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Week 15 Preview: Saints vs Cowboys

There was something in the air this morning in New Orleans when I woke up. It wasn’t sound of the musicians in the French Quarter warming up or the smell of a fresh pot of gumbo cooking in the morning. There’s an electricity in the air as the city anticipates this weekend Saints game- already the hottest ticket in town. This town is alive with Saints fever and it’s contagious.

Another loud and proud Black and Gold crowd will be there to welcome the Dallas Cowboys to the Superdome for this week’s matchup on Saturday night. At stake for the Cowboys is their playoff lives. A win and they inch closer to the final Wild Card spot and perhaps an NFC East crown. The Saints are playing for home field advanatge throughout the NFC Playoffs. In a year of firsts for the franchise, this could be the first time the Saints play in the NFC Championship Game..and playing the game in the Dome would give the Saints a decisive advantage.

Don’t expect the Saints to let up Saturday. This team is focused on winning Saturday. In his weekly blog entry for this week, FB Heath Evans likened the team to a successful business..you don’t take off the final quarter of the year just because you exceeded epectations the first three.

If the Saints are to win this game, they must be the aggressors like they have been all season. The offense has to dictate the pace of the game. The offensive line must protect Brees against Dallas’ 3-4 defense. They must also create holes for Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas to run between the tackles. Reggie Bush might have finally found his niche in this Saints offense. After struggling to find the ball most of the season, Reggie made the most of his ten touches. His ten touches for 102 yards included a 19 yd run, a 23 yd punt return, and two touchdowns. Expect more of the same from Bush- short passes, screens, and runs outside the tackles to utilize his explosiveness in the open field. The return of WR Lance Moore should only help this week.

Dallas will counter by blitzing Brees in the 3-4 scheme and dropping as many men in coverage as they can. OLB/DE DeMarcus Ware, if he recovers from a neck strain he received last week, poses the most dangerous blitzer the Cowboys bring. His 9 sacks on the season lead the team. Expect the Dallas corners to press the Saints’ receivers at the line and try to force them off their route and disrupt the timing of the passing game. Terence Newman and Gerald Sensabaugh are very physical and could be major factors in the game. Is S Ken Hamlin ready to return from injury and will he help or hurt the Cowboys’ secondary against a fast and furious Saints offense?

On paper, the Dallas offense seems to be one of the best in the league. Sure they’ve moved the ball well, averaging 391 yds per game, third best in the league. Their running attack is 7th, averaging 128 yards a game, while the passing attack ranks 6th with an average of 262 yards per game. While almost any coach in the league would love to have an offense that potent, the Cowboys have averaged just 22.8 points per game, good for 13th best in the league. Starting with a Week 10 loss to the Packers in Green Bay, a stretch they have gone 2-3, the Cowboys have averaged 15.8 points per contest. Take away the garbage time scores, those scored under two minutes left after the outcome of the game was decided, that number drops to 11.6. The Cowboys offense under Jason Garrett has become stagnant and predictable, so much so that San Diego’s defense last week was calling out the Cowboys’ plays as they lined up. Coaching or execution problem? How bout both?

Tony Romo, leads the Dallas passing attack. He is having a career year by his standards, throwing for 3,574 yards and 22 TDs on the year while limiting mistakes and cutting his INT total to just 7 this season. He has very dangerous targets in Roy Williams and Miles Austin. Williams is a fast receiver with good size and great hands. Austin, perhaps the revelation of the NFL season, has a quick burst and a knack for breaking tackles with his deceptive strength. Patrick Crayton, the third option in the passing game, also has two punt returns for touchdowns.

My biggest concern for the Saints is the Cowboys’ running attack, led by Marion Barber. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice are also just as lethal. All three are strong runners inside the tackles and can catch out of the backfield. Felix Jones, the fastest of the three, is most dangerous in the open field.

The Saints defense must be able to stop the Cowboys’ running game. The Cowboys would like to control the clock and limit the Saints’ opportunities on offense. The Cowboys simply can not get into a shootout with the Saints. The defensive line must put pressure on Tony Romo while containing him in the pocket. Romo, if given the chance, can improvise on the run as good as any QB in the league.

Dallas coach Wade Phillips has tried to dispell all talk about another December swoon for the Cowboys. Yes, the Cowboys are in position for the last Wild Card spot, but they have lost two in a row and the division lead in the process.

Roy Williams, earlier this week, told Dallas reporters that he was confident that his team would beat the Saints if they just packed their bags, a statement he later recanted, saying he was just trying to instill some confidence in his teammates.

Roy, you got the attention of the Saints this week…and 70,000 screaming fans in the Superdome. There will be something special in the air come Saturday night.

Prediction

Saints 35 Cowboys 24

Key Matchups

Saints C Jonathan Goodwin vs Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff

The key to beating a 3-4 defense is to control the nose tackle opposite the center. Goodwin has done a good job thus far with other NT in a 3-4 scheme, like Vince Wilfork of the Patriots. Jay Ratliff is the strongest, most athletic NT Goodwin has faced all season. Can Goodwin take Ratliff out of the game and allow Brees and Co. time and space to operate?

Saints Defensive Line vs Cowboys Offensive Line

This is perhaps the matchup that could make or break the Cowboys. The Cowboys’ line is the biggest line in the NFL and has been able to open holes in the running game. However, the have had lapses protecting Romo, allowing him to be sacked 28 times this season. The status for Saints DT Sedrick Ellis is still in question. Can the Saints line keep pressure on Romo while not allowing him to scramble where he is most dangerous? Can they hold up and allow players like LBs Scott Fujita and Jonathan Vilma to make plays?


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2 Responses to “Week 15 Preview: Saints vs Cowboys”

  1. Michael Bruck says:

    not a bad article, but you missed some huge matchups. Theres December Fever, two explosive offenses, home crowds, and intense coaches. Missed some huge things there

    • Gilbert says:

      Please explain December fever…?

      Thanks for the comments. This is what i thought were the keys to the game.

      Feel free to expand and add more if you like. see haynes post on the game recap.nice job!

      thanks Michael

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