The Dallas Cowboys got past the hapless Minnesota Vikings last Sunday at home. Now they face a powerful New Orleans team on the road. The subplots in this game are intriguing, particularly the matchup between Dallas’ offense and ex-Cowboys coordinator Rob Ryan’s Saints defense. Ryan figures to want this victory badly after he was canned last January. But even if quarterback Tony Romo gets the better of Ryan’s bunch the Saints’ potent passing game may be too much for Dallas to handle. Here is a look at how the Cowboys and Saints match up:
When the Cowboys run
DeMarco Murray returned last Sunday in the Cowboys’ victory over Minnesota. But his contribution was minimal as Dallas ran the ball only nine times. It was the lowest number of rush attempts in franchise history. The Cowboys don’t have a fearsome ground attack and don’t seem eager to develop one. The Saints may be giving up 4.95 yards per carry – the second-highest average in the NFL – but will the Cowboys try to take advantage of their weak run defense?
When the Cowboys pass
In the last four games, Tony Romo has completed only 59.5 percent of attempts while throwing seven touchdown passes and four interceptions. The Cowboys’ air attack hasn’t looked nearly as proficient as it did in an October loss to Denver, when Romo was at his best. Now they face the Saints, whose pass defense has experienced dramatic improvement under the supervision of ex-Cowboys coordinator Rob Ryan and is allowing 211.9 yards per game.
When the Saints run
Much like the Cowboys, the Saints treat their ground game like an accessory. They’ve run the ball 191 times – eight more than the Cowboys have. And they average only 79.8 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys, who allowed their first 100-yard rusher this season last Sunday, should be able to limit New Orleans when it goes away from their passing game.
When the Saints pass
Four different quarterbacks have thrown for more than 400 yards against the Cowboys this season. Drew Brees could be the fifth. The Saints have a dynamic passing attack. Their contingent of receivers is a handful. So is tight end Jimmy Graham, who has already caught 10 touchdown passes this season. The Cowboys don’t figure to be able to stop the Saints, who are averaging 317.6 yards per game through the air – the third-highest average in the NFL.
Dan Bailey continues to perform at a high level. The third-year veteran has made his last nine field-goal attempts, including two from beyond 50 yards. Bailey’s steady performance has helped the Cowboys as they’ve played in one close game after the other. Bailey’s counterpart, Southlake Carroll product Garrett Hartley, hasn’t been nearly as consistent. He’s converted only 76.2 of his tries – the sixth-worst average in the NFL.
Rob Ryan will be out for revenge. The Cowboys’ former defensive coordinator, who was fired in January, will want to shut down Dallas in a game that will be played in front of a national television audience. Perhaps no person on the field or the sidelines will be more motivated than Ryan, who will feed off the energy supplied by the boisterous crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Cowboys will face perhaps the toughest road test of the season.