My final thoughts as the Cowboys wrap up preparation for the Saints:
Ryan vs. Saints
I can see Rob Ryan treating these skill players such as Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles as players you can't match with linebackers because their skill level is too great. Ryan is smart, he knows he can't allow these players to create mismatches that will lead to big plays. With Claiborne and Peprah back in the mix, he has more than enough defensive backs to handle the task.
In a couple of short weeks, Sterling Moore looks like a player that can be used in some special matchups. Michael Coe has some height and is comfortable in coverage more so than if he used Connor, Albright or Sims. Ryan also knows that as accurate as Brees is, coverage has to be tight if they are going to be able to make these Saints receivers have to make contested catches. In 2010 when with the Browns, Ryan went with seven defensive backs for several snaps against Brees to try and make coverage cloudy for him, bet he will try and do the same on Sunday in this matchup.
Who's the X-Factor?
I always have people ask me for who will be the X Factor for this game against the Saints? If I had to pick a guy that could be a hero or someone we are talking about on Monday morning. My player is, Sterling Moore.
I know that I mentioned him earlier about what he might be required to do but really watch how he plays on Sunday. I have a feeling again from what I have seen these last three weeks that these defensive coaches are not afraid to put him in the game in some tough coverage situations and let him go to work. His first week against Eagles he was the dime linebacker fresh off the street.
Against the Bengals, he was thrown into the game at right corner for Claiborne when Ryan went to nickel. Against the Steelers, Ryan put him on Heath Miller with the game on the line in the second half. Ryan is going to find things for him to do coverage wise in this game whether it's on Sproles or Graham because he has to find players that he can matchup and potentially control the opportunities they have to make plays.
Back to the captain?
In studying tape of the Saints on the punt return, there should be a great deal of concern about Darren Sproles and what he could potentially do if given the opportunity to make returns. When you play against guys like this you had better have all hands on deck. One of the key special teams performers for the Cowboys over the last two seasons has been Danny McCray.
There is a reason that McCray was named captain and rightfully so but injuries at safety have taken McCray away from his duties on teams. There is no secret that some but not all problems with the ball going down the field against this defense has been when McCray has been in coverage. Sure McCray has been caught peeking in the backfield and its hurt him but where he makes his living is as a core guy on those teams.
I mentioned the health of the secondary improving and maybe this will be an opportunity to Rob Ryan to rotate some players at safety to maybe help McCray out and allow him to focus on covering punts and kicks to keep Sproles from making huge plays. The Saints love to work the ball down the middle of the field so the ability to play with range on the backend will be key and this is where McCray has struggled. To his credit he has played banged up throughout this season but if he can focus more on his special teams duties, he would probably be more valuable.
Murray helping line
There is no doubt that DeMarco Murray has made a large difference in the way the Cowboys offense has operated these last several weeks. Today I asked Bill Callahan if Murray made him a better line coach and you could tell by the look on his face before he even answered the question that was the case.
Murray is a dynamic player that has the ability to make plays when there are not plays to be made. Callahan said there have been times where things have not been blocked perfect on a play but Murray's ability to stretch a play out, use his vision, plant and make a cut to gain positive yards has managed to keep this offense ahead of the chains. Callahan stressed how difficult it was without him in the lineup it was to run the ball because of all the negative plays put them in terrible down and distance situations.
In this game on Sunday, Murray will need to be at his best much like he was against the Bengals and Steelers. The yards might not be as hard to gain against this Saints front that allows over five yards a carry. The last time the Cowboys faced a defense that was this poor against the run was the Ravens and offensively it was one of the best games of the season. There are so many things that open up for this offense when Murray does have success running the ball. Look for Garrett to get Murray going early and often in an effort to try and steal some possessions from the Saints and Drew Brees.