IRVING, Texas – It gets a little tiresome talking about injuries and player availability every week, but that was bound to be the hot topic of discussion for a game where both starting quarterbacks are hurt.
The news finally came on Friday that Drew Brees is expected to play for New Orleans this weekend – ending the last bit of uncertain speculation for the week. With that out of the way, we can finally focus in on the final notes worth considering this weekend.
Here are my final thoughts for Week 4 against the Saints:
- I liked what I was hearing from Terrance Williams about his responsibility for doing a better job of getting open for Brandon Weeden. Williams had one of his better games last season against the Saints, with six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns. He'll have a chance at a repeat performance against a secondary that has had its struggles. The Saints play a ton of man coverage and any matchup with Brandon Browner has a chance for success. Look for Scott Linehan to put Williams on the move in his routes for some catch-and-run opportunities early to get him going.
- I might regret this, but I am calling for Morris Claiborne to carry Brandin Cooks in this game. Claiborne's confidence and technique are right where they need to be to handle the shifty Cook. The Saints do not have any explosive offensive weapons other than Cooks, and holding him in check is vital to the success of this defense.
- Ronald Leary is back in the starting lineup, and I see that as a positive thing. Nothing against La'el Collins and the job he did filling in, but there is a certain comfort level that Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith have with Leary when it comes to how they run their scheme. Both Smith and Frederick have played so many snaps with him, they are able to execute blocks knowing exactly how the other is going to do it. Just my opinion, but I felt like Smith's struggles last week were due in large part to missing Leary next to him. That should change this week.
- Last season against the Saints, Jason Witten was 5-for-5 on targets and receptions. Expect more of the same this week -- even though I believe that Rob Ryan is going to try and take him out of this game. Witten is too crafty to allow coverage to do that to him and his physical size will give these safeties problems.
- The Saints' offensive line struggles in the running game dealing with linebackers that can really run. The Buccaneers and Panthers had success defending the Saints this way. Other than center Max Unger, they really don't have an athletic player up front. Look for Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens to have some similar success, much like they did against the Eagles, playing as run-through linebackers. This will be key in order to slow down the Saints from running the ball.
- The pattern for this Dallas defense is to go with a three-man rotation at end. It is likely that we will continue to see that be the case but like we saw last week – look for Kyle Wilber or Damien Wilson to also see some snaps as nickel rushers. If there is a Saints offensive linemen to attack, it is Zach Strief, who lines up at right tackle and has had trouble protecting his edge.
- He might only be a rookie, but rookie Hau'oli Kikaha has already made a nice impression on this Saints defense. As a group they don't have much overall speed, but he is the one guy that can run. In studying him before the draft, I thought his best trait was his ability to rush the passer and he has continued to show that. Where this Cowboys offensive line has to be careful is thinking that they are just blocking a linebacker. Kikaha has a wide variety of pass rush moves, and he is capable of using all of them to free himself. This kid has the ability to take over a game if he is left unaccounted for due to his ability to finish plays.
- I haven't seen much from Corey White since the preseason, where he played well in the opportunities that he got. With Brandon Carr out on Wednesday for personal reasons, White got some snaps with the first defense on the outside while Tyler Patmon continued to handle his role in the slot. This led me to believe that if something were to happen to either Carr or Morris Claiborne, White would come in as the replacement. These coaches want to keep Patmon in his spot, but they also want to make sure that Byron Jones continues his role as that sub linebacker/safety. It appears that they don't want either of the youngsters to have to do too much.
- Kellen Moore was the backup quarterback against the Falcons last week, and I believe that this week it will probably be Matt Cassel. There is a side of me that believes if Scott Linehan had to choose whether Moore or Matt Cassel goes into the game – he would be more interested in seeing what Moore could do, but Cassel has the game experience and is a nice insurance policy if needed, but I agree with Linehan that there is something interesting about Moore that we haven't seen yet.
- Jason Garrett continues to field questions about the availability of Christine Michael, and when we might see him on the active game day roster. This was the first week where he actually saw practice snaps with the offense and that was a positive sign. What you need to keep an eye on is when those snaps are equal to or greater than the other backs – he will be in the mix to be active on game day. From what I've been told, this could be Michael's week.