This is the week where I would have Christine Michael on the 46. He received some first-team snaps on Wednesday, therefore this would be a great time to see him take the field. Despite having a quality day on the stat sheet there were plays where Joseph Randle simply did not read what was in front of him. Short yardage opportunities would be in the hands of Michael this week.
While Ryan Russell failed to have a great debut, he offers much more being active than Lucky Whitehead at this point. The Coaching Staff does not trust him returning punts and he is a nonfactor on offense, Russell would be a better use of that last roster spot.
Cowboys Offense vs Saints Defense
It does not look as if Defensive End Cameron Jordan will play for the Saints this week due to a back injury, which is a huge loss for their pass rush. Rob Ryan will have to try and bring exotic blitzes in an attempt to manufacture pressure, which could put his defense into a vulnerable position.
Ronald Leary is returning to an Offensive Line that has been stellar with their Pass Blocking during the first three games of the season but where his return will be most valuable is in the run game. Much like against the Falcons, this Offensive Line should be able to give the Running Backs holes to run through.
The key will be if they can keep up their effort through four quarters. If the Cowboys are able to stay ahead of the chains, Brandon Weeden should be able to make the necessary passes in order to keep the defense off balance. Too much has been made of Weeden going underneath to Lance Dunbar against the Falcons, he should take what the defense gives him without forcing the ball downfield.
His one turnover occurred when he did indeed force a throw when it simply was not there.
With that being said, Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Lance Dunbar cannot be the sum of the passing game against the Saints. I thought highly of Brice Butler when he was acquired, and he will need to be a factor in the Superdome. Terrance Williams will have to be a consistent target, his drops against the Falcons were frustrating.
More is expected from Williams. He cannot have stretches of games where he simply disappears. The Saints do not have a Cornerback on the level of Desmond Trufant, so there is no excuse for him not defeating man coverage this week. As I stated last week, he will have to help Brandon Weeden. If Butler steps up and Williams is quiet, the Coaching Staff will take notice.
I do hope to see a throw down the field if Browner is ever covering Butler in man, with how Browner has played this could be a huge play for the Cowboys.
Key Match Up: Cowboys Offensive Line vs Saints Front Seven
The Cowboys Offensive Line simply needs to play like the unit from last year. There is absolutely no excuse for the Cowboys not having an effective running game from start to finish.
Brandon Weeden has my confidence, I feel he can do enough in the passing game to beat the Saints Secondary. However, if the running game goes missing that makes his job a lot more difficult. Randle will also have to prove he has the vision and patience to be a lead back. I would have a short leash on him this game if he starts turning what could be twenty-five-yard gains into pickups of two or three.
When the Saints blitz, it will be up to the Offensive Line to communicate and know how to adjust. I do not expect Weeden to do much at the line of scrimmage, but if he can help slide protections it will make his and the line’s job much easier.
Cowboys Defense vs Saints Offense
While concerning, I do not feel last week’s performance is what this defense truly is. They simply did not play well, the Toss Sweep gashed them far too many times. I cannot believe Rod Marinelli will allow his defense to get run over like that again.
Switching out Davon Coleman for former Chiefs Practice Squad player David Irving sent a clear message: If players do not produce, neither Will McClay or this Coaching Staff is afraid to churn the roster.
Drew Brees’ status for the game is still in question. If either he or Luke McCown play, the Defensive Line will have to get pressure. While the Saints don’t have a weapon like Julio Jones they have enough skill players that can make plays if either Quarterback is given five seconds or more every time he drops back. The play of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr will be vital to this defense’s success come Sunday night.
The Saints could also be without their starting Right Guard Jahri Evans, which could hurt their running game; something I’m sure they will attempt to establish after the Cowboys’ struggles last week. Tyrone Crawford, Nick Hayden, Anthony Hitchens, and Sean Lee are vital to stop the run game. Crawford, Hitchens, and Lee will have improved games over last week and will minimize the effectiveness of Mark Ingram on the ground.
Key Match Up: Cowboys Defensive Line vs Saints Offensive Line
Rod Marinelli does not like to blitz, therefore if the pass rush is to be successful this week the Defensive Line will have to be disruptive. Tyrone Crawford will have to get up the field whether run or pass in order to disrupt the flow of the play. Jeremy Mincey returning to the starting lineup should make a noticeable difference.
I also need to see more consistent pressure from DeMarcus Lawrence. Hopefully, Jack Crawford will move back to the 3 Technique for this game as he is a far more effective player there. If they indeed keep Russell active, I would like to see him get around fifteen to twenty snaps in pass-rushing situations.
Perhaps I’m seeing some fools gold, but I’m confident this unit will have a quality showing against the Saints.
Slight Advantage Cowboys
Special Teams Match Up
Chris Jones has proved his worth every game of the season thus far. His exceptional directional Punting and hang time should keep Marcus Murphy from having another big Punt Return.
The Saints only have a Punting net of 33 yards, allowing around seven yards per return, so there may be a chance to gain some yards against them.
Slight Advantage Cowboys
The Saints just do not look very good right now. The Cowboys need to win this game with the Patriots coming into town next week, especially after letting one slip away against the Falcons. A game this team definitely should have won.
If Brandon Weeden plays clean and the Defense returns to form, this should be a double digit win for the Cowboys.
The Way Of Smooth
Straightforward… Win and go 3-1. Lose and fall to 2-2.
The Cowboys have to play this game with some urgency. The NFC East is well within their grasp if they can pick up this victory. After breaking the matchup down, I feel it would take a Weeden meltdown for the Saints to win this game.
Drew Brees could provide his team with an emotional boost, but there is no guarantee that if he plays he will be effective while dealing with a Rotator Cuff injury. Either way, they will need to play a physical game and dictate to the Saints in all three phases of the game.