Recent history has not been kind to the Dallas Cowboys in their meeting with the New Orleans Saints. They have a chance to reverse the trend this weekend when they take on the Saints in this week’s Sunday Night Football matchup (8:30 EST, NBC).
The two teams met last season at AT&T Stadium, which ended in a 34-31 Saints victory. It was the Saints’ 7th win in the last 8 meeting with the Cowboys. The Cowboys rallied back from a 31-17 late 4th quarter deficit to tie the game with 21 seconds to go on Romo’s 19 yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin on 4th and 10, but Garrett Hartley kicked a 20 yard field goal in overtime to secure the victory. WR Dez Bryant had 9 receptions for a career high 224 yards in the loss.
The Cowboys enter this week still in first place in the NFC East. While last week wasn’t easy, Dallas still managed to eek out a 27-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday. The game produced one of the most memorable moments of Week 9, courtesy of the internet’s favorite whipping boy, QB Tony Romo. While Romo received much criticism for throwing an interception late in the game and the Cowboys down 23-20, he made the most of his ensuing possession, leading Dallas on a 9 play 90 yard drive culminating in a 7 yard pass to WR Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds remaining. Romo finished the game 34-51 for 337 yards with 2 touchdowns.
The Saints too lead their division, but their lead took a hit in last week’s 26-20 loss to the New York Jets. Despite Drew Brees going 30-51 for 382 yards with 2 touchdowns (including 116 yards and both touchdowns to TE Jimmy Graham), his two interceptions cost the Saints dearly, as both set up Jets points. New Orleans currently sits at 6-2, one game ahead of Carolina (5-3). The Panthers, who currently hold the final playoff spot in the conference, go to San Francisco this Sunday.
This game marks a reunion between the Cowboys and Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Ryan spent the past two seasons in the same capacity with the Cowboys, where he posted mostly mediocre results. The Cowboys ranked 14th in yards allowed in each of his two years, while they posted 16th and 23rd in points allowed. As we all know, the Cowboys missed the playoffs in both of Ryan’s seasons before he was dumped this past offseason. Ryan said he’d be “out of a work for five minutes” though it took a month for the Saints to hire him in an effort to turn the page the on the shady Gregg Williams era. Ryan has improved the Saints’ defense, which is ranked 9th heading into Sunday night, but they’re coming off an effort in which they gave up 338 yards to the Jets, who wouldn’t exactly label as offensive juggernauts.
One of the biggest stars for the Jets last week was RB Chris Ivory, a former Saint who torched his team for 139 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys, who already have a bit of advantage in knowing how a Rob Ryan defense works, should try to do the same this week. While Romo shouldered most of the offensive load last week in a winning effort, Dallas would be wise to try and duplicate the Jets’ success on the run game. With that being said, the Cowboys will have to hand the ball off to DeMarco Murray a lot more than just four times like they did last week against Minnesota. Dallas ran the ball just 8 times last Sunday, and you can’t just beat the Saints defense by just throwing the ball anymore, especially since their defensive coordinator just spent the last two years on your side.
The Cowboys schizophrenic defense will always need to be on their top game. One of the reasons the 2009 Cowboys were able to bring down the then undefeated Saints was because the defense forced Drew Brees into turnovers, much like the Jets did last week. With DeMarcus Ware expected to return this week, the Cowboys will have to get pressure on Brees and force him into mistakes. Dallas will also have to contain New Orleans’s superstar TE Jimmy Graham. The Saints have lost two games all year, and in that other loss, a heartbreaker to New England, Graham did not catch a pass.
Overall, Dallas has a huge opportunity to pick up a big win on a national stage. It will all come down to the defense. For as much flack as they take, they have shown moments of brilliance, and not just in the defensive struggle against Philadelphia (which looks pretty good after Nick Foles’s seven touchdown performance last Sunday). The only reason Romo got the ball back to set up his heroics was because the defense held strong on the Minnesota possession, for example. It’s never too early to start thinking about the playoffs. And if Dallas wants people to start taking them seriously, this game almost becomes a must-win.
Prediction: Dallas 38, New Orleans 35