Nov 10, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) signals at the line against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Game 4: ‘Jerry Go-Round’
Who Dat Nation can unequivocally agree that our week is always better after a New Orleans Saints’ victory. I’m back with another installment of my Keys to the Game segment. The NFL Season feels as though it’s racing by us. Suddenly, we’re staring at Week 4. This Sunday night, we’re all in for a treat, as it’s the New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football!
As always, we begin with some power rankings for the black and gold:
- ESPN – #15 (Previous Rank: #16) +1
- CBS – #18 (Previous Rank: #24) +6
- FOX – #16 (Previous Rank: #16) EVEN
- NFL – #14 (Previous Rank: #16) +2
- USA Today – #16 (Previous Rank: #18) +2
- Who Dat Dish – #14 (Previous Rank: #16) +2
There’s a little love spread from last week’s victory, but not much. Many were expecting a crushing victory over the Vikings, but that never happened. C’est la vie.
What to Watch For
Offense – You’re not going to be able to read or see previews about this matchup and not hear about the NFL Record 40 first downs or personal best 625 yards of total offense by the New Orleans Saints offense. Coach Payton already made it clear that ‘That was last year’s team’. The Saints will look to replicate success when it comes to moving the ball, but specifically I’m looking at Jimmy Graham, who is one of my five impact players this week. Dallas’ defense has had a tough time with tight ends in this young season, and don’t think for a second that they aren’t aware of it. The big storyline lies in Dallas’ pass rush, or lack thereof. The Dallas defense has not been credited with a full sack by any one player this young season, so the pressure lies more on the offensive line to keep Brees upright. We all know what happens when Brees has time, and I’m sure Dallas hasn’t forgotten.
Defense – Last year’s defense allowed only 193 total yards of offense to the Cowboys, 9 total first downs, and did not allow a single third down conversion (0/9). That was last year. This year’s defense has had a very sluggish start, and one cannot realistically expect a replication of last year. We’re still missing one thing: turnovers. As my colleague, Andrew Schuster, pointed out, he believes the New Orleans Saints’ Lack of Takeaways Changes Against the Dallas Cowboys.
I worry about the Saints’ pass rush getting the penetration, but not being able to wrap up the quarterback. Tony Romo is as mobile as they get, and he cannot be allowed to extend the play.
Special Teams – The Saints did not have a single drive that started past their own 20-yard line last week. Travaris Cadet did not have any opportunities for a run back, and neither did Brandin Cooks. We all remember the botched extra point by Shayne Graham last week, and Coach Payton stated that it was because of a ‘low trajectory’ on the kick. It’d be nice to see an electrifying return from Cooks on the big stage, and that’s all I’m hoping for in addition to converting field goals.
Key #1 – Isolate DeMarco Murray
It’s foolish to think that the Saints will completely shutdown DeMarco Murray, who is the NFL’s leading rusher. Murray is running behind a beefy offensive line, and has averaged 5.1 yards/carry this season. Murray has had runs of 15, 22, and 44 in each of the first several games, and is equally as dangerous catching passes out of the backfield. I feel this is where Curtis Lofton steps in to help limit Murray’s production, as the Saints have been fairly strong against the run.
Key #2 – Free Khiry
The Saints continue to have a good balance in play selection. Last week, they passed the ball 35 times as opposed to running the ball 32 times. Khiry Robinson has another golden opportunity in front of him, as he makes his return to Texas. The Dallas defense is surrendering 110 yards rushing/game currently, and the Saints offense remains in the NFL’s Top 5 in the rushing department with 140.3 yards/game. Robinson will obviously split some carries with Pierre Thomas, but could see upwards of 25 carries. I don’t have to tell you what a good running game means for the Saints.
Key #3 – Don’t Have That One Play
The Saints have lost their last five regular season road games dating back to last season. In each of these games, Brees has had a bad turnover. Not with me? Seattle (fumble), Carolina (two interceptions), St. Louis (two interceptions), and of course an interception in each of the losses this season. Last year, Brees had a 27-3 TD:INT ratio at home, but a 12-9 TD:INT ratio on the road last season. That trend is continuing to play out. We need a mistake-free game from our quarterback.
Well, when you have big games, you are looking for big things from your big star. For that reason, my difference maker this week is Jimmy Graham. I can’t say enough good things about Graham that haven’t been said already, but I believe he is in for a huge night. Graham can cause nightmares for the Cowboys defense, and if Dallas’ recent history of how they play against the tight end is any indication of what a night Graham could have, then I believe he could have record-breaking numbers.
Did You Know?
- This is the 27th meeting between these two teams (Dallas leads the all-time series 15-11)
- The Saints have won 8 out of the last 9 games against the Cowboys, dating back to 1998
- Drew Brees was born in Dallas, TX, and he was actually named after Cowboys WR Drew Pearson.
- Dallas head coach Jason Garrett actually spent part of his 1989 season on the Saints practice squad, and was tutored by Sean Payton during his time as a member of the New York Giants
- Mickey Loomis’ son, Alex, is the scouting assistant for the Cowboys
Historically, the Saints and Cowboys tend to meet later in the season. However, this year we’re looking at an early showdown between the two clubs on Sunday Night Football. The Saints have had tremendous success against the Cowboys, winning eight of the last nine matchups. The Cowboys have last year’s thrashing fresh on their mind, but even so, I’ll take another Rob Ryan revenge game for the win.
Prediction: Saints 31, Cowboys 23