating him.