Sep 21, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) catches a pass from quarterback Tony Romo (not pictured) to score a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
I recently teamed up with Steven Mullenax, managing editor of The Landry Hat, to exchange several questions around the upcoming matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys. I’ve done my best to pick his brain around a few things related to this Sunday’s matchup.
New Orleans Saints’ Opposition Intel: Dallas Cowboys
1. The Cowboys defense was somewhat laughed at before the start of the season, and they’re statistically better than the Saints defense right now. What is it about this group that is having success?
SM: The difference appears to be the scheme and coaching style of new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Focusing more on frequent player substitutions and a team mentality over personal achievement seems to have worked fairly well so far. Especially considering this team is without Pro Bowlers defensive end DeMarcus Ware, defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher from last year’s squad. And with Cowboys like linebacker Sean Lee, defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Anthony Spencer all out with significant injuries, it’s a wonder how this team can even field a defense. But in their absence, younger players like rookie defensive tackle Davon Coleman, rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens and the twice-retired linebacker Rolando McClain have all stepped up to fill the voids.
2. Was the come from behind victory against the Rams a true representation of Dallas, or was it just a meltdown from the Rams? What was it that you saw in that game that changed the momentum?
SM: The Rams were a team the Cowboys should have beat and ultimately did. The main reason St. Louis jumped on Dallas early was because of the mistakes made by the Cowboys’ offense. Two early turnovers by this unit resulted in Rams’ touchdowns. Difficulties in coverage, especially involving cornerback Morris Claiborne, made the Rams’ third-string quarterback look like Joe Montana. And St. Louis took advantage of a weakness in the middle of the Cowboys front seven, which was decimated by injury. Was this a true representation of the Cowboys? I’d have to say no. Without the turnovers and the injuries, I believe Dallas would have won in a blowout.
3. What must the Cowboys do to defeat the Saints? Who is your X-Factor or Unsung Hero of the day for the Cowboys to beat the Saints?
SM: In order to beat the Saints, the Cowboys must control the clock. That means running the ball, thereby keeping the explosive New Orleans offense on the sidelines. In turn, that will keep Dallas’ defense well rested and limit their time on the field. This makes the X-factor in the game running back DeMarco Murray. If the fourth-year back can continue his three-game 100+ rushing yards streak, Dallas has a chance to trump the Saints in AT&T Stadium on Sunday night.
4. Tony Romo hasn’t had the flashiest stats to start this season, and has faced criticism more than a few times in Big D. Is he truly the answer to the Cowboys run at the postseason? Do you believe Jason Garrett is on the hot seat?
SM: As for the 34-year old Romo, his Super Bowl window is clearly closing. Although he believes he’ll play for another five years, I believe his recent back injury and subsequent surgery will limit that number considerably. Unless this team suddenly gets hot within the next two years, I don’t see it happening for Romo. As for head coach Jason Garrett, I do believe he is on the hot seat. And rightfully so. Since taking over full-time as Dallas’ head coach, Garrett has led this team to three straight 8-8 seasons without a playoff appearance. But if you listen to Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, regardless of this season’s outcome, Garrett will be the team’s head coach in 2015.
5. The Dallas Cowboys earned two very hard-fought road wins, but lost their opener at home to San Francisco. This game could have just as many Cowboys fans as there are Saints fans, and then we know recent history doesn’t favor the Cowboys. What’s your final prediction?
SM: Despite the Cowboys recent success on the defensive side of the ball, pass rush continues to be Dallas’ number one problem. The Cowboys patch work defensive line has recorded a total of one half of a sack through the first three games of the season. I believe that critical fact will allow Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees more than enough time to pick apart this struggling Dallas defensive secondary. Combine that with the fact the Cowboys offense has a tendency to turn the ball over, (seven turnovers so far this season) and I predict it will be a long night and a loss for America’s Team in primetime. Final Score: New Orleans Saints 37, Dallas Cowboys 30
Be sure to keep up with The Landry Hat on Twitter for all things related to the Dallas Cowboys! Huge shoutout to Steven for your time! Enjoy the game Sunday!