The Dallas Cowboys were able to get by in pass coverage last week without Morris Claiborne against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They’ll need him this week against the New Orleans Saints.
Ben Roethlisberger was still showing the effects of a rib injury that kept him sidelined for three weeks over the Thanksgiving holiday. His passes lacked their usual crispness against the Cowboys, sailing high, low and behind his receivers a good portion of the afternoon.
That’s never been a problem for Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of the most accurate passers ever to play the game. He has completed 65.57 percent of his career throws, second best in NFL history. He hits his receivers in stride, which allows them to add yardage after the catch.
The Saints rank second in the NFL in passing, and Brees leads all quarterbacks with 4,335 yards. All four of his primary targets at wide receiver — Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore and Joseph Morgan — have 100-yard receiving games this season, as does tight end Jimmy Graham.
In addition, Darren Sproles leads NFL running backs with 60 receptions, and fellow halfback Pierre Thomas ranks third in the NFL in yards after the catch at 10.1.
The Saints force defenses to cover every patch of earth on the football field. Brees has Henderson deep, Graham on seam routes and Colston and Moore on slants and outs all day.
If a defense elects to sit back in zones, Brees will feed Sproles and Thomas with screens and swings — so even your defensive ends need to be involved in pass coverage.
The way to beat the Saints is to keep Brees and this explosive passing attack off the field, and opponents have done a superb job of that this season.
New Orleans has only played offense an average of 28 minutes per game this season, which explains why they are out of the playoff hunt at 6-8.
But for those 28 minutes, the Cowboys are going to need Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins, Sterling Moore and Michael Coe on their A games. The Saints are going to give them a workout.
Brees has thrown 50 passes in a game three times this season. He has a 400-yard passing game and seven 300-yard games. His 36 touchdown passes lead the league, and he’s been sacked only 24 times.
Bring your track shoes.
RELATED: Claiborne expects to play Sunday against Saints
Morris Claiborne said that as of Wednesday, he feels fine and he expects to play on Sunday against the Saints. He said he passed his concussion tests and was cleared.
He knows the Cowboys will need every defensive back they can get against Drew Brees and his five big-play targets, although he was encouraged by the secondary’s showing without him against the Steelers last week.
“I feel like it’s way better the depth that we have, and the guys that are behind someone, they’re still playing,” said Claiborne, who practiced Wednesday. “So if someone were to happen to get out – for instance, I didn’t play last week, but we had a guy who could step in, and we didn’t lose anything.”
Claiborne said he is impressed by the way the team continues to find players who can come in and play. Cornerbacks Michael Coe and Sterling Moore each played days after arriving, and safety Eric Frampton has taken on a big role since originally being signed to help the special teams depth.
“Everybody comes in with some football smarts,” Claiborne said. “To get in here and to focus, to be able to learn this defense, you see guys staying after, just trying to get help and learn their position. It lets us know that it’s important to them because it’s important to us.”
On top of that, Claiborne said the new players have fit in personality-wise.
“Everybody that comes in here, it seems like he connects with us right like that,” Claiborne said. “I think the coaching staff does a great job of the guys they select to be in the locker room.”