Tag Archives: New Orleans Saints

SO LONG, COWBOY: Sun sets on Spencer’s career in Big D | Dallas defender to go marching on in The Big Easy | Anthony Spencer reunited with Rob Ryan

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IRVING, Texas – When word got out that defensive lineman Ben Gardner had obtained Anthony Spencer’s jersey number for the upcoming offseason workouts, most assumed Spencer’s eight-year tenure with the Dallas Cowboys was over.  Continue reading →

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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Road to the Super Bowl | 2013-2014 NFL Divisional Round Playoffs

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The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop watching NFL games.

There are four games on tap this weekend:

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots on Saturday and San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos on Sunday.

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Will home-field advantage be established this weekend?

A thrilling Wild Card Weekend saw three road teams prevail in hostile environments — setting up another enticing batch of games. Noting the surprising success enjoyed by visitors this past weekend, which road team is most likely to prevail in the divisional round?

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The divisional round pits eight of the best quarterbacks in the NFL against one another.

Drew Brees versus Russell Wilson. Andrew Luck against Tom Brady. Colin Kaepernick battles Cam Newton. To top it all off, Philip Rivers will once again take on Peyton Manning in the final game of the weekend.

Whether it’s two young quarterbacks battling to prove who is the better dual-threat signal-caller, a showdown of sophomores versus veterans or two of the most experienced minds in the game facing off, this weekend packs a lot of offensive punch.

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Which teams will survive this hurdle in the race toward Super Bowl XLVIII 48?

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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Road to the Super Bowl | 2013-2014 Wildcard Weekend

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The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop watching NFL games.

There are four games on tap this weekend: Kansas City at Indianapolis and New Orleans at Philadelphia on Saturday and San Diego at Cincinnati and San Francisco at Green Bay on Sunday.

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Can home-field advantage can be established this year?

In the NFC, the 49ers and Saints are considered better teams than their home opponents, but both teams travel into tough weather conditions. In the AFC, the Colts were 6-2 at home in the regular season, but they’ve shown signs of being vulnerable.

And then there’s Green Bay. Since 2002, the Packers are 3-4 at Lambeau Field in the playoffs. That mark was 13-0 before ’02.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS GREEN BAY PACKERS

So how wild will this weekend’s wild-card playoff games be?

 

A high-scoring game is expected Saturday night when the New Orleans Saints visit the Philadelphia Eagles. An Ice Bowl-like game is expected when the San Francisco 49ers visit the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Can the Indianapolis Colts repeat their 16-point win from Week 16 over Kansas City on Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium? Anything can happen in the San Diego-Cincinnati game Sunday.

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Which teams will survive the first hurdle in the race toward Super Bowl XLVIII?

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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints

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IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys have yet to get away from the .500 mark this year, failing on their last three chances to get two games over. 500 this year. Here comes their fourth opportunity but it’ll likely be the toughest challenge to date as they travel to New Orleans to face Drew Brees and the Saints.

Here are the gut feelings for writers Nick Eatman, David Helman and Rowan Kavner.

David Helman: I feel so much better about this game than I did when the week started. The Saints look vulnerable to a good pass rush, and DeMarcus Ware is back in the lineup with intent to disrupt Drew Brees. I also think the Cowboys offense will be able to move the ball against Rob Ryan’s group, which is good but maybe not as good as advertised. Unfortunately, I think the combination of Brees and Jimmy Graham will be too much to contain. I think Ware gets himself back in the sack column, but I also think Graham will bring in a touchdown or two. Much like the Denver game, the Cowboys offense will find a way to get going, but the Saints win a shootout – something like 38-28. I think a big part of that will be because the Cowboys won’t notch a turnover this week, which would be just the second time this season they haven’t produced at least one.

Rowan Kavner: I don’t expect a blowout for either side here, but the Cowboys better make sure they don’t get down in bunches early. The problem for the Cowboys in this one is that the Saints seem to do everything well that the Cowboys have had trouble with. In San Diego, the defense had trouble against Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead, and the combination of Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles in the passing game is probably even more lethal. Despite the Saints’ improved defense under Rob Ryan, I see both teams still trading points in this one, but the Cowboys don’t have an answer for Graham or the slot threats of the Saints. I think Bruce Carter is active in this one and makes amends for the struggles he had against Woodhead earlier this year, while Jeff Heath gets an interception. Offensively, Cole Beasley ends up with more catches than Terrance Williams and Lance Dunbar finally gets involved in his hometown and has a 20-plus yard play. Eventually, the Saints’ offense is just too much, and they’re the first and last to 30 points.

Nick Eatman: Judging by the pattern of recent history, the Cowboys have a good shot here. Dating back to that 2009 game, these two teams play the opposite of what is expected. Even last year, the Cowboys were supposed to win but couldn’t stop the Saints at the end. So this year, maybe the Cowboys really do have a good shot of going to New Orleans and grabbing a win. I wish I could see it, but I don’t. Beating the Saints to improve to 6-4 heading into the bye week would be just too good for this team. Nothing comes easy for this team, especially in the Big Easy. I see the Cowboys staying with the Saints for a while, but eventually one team runs out of bullets. I think the Saints will win 38-30. I see a big game for Cole Beasley, maybe something like a double-digit catch game. I’m calling for a first career interception by Jeff Heath. But in the end, I see a flight home with a 5-5 team with two weeks to try and figure it out.

 


GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Trackers and Scoreboards

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GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Sounds of the game

Listen to the “Voice of the Dallas Cowboys” Brad Sham on KRLD in Dallas.

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GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Watch the game

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Out of market? Click HERE to watch online (NFL Sunday Ticket)

When: Sunday, November 10th, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. (Dallas time)

Where: Superdome | New Orleans, LA

Watch on TV: Local NBC affiliate | DirecTV

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HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUP: Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints in 2013-2014 Game 10

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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?

Edge: Saints

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.

Edge: Cowboys

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.

Edge: Cowboys

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.

Edge: Saints

Special teams

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.

Edge: Cowboys

Intangibles

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.

Edge: Saints

HUMBLED AND HURT: With the Saints high-rolling offense, Rob Ryan can shoot for ‘average’

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during 2013 organized team activities at the Saints training facility - The Boys Are Back blog

METAIRIE, La. — Rob Ryan figures his firing in Dallas will only help him relate to a Saints defense humbled by a historically bad season.

“I don’t like getting fired,” Ryan said Thursday during his first meeting with reporters since Sean Payton hired him in February to revamp New Orleans’ last-ranked defense. “I know I got my feelings hurt and so did our players. We’re looking to do something about it.”

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The Saints gave up 7,042 yards in 2012, the most ever in a single season in the NFL. Payton has said that performance forced him to make a change at defensive coordinator, even though he felt bad letting Steve Spagnuolo go after only one highly unusual season.

Spagnuolo never got to coach with Payton, who was suspended all of last season in connection with the NFL’s bounty probe. Yet shortly after Payton was reinstated, the relatively calm, analytical Spagnuolo, who favored a read-and-react 4-3 defense, was replaced by Ryan, who runs a pressure-heavy 3-4 scheme (three down linemen, four linebackers).

Ryan also has been known to exhibit a brash demeanor more akin to that of Gregg Williams, the Saints’ defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011.

“Personality-wise they are very similar,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “They’re cut from the same cloth in that they know that players and matchups are what defense is all about and they have a lot of personality and they’re aggressive in their play-calling.”

Williams often referred to himself as a disciple of retired coach Buddy Ryan, who ran the defense of Chicago’s 1985 Super Bowl championship team and later was a head coach for Philadelphia and Arizona. Rob Ryan is Buddy Ryan’s son, and New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan’s brother.

“They’re all from the same school, the Buddy Ryan defense, so there are a lot of similarities between what Gregg was running and what Rob is bringing,” Jenkins said. “But I think Rob has a few more wrinkles with the 3-4 and everything, and I think we’re going to have fun.”

Williams used to boast brazenly of how nasty he wanted his defenses to be, and wound up being a central figure in the NFL’s investigation into the Saints’ bounty program. The league said Williams administered the program, which paid cash bonuses for big plays, including heavy and sometimes injury-causing hits.

Ryan’s approach also fosters toughness, Jenkins said, and that is something Saints players embrace, even as they are mindful of the scrutiny they faced from the league in the past.

“There’s a line and you don’t cross it, but you want to get as close to that line as you can,” Jenkins said. “We definitely want to be a physical, feared defense.”

Because the Saints’ offense, designed by Payton and orchestrated by quarterback Drew Brees, is perennially among the NFL’s best, New Orleans has not always had to be good on defense to win.

They ranked 25th of 32 teams in 2009, when they won their only Super Bowl. They ranked 24th in 2011, when they went 13-3 and advanced to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs before falling to San Francisco in a thriller.

So Ryan, whose defense in Dallas ranked 19th last season, doesn’t need to work miracles, but he does need to make the Saints’ defense a little closer to average.

“It was bad last year,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “There’s no sugar coating or anything like that, so we’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

Payton said he did a lot of research on Ryan, interviewing players and coaches who have worked with him, before concluding he would be right for the job.

“I like his passion,” Payton said. “I like the way players respond and I think he’s a perfect fit.”

Ryan has studied some of the schemes the Saints executed well under Williams and brought some of them back, even with the same terminology.

“I know our successes, where that’s been. It’s been a pressure team, I know that,” Ryan said. “But I also know we can do more with our coverage, and we have to.”

Jenkins said Ryan’s scheme better suits the strengths of Saints defenders, noting that the roster includes cornerbacks who can hold their own in single coverage long enough for Saints safeties, who’ve been effective blitzers, to disrupt quarterbacks.

If successful, Ryan could for the first time serve as a defensive coordinator on a winning team, something he never did while holding that post in Cleveland, Oakland and Dallas. However, he did win Super Bowls as a defensive assistant in New England.

“I’m fortunate enough to be with great program like the Saints, led by Sean Payton. I haven’t felt this way since I was in New England with Bill Belichick,” Ryan said. “I just feel like a sense of urgency. I can’t wait to give everything I have to this organization. I know everybody is on the same path.”


Mark your calendar …

Sunday Night Football matchup …

The Dallas Cowboys vs New Orleans Saints  – November 10, 2013:

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Click HERE to see the entire 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys schedule.

RYAN ROBBING ROSTER: Former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Kenyon Coleman joins Saints

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The Dallas Cowboys didn’t want Rob Ryan, but the defensive coordinator will take his former players.

The New Orleans Saints have signed defensive end Kenyon Coleman today. Coleman started five games for the Cowboys in 2012, but he was placed on injured reserve after he tore the triceps in his left arm.

Coleman, 33, was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round of the 2002 draft. He was a regular starter with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Cowboys from 2007 to 2011. The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder had 36 tackles and one sack in 2011.

Former Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler signed with the Saints earlier this week. Coleman played for Ryan in Dallas and Cleveland. He’ll help New Orleans transition to Ryan’s 3-4 scheme.

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CLASS OF ‘09 VANISHED: Backup linebacker Victor Butler joins Rob Ryan in New Orleans

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Backup linebacker Victor Butler has left the Cowboys for a free-two-year agent deal with the New Orleans Saints, according to a report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which cited a league source.

The move puts Butler back in the hands of former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was dismissed in January after two seasons in Dallas.

The move also leaves the Cowboys with nothing to show for the 2009 draft class. The Cowboys had 12 picks in that draft, and the last two remaining — Butler and tight end John Phillips — each signed free agent contracts with other teams this year. Only Butler, Phillips, kicker David Buehler and third-string quarterback Stephen McGee lasted more than two years with the Cowboys from that group.

Butler played in 63 games for the Cowboys, started three, and had 11 sacks. He played in all 16 games each of the last two years. Last year, on special teams, he caused a fumble on a punt return that set up a Cowboys comeback victory against Pittsburgh.

STOP THE CLOCK: Rob Ryan to coach New Orleans Saints defense

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It’s official, Rob Ryan is heading to New Orleans. The Saints have hired Ryan to fill their defensive coordinator opening.

“In regards to Rob, we have experience in preparing and playing against his defenses and they’ve always been challenging in terms of the different looks and pressures that they feature,” Saints coach Sean Payton said in a press release. 

Ryan was the favorite after things didn’t work out with the St. Louis Rams. University of Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham interviewed Thursday, but withdrew his name from consideration.

It’s been an odd offseason for the former Dallas Cowboys coordinator. He was unceremoniously fired in Dallas, then hired/not hired in St. Louis. Now he lands in New Orleans, which might be the best spot of the three. Ryan won’t have to win games with his defense, since Drew Brees runs one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL (Editors note: So did Dallas!) . The 2012 season for the Saints broke a three-year run of playoff berths, and was more of a fluke as a result of of the bounty suspensions.

“I have had the opportunity to get to know Sean Payton and his staff a bit better recently and I am excited about joining the team,” Ryan said. “I have a ton of respect for (owner Tom)  Benson, (general manager) Mikey (Loomis) and the organization and I’m ready to get to work on all facets of the game. This is a great opportunity and we’re getting started right away.”

Payton is back and wants Ryan to install his 3-4 scheme. The changeover shouldn’t be that difficult, considering they didn’t play the 4-3 all that well. The defense only has to be average for the Saints to become one of the league’s top teams again. They won seven games with the worst total defense in 2012.

The defense ran some 3-4 looks, but Ryan will need a few new bodies to fit the system full-time — a pass rusher, cornerback and safety are first on the list.

OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Sean Payton announces two coaching staff additions

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The New Orleans Saints have announced two coaching staff additions. The club has hired Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and Stan Kwan as assistant special teams coach.

“I’m pleased the opportunity has presented itself for us to be able to add both Rob Ryan and Stan Kwan to our coaching staff,” said Head Coach Sean Payton. “In regards to Rob, we have experience in preparing and playing against his defenses and they’ve always been challenging in terms of the different looks and pressures that they feature. We’ve had the chance to visit with each other and talk about our visions for our team and I’m excited about moving forward as we prepare for the 2013 season.  Rob is enthusiastic about joining our team and getting right to work. Stan is a veteran coach that understands all nuances of the special teams games and will work closely with Greg McMahon. He has a wealth of knowledge and I believe he will be a good fit on our staff.”

“I am excited and thrilled to be joining the New Orleans Saints,” Ryan said. “I have had the opportunity to get to know Sean Payton and his staff a bit better recently and I am excited about joining the team. I have a ton of respect for Mr. Benson, Mickey (Loomis) and the organization and I’m ready to get to work on all facets of the game. This is a great opportunity and we’re getting started right away.”

A nine-year veteran as a defensive coordinator, Ryan joins New Orleans after spending the last two seasons running the defense of the Dallas Cowboys. Under his tutelage in 2011, Dallas’ team defense improved to 14th overall in the NFL after finishing 23rd in 2010, ranking seventh against the run. In 2012, the Cowboys were one of only three teams in the NFL to have two players with 11 or more sacks, as LB DeMarcus Ware led the team with 11.5 and LB Anthony Spencer posted a career-high 11 takedowns. Both players were selected to the Pro Bowl. Cowboys opponents were held to a 43.9 % third down conversion rate, ranked tenth in the NFL, despite an influx of injuries at several key positions throughout the course of the season. In Ryan’s first season with the Cowboys, Ware finished second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks.

Prior to joining the Cowboys staff, Ryan served as the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns from 2009-10. In 2010, the Browns defense tied for eighth in the NFL with 19 interceptions, as six different players posted multiple picks to tie for the third-most players with two-or-more interceptions on a team that season. Ryan guided a pair of standout rookie defensive backs in Joe Haden who led the team in interceptions (5) and T.J. Ward, who led the Browns in tackles (105). On the ground, Cleveland allowed just seven rushing touchdowns, tied for fourth-fewest in the league. In Ryan’s first season in Cleveland, the defense did not allow a touchdown in three games and the Browns posted 40 sacks, tied for eighth in the league.

Prior to Cleveland, Ryan served five years as Oakland’s defensive coordinator from 2004-08. In 2006, the Raiders led the league in pass defense (150.8 yards-per-game) and finished third in total defense (284.8 yards-per-game).  CB Nnamdi Asomugha and DE Derrick Burgess were each selected to the Pro Bowl twice during his tenure. Ryan also spent four seasons (2000-03) as the linebackers coach for the New England Patriots. In his time with the Patriots, Ryan was a part of two Super Bowl championship teams – XXXVI and XXXVIII – while working with two of the league’s top linebackers in Teddy Bruschi and Willie McGinest.

Ryan’s NFL coaching career began when he spent two seasons (1994-95) as the defensive backs coach under his father, Buddy Ryan, for the Arizona Cardinals, where they had the NFL’s third ranked defense in 1994 and led the league with 42 takeaways in 1995.

After playing three years at outside linebacker at Southwestern Oklahoma State, Ryan broke into the coaching ranks with graduate assistant jobs at Western Kentucky (1987) and Ohio State (1988). He then landed his first full-time coaching position at Tennessee State where he spent five seasons tutoring running backs, linebackers and the defensive line. Following his NFL stint with the Cardinals, Ryan spent three seasons as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.

Kwan comes to New Orleans for his 23rd year as an NFL assistant. He spent the past three seasons (2010-12) as the assistant special teams coach for the Buffalo Bills, where they ranked first in the NFL last season (2012) in punt return average (17.1 avg.) with two touchdowns and were fourth-best in the league in kick-off return average (27.0 avg.). He spent ten years with the Detroit Lions (1997-2000, 2004-09), including his final three seasons in charge of the club’s special teams units and also had stints with the San Diego Chargers (1991-96) and Arizona Cardinals (2001-03). Under his guidance, the special teams units of each team Kwan has helped guide have been consistently well schooled and prepared. The Phoenix native played baseball at San Diego State for three years prior to joining the Chargers after graduation.

FORMER DC STILL FISHING: Dallas Cowboys ex-defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will not run St. Louis Rams defense

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Remember when Rob Ryan agreed to be the St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator? Well, about that…

The Rams announced Tuesday that Ryan will not run their defense in 2013.

“After extensive conversations regarding defensive philosophy, the Rams and Rob Ryan agreed he was not the right fit for the club’s defensive coordinator position,” COO/Executive VP of Football Operations Kevin Demoff told the team website. “The Rams will continue the interview process with the club’s other candidates.”

The Rams seemed poised to add Ryan to an already strong defense that led the NFL with 52 sacks. Ryan’s boisterous persona, however, can rub some the wrong way. He proclaimed that he’d be out of a job for “like five minutes” when the Dallas Cowboys fired him earlier this month.

No details were given, but Ryan does prefer a 3-4 scheme to the Rams’ 4-3. That could have been the difference in philosophy, but it’s odd the team didn’t deny reports last week that Ryan had been hired, now calling them premature. It appears something changed in the last five days.

The Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints are the other teams still searching for a defensive coordinator. Ryan’s five minutes might turn into much more if he can’t make a late push for one of those two jobs, or isn’t willing to take a lesser position.

Courtesy: Kareem Copeland | NFL Around the League Writer

RELATED: Rams Continue Defensive Coordinator Search

Former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will not be St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator - The Boys Are Back blog

– Despite reports over the weekend that the Rams had hired Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator, the team confirmed Tuesday morning that those reports were pre-mature. In fact, the Rams went so far as to say that despite long conversations with Ryan concerning defensive philosophy, the sides couldn’t find a common ground and the team is actually moving on to interview other candidates.

– From COO/Executive VP of Football Operations Kevin Demoff:

“After extensive conversations regarding defensive philosophy, the Rams and Rob Ryan agreed he was not the right fit for the club’s Defensive Coordinator position. The Rams will continue the interview process with the club’s other candidates.”

– In other words, Rob Ryan will not be the hire. No specifics are available yet on what exactly the disagreement on philosophy was though one would imagine Ryan’s general preference for the 3-4 would have factored in at some capacity. The Rams run a 4-3 defense and the lack of scheme fit would be an obvious reason.

– No word on who some of the other candidates under consideration are but coach Jeff Fisher has traditionally taken his time and played such hires close to the vest.

– The team did announce the hire of Frank Bush as linebackers coach on Tuesday.

– More on this as it comes.

Source: Nick Wagoner – Senior Writer | Official site of the St. Louis Rams

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Link to article (above): Click HERE to read the story

LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE: 2013 Dallas Cowboys schedule includes Denver, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Green Bay

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The Cowboys’ loss put them in third place in the NFC East, leaving them to play play third-place teams St. Louis (at home) and New Orleans (on the road) next season.

The rest of the Cowboys’ home schedule next season includes the Giants, Redskins and Eagles from the NFC East, plus Green Bay, Minnesota, Denver and Oakland.

The remaining road games for the Cowboys next year are at the Giants, Redskins, Eagles, plus Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and San Diego.

When the NFL announces the dates, they will posted HERE (or click on the page titled NFL Schedules).

LISTEN LIVE–RIGHT NOW: Dallas Cowboy’s postgame show on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network

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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints

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HEAD2HEAD: A look at the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints match up

The Cowboys are making December one to remember for all the right reasons. They’ve won three games this month and five of their last six. Now, they face New Orleans, a 6-8 team that is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. The Saints have been damaged by the penalties stemming from the bounty scandal that rocked the NFL in the off-season. But they still have one of the most prolific offenses in the league, producing more points on average than every other team except New England. Here is a look at how both the Cowboys and Saints match up:

When the Cowboys run

DeMarco Murray has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game once this season. But his impact is far greater than his output. His presence is vital to the Cowboys’ success. Since entering the league in 2011, Dallas is 10-1 when Murray has 14 or more carries. Murray should get plenty of opportunities Sunday against a New Orleans team allowing 146.3 rushing yards per game – the second-highest average in the NFL this season.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Cowboys pass

In the last seven games, Tony Romo has revived a season that seemed headed for disaster. Since Nov. 1, he has thrown 13 touchdowns passes and only three interceptions. He has also passed for 300 or more yards five times. Romo’s strong performance has coincided with the most productive stretch of Dez Bryant’s career. Bryant has collected eight touchdown receptions in the last six games and has a good chance to find the end zone again against a Saints team giving up 287 yards per game through the air – the second-highest average in the NFL this season.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Saints run

New Orleans’ commitment to its ground game can be questioned. This season, the Saints have rushed the ball 314 times – the second-lowest total in the NFL this season. But when New Orleans has turned to its running backs, they have been successful, averaging 4.45 yards per carry. Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory form a strong backfield that will test a Cowboys defense featuring a patchwork front. But Dallas held strong against Pittsburgh last week, limiting the Steelers to 69 yards on the ground.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Saints pass

Drew Brees has become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history directing a high-powered offense. Even in this season of disappointment, Brees has excelled. He leads the league in passing yards, throwing for 4,335 in 14 games. But his record has been blighted by 18 interceptions – the highest total in the league. Brees commands an air attack that Dallas’ secondary will be challenged to stop. Four Saints players are among the 50 NFL players with the most receptions. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for more than 250 yards in three of their last four games.

Edge: Saints

Special teams

In less than two seasons, Dan Bailey has emerged as one of the NFL’s most consistent kickers and a key contributor for the Cowboys. In an overtime victory over Pittsburgh last Sunday, Bailey made his seventh game-winning field goal, tying a franchise record. This season, he has connected on 27 of 29 attempts and every kick inside of 50 yards. Bailey has been considerably more successful than Southlake’s own Garrett Hartley. Hartley has made only 15 of 18 field-goal tries and his conversion rate is ranked in the bottom half of the league.

Edge: Cowboys

Intangibles

The New Orleans Saints haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention. But with eight losses their chances of qualifying for the postseason are extremely slim. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have a very realistic shot of playing beyond the regular season. Their confidence is high after their recent stretch of success and they will be motivated to earn their sixth victory in their last seven games. A rejuvenated home crowd should help them.

Edge: Cowboys

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GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints postgame coverage

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THE BAYOU VS. THE BOYS: All hands saddle-up for the game 15 shootout

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IRVING, TexasAll hands saddle up. A Texas sized shootout is about to commence.

         Think about it. That is exactly how these Dallas Cowboys have turned a 3-5 start to this 2012 season into an encouraging 8-6 with two games to go and a potential playoff berth emerging out of the blue.

         And it’s the exact same old Texas cattle drive toughness needed this Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. It’s this suddenly surging Cowboys team, winner of three straight games this late in a season (for only the second time since they swept the final five in the 1993 Super Bowl campaign), meets head on with those 6-8 New Orleans Saints.

Courtesy - Saddle Up Cowboy Art Print by Jim Tunell - The Boys Are Back blog

         Everyone, that is. All 92 hands comprising the 46-man, game-day roster, along with every one of those coaches and staff personnel, from head coach Jason Garrett to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, all the way down to little-known but hardworking Ben Bloom and Dave Borgonzi.

Injured Cowboys tough it out - The Boys Are Back blog

         For this injury-riddled team, possibly growing up before our very, and for some, quite unsuspecting eyes, they have needed and will continue to need the village that has been the impetus for a second-half surge, winning five of the past six games to vault into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East with Washington and New York.

         That is why so many of you are having significant problems trying to figure out what happened between 3-5 and 8-6. Why a team that lost three of those first eight games by an eyelash suddenly has won four of these five by the equal breath of that same eyelash.

         Oh, it’s been the red-hot play of Tony Romo, you say, the Cowboys quarterback completing 168-of-250 passing attempts in the past six games for 1,875 yards, 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions, factoring out to a 100.3 passer rating.

         Or it’s been Dez Bryant, putting together a Pro Bowl-push of consistency in the same six games, grabbing 37 passes for 584 yards and eight of his 10 touchdowns, as many scores in 14 games as any No. 88 in Cowboys history has ever caught in a 16-game season, not even giving quarter to a fractured left index finger.

         Or it’s been the return of DeMarco Murray, the lead runner who has come back to gain 213 yards and score three rushing touchdowns on 213 carries since missing six and a half straight games with torn foot ligaments.

         Or the steady hand of Jason Witten, leading the team with 97 catches, just six shy of becoming the NFL’s all-time leader in single-season receptions by a tight end.

         Or the emergence of play-making receiver/returner Dwayne Harris, seven catches for 79 yards these past two games, along with a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 39-yarder this past Sunday.

         Or this rookie tight end James Hanna, three catches for 48 yards these past two games and a mismatch for any linebacker trying to run cross-field with him while their defensive partners are preoccupied doubling Witten.

         Or cornerback Brandon Carr, two picks in the past two games, the second this past Sunday setting up Dan Bailey’s game-winning 21-yard field goal in overtime. And oh, Bailey is a candidate too, since that kick means he has made 12-of-12 field goals in this six-game stretch.

         Or Anthony Spencer, whose seven sacks in the last six has spurred on a defense that seemingly loses a starter a week (seven total from the nickel defense this past Sunday) and has compensated for fellow outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware essentially playing with his right arm (injured elbow and shoulder) tied behind his back.

         Or defensive coordinator Rob Ryan using spit and duct tape to piece together a defense littered with guys signed off their couches to replace the five defensive starters now on injured reserve if you count nickel back Orlando Scandrick in that total, and then also nose tackle Jay Ratliff (out for the remainder of the regular season at least) and his backup Josh Brent on NFI following the tragic accident two weeks ago.

Saddle up for a cowboy adventure - The Boys Are Back blog

My gosh, this team even lost its punter. They lassoed another from the Buffalo Bills.

If they just lose one more … look, they haven’t exactly slammed the door shut on the past four opponents, but with the exception of the 38-31 loss to Washington, they have come up with key stops or plays to close out the final three games, the last in overtime.

And even some insist the tragic accident killing practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown and charging Brent, the driver, with intoxication manslaughter, coupled with Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson, expression of uncommon compassion for Brent, has galvanized this team, as if suddenly playing for a bigger cause.

Who am I to say that is a corny take, since there has been a noticeable focus and determination in these guys’ eyes ever since, along with a noticeable budding confidence that no matter what – a broken finger, lost comrade, 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, the inability to score more than 10 points in any first half this season, and injured teammates. As many as 16 guys signed to this roster since the start of the season and having to play the unknown likes of Sterling Moore, Michael Coe, Brady Poppinga, Ernie Sims, Bryan Schaefering, Charlie Peprah and Eric Frampton – they shall overcome.

Cowboy Cattle Drives - The Boys Are Back blog

“Really, it’s just we’ve gotten to a point where we’re a mentally tough football team,” Romo said during a conference call with New Orleans reporters. “In saying that, I believe when I step on the field in the fourth quarter, if we’re within 10-14 points, we’re going to find a way to win the ballgame.”

So as you see, there have been beaucoup factors and Ranch hands elevating their play in this turnaround for the Cowboys, if indeed you want to call it a turnaround, since they lost the Baltimore game by a foot or two when Bailey experienced his last field-goal miss (from 51) at the buzzer and lost the second Giants game by a fingertip (Bryant’s landing out the back of the end zone, nullifying what was initially ruled a winning touchdown in the final seconds).

And while the quarterback’s influence on a game normally is overwhelming, as you can see there have been so, so many other factors in the Cowboys’ recent success. Sunday against the Saints won’t be any different, if you factor in that the Cowboys’ banged up defense has to go up against the league’s third-ranked offense, powered by the league’s second-ranked passing offense.

PR_TexasShootout Logo

You know what that means, right? Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham, Mark Ingram and especially Darren Sproles, the Saints’ nickel running back who is second on the team with seven touchdowns – six of those receptions – and is as dangerous a kick returner as Dallas has faced all season long.

That also means the Cowboys better score some points, which they have been doing, an offense aided by some defensive plays and touchdowns, along with a few plays on special teams. Just look, the Cowboys have scored at least 27 points in four of the past six games and more than 30 in half of those games.

Plus, anything they can get on special teams would be dandy, whether it be a Harris kick return or a Victor Butler forced fumble recovered in enemy territory, and for sure for Bailey to continue on his six-game streak of perfection.

Texas Cowboy - The Boys Are Back blog

When you look at these Cowboys like this, you need not have been on the actual cattle drive to understand the meaning of all hands saddle up. Get ready for a shootout. Those varmints from The Bayou face The Boys in Dallas. Be at the Cowboys Corral, at high noon.

Courtesy: Mickey Spagnola; edited by Robert D Knight

Editors note: Mentioned in this article … Ben Bloom (quality control), Dave Borgonzi (volunteer assistant)

PREGAME PREPARATION: Ten New Orleans Saints that Dallas Cowboys fans need to know (Special Feature)

PREGAME PREPARATION - Ten New Orleans Saints that Dallas Cowboys fans need to know (Special Feature) - The Boys Are Back blog

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are right in the thick of things after a big win over Pittsburgh. But an 8-6 record can only take you so far, and the Cowboys must now win against a high flying Saints team to keep the momentum going. So before the Cowboys host New Orleans this weekend, here’s a look at 10 Saints you ought to know before kickoff.

Need to know QB Drew Brees - The Boys Are Back blog

Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

QB Drew Brees – One of the greatest players to ever play the position, Brees is in the midst of another great statistical year despite the Saints’ struggles. In Week 5, he broke Johnny Unitas’ record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, which had stood over 50 years. Brees has passed for 4,335 yards and 36 touchdowns this season but has thrown 18 interceptions including five against the Falcons a few weeks ago. He did bounce back and threw for 307 yards and 4 TD’s with no interceptions against Tampa Bay last week so the Cowboys secondary must be ready a tough challenge.

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COWBOYS ROCK’N CHRISTMAS: Cowboys Stadium to feature holiday theme Sunday

ROCK’N CHRISTMAS SPIRIT - Cowboys Stadium to feature holiday theme Sunday - Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Christmas theme will be in full effect at Cowboys Stadium for the final home game of the season Sunday against the Saints.

Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, reindeer and elves will be in the West Plaza taking free pictures with children, while The Ray Johnston Band will play in the East Plaza. Johnston, a former Dallas Maverick, is now a country-rock artist.

Prior to the game, the coach of the week for the youth football season and the Community Quarterback Award winner will be honored.

Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers - Jason Witten - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders holiday dance spectacular will occur at halftime, when tight end Jason Witten will be awarded the Bob Lilly Award for demonstrating the highest level of achievement, sportsmanship, dedication and leadership.

Kickoff will be at noon and will be televised on FOX.

RIVAL HEADLINE: Saints vs. Cowboys – Week 16 scouting report

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) stretches - The Boys Are Back blog

The New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys will meet for the first time since 2010  Sunday. The surging Cowboys (8-6) are in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East and have won three straight games. The Saints (6-8) snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. The Saints have had their way with the Cowboys lately, having won six of the last seven meetings. The Saints took the last meeting 30-27 in Cowboys Stadium.

COWBOYS OFFENSE

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SAINTS GO MARCHING IN VICTORY: Paul Tagliabue overturns suspensions

Saints Bounties Hearings

NEW ORLEANS — Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in the league’s bounty investigation of the club.

Tagliabue, however, found that the players’ conduct was detrimental to the league. He says they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays — including hard tackles — that could justify fines.

But the former commissioner said Tuesday that “this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.”

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma initially had been suspended the whole season, while Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove received shorter suspensions.

The Saints face the Cowboys on Dec. 23.

RELATED: Tagliabue vacates bounty players’ suspensions

In a sharp rebuke to his successor’s handling of the NFL’s bounty investigation, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in a case that has preoccupied the league for almost a year.

Tagliabue, who was appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeals, still found that three of the players engaged in conduct detrimental to the league. He said they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays – including hard tackles – that could merit fines. But he stressed that the team’s coaches were very much involved.

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STOP THE MADNESS: Not another Sunday night game! Cowboys-Saints could be flexed by NFL

The NFL is thinking about flexing the Dallas Cowboys INTO another Sunday Night Football game.

The Cowboys currently have one more NBC Sunday night game on the schedule,, Dec. 2 when the Philadelphia Eagles visit. That would be their fourth prime time game this season. The NFL allows six.

The fifth could come Sunday Dec. 23 when the New Orleans Saints come to Cowboys Stadium. Currently penciled in for NBC that night is the disappointing San Diego Chargers at the horrible New York Jets. The NFL and NBC would like to get out of that mess.

I know the Cowboys and Saints are both 4-5 but they have upsides. The Cowboys have a four winnable games coming and the Saints have Drew Brees who can carry a team. Not saying it’s a lock but it’s a definite maybe.

LIGHTNING ROD: What Jerry Jones says about Holmgren’s interest in the Dallas Cowboys

Mike Holmgren visiting Cowboys Stadium and Dallas Cowboys this week - The Boys Are Back blog

PHILADELPHIA (105.3 THE FAN) – The best explanation for why Jerry Jones would attempt to sidestep last weekend’s rumors about Sean Payton as a future Cowboys coach but then this weekend talk fairly openly about rumors about Mike Holmgren as a future Cowboys coach has nothing to do with Payton, with Holmgren, or with sitting Dallas coach Jason Garrett.

It has everything to do with Jerry being Jerry.

“Of course, Mike Holmgren is a heck of a coach,” Jones said on Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan before Sunday’s Cowboys-at-Eagles kickoff. “But the facts are that Jason Garrett gives us an outstanding chance to be what we want to be. So, there you have it. I wouldn’t comment one way or the other there with Mike.”

Of course, he just did comment one way or the other regarding Holmgren, with whom Jones became friendly years ago when the Super Bowl-winning coach (then with the Packers) served with Jones on the NFL’s powerful Competition Committee. And Jones said more, explaining that when he heard about the CBSSports report about Holmgren harboring “serious interest’’ in Dallas if there should be a vacancy, he visited with Cowboys play-by-play voice Brad Sham of The Fan to catch up on the news.

“I was interested in why he said he would like to be the coach,” Jones said. “And that was good. We are good friends, have a lot of respect for each other, served on the Competition Committee together for eight years. He’s very familiar with how we operate the Cowboys, and does have a high appreciation for our talent that we have on the team right now. All of that is a compliment. Thank you, Mike.”

Mike Holmgren Seattle Seahawks vs Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

As noted last week, Holmgren – not successful in his executive position with the Cleveland Browns – is among Jones’ confidants, a friendly advisor as Jerry runs his team as the owner, president and GM.

Jones also has a relationship with suspended Saints coach Payton. And with hundreds of other football names, some more headline-grabbing than others.

If a football person wants a job, or wants a raise, strategically, he might leak info about being interested in Dallas. Meanwhile, if a reporter wants attention, he might make certain to release inside info under the spotlight of an NFL Sunday … and to raise the profile of the story by including the lightning-rod Cowboys in the first paragraph.

It is not Jerry Jones’ plan to fire Garrett, though Dallas’ 3-5 start has placed the young coach the middle of these sort of stories.

“We need to win a game,’’ Jones said earlier this week. “I looked for an uptick when Jason took over (in the middle of the 2010 season). I look for that now. The arrow is going up.’’

So why is Jerry Jones willing to let himself be drawn into conversations like this? Because which ever way the arrow is pointing, Jones likes to make certain the TV cameras are pointed at him and his Cowboys.

HOLD YOUR HORSES: Jerry Jones on Sean Payton and Jason Garrett’s future with Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones and Sean Payton - The Boys Are Back blog

While Cowboys fans might want Jerry Jones to hire Sean Payton as head coach, that doesn’t mean the Cowboys owner and general manager is thinking about that at the moment.

Sunday morning, the NFL voided the multiyear contract extension the New Orleans Saints announced for Payton in September 2011. That decision means that the suspended head coach will become a free agent after this season.

Although it’s likely that Payton will return to the Saints next season, his previous coaching ties to the Cowboys make it easy to speculate that Jones would have interest.

“I have no idea about that,” Jones said after Sunday’s 19-13 Cowboys loss in Atlanta. “I have no understanding about anything to do with his or the Saints’ business or the contracts. That was news to me.”

Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett - Dallas Cowboys - The Boys Are Back blog

Jones seems to think he is employing the right guy.

“I have a lot of faith in Jason,” Jones said Sunday night. “I think Jason’s future is ahead of him. I know how hard he works. I like his philosophy so I have a lot of faith, a lot of confidence, one of the brighter spots that I see, about our head coaching and our coaching in the future.”

FLASHBACK: Dallas Cowboys hope to draw on history Sunday

IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys will play the only undefeated team left in the NFL on Sunday. They will play in a dome on Sunday. They will pay against an NFC South team.

What is this 2009 again?

The Cowboys hope so.

Dallas Cowboys vs New Orleans Saints - The Boys Are Back blog - QB Sack and Fumble

In 2009, the Cowboys beat 13-0 New Orleans inside the Superdome, 24-17.

History Points to a Dallas Cowboys win - The Boys Are Back blog

"Going down to New Orleans I think will have a similar type feel in that you know you’re going against a great opponent that does a lot of things well and creates a lot of problems,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “You can draw on the fact of what you did as a team and individually to beat that opponent that day. What were some of the things that you were successful with, whether that was your approach, whether it was a certain fundamental thought that gave you a chance to do something … I don’t want to give away too much, but that allowed you have a chance to be a little better."

A fast start is a must.

“I can remember playing against New Orleans down there I think when they were undefeated and I think we scored pretty early in that game and that helped out a lot so …,” Romo said.

The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the game for a 14-0 lead with 5:15 left in the opening quarter. Romo hit Miles Austin for a 49-yard score to open the game and Marion Barber followed it with a 3-yard TD run as the Cowboys went on their way to a 24-17 win against the Saints.

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog - QB Sack and Fumble

That win propelled the Cowboys to the playoffs. At 3-4, the Cowboys could use a similar boost with a win Sunday at Atlanta.

“I just think we know we have to go up there and play our best game,” Romo said, “and do the little things right that give you a chance to win football games.”

NFC EAST RIVAL WATCH: RG3 Proves He’ll Be A Decade Worth Of Headaches

Washington Redskins vs. New Orleans Saints - Griffin III Washington stun New Orleans, 40-32 - The Boys Are Back blog

If we’re done with the focus being on the Giants game last Wednesday, then it should be on the Seahawks, right?

Yeah, I get it. We try to focus on one thing at a time. But that’s more of a coach rule than anything.

With the ‘boys off, it was nice to watch a little football on Sunday. Then again, I bet there were plenty of Dallas Cowboys fans who weren’t too thrilled with what they saw in New Orleans.

Cowboys fans know what they’re going to have to face for about 10 to 12 years. It’s scary – not only to figure out to stop him, but to wonder how good this kid can really be. 

But as a true fan of the game, how can you not like what Robert Griffin III did in his NFL debut? Every bit of the excitement he had at Baylor, he played with Sunday in his first game out against the Saints. He throws, he runs, he throws on the run … he just manages his team like he’s been doing it for five years.

You want balance? How about scoring 10 points in each quarter to put up a big 40-spot on the Saints in the Superdome.

Yes the game has changed in 23 years, but think back to 1989 when Troy Aikman made his debut against the Saints in the very same Superdome. RG3’s 40 points were about … 40 points more than Troy could lead his team to that day.

Griffin was purely amazing, becoming the only player in NFL history to pass for at least 300 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in his NFL debut. And his 88-yard touchdown strike to Pierre Garcon was the second-longest touchdown pass in a player’s NFL debut, only one yard behind Neil O’Donnell in 1991.

I remember looking at the schedule when it came out in April and when I noticed the Cowboys didn’t get the Redskins until Thanksgiving, my first thought was: any rookie QB jitters he might have will be long gone by then.

Umm… what rookie jitters? He looked nothing like a rookie in that first game.

Ok, so the Saints aren’t what they used to be on defense. But it’s obvious Griffin will face much better defenses than what he saw in New Orleans. It’s safe to say his six NFC East games will be much tougher than that.

Still, you have to think Griffin will be better too, not only in the next few weeks, but can you imagine about the next few years and then some.

Hey, I’m not saying the Cowboys should be scared. Just saying, RG3 looks to be everything he’s been made out to be – and then some. And with that, he’ll likely be a pain in the Cowboys’ side for the next decade.

Nick Eatman | Dallas Cowboys website

 

NFL Game Rewind - The Boys Are Back blog

TBAB EDITORS NOTE: Seeing is believing! Watch the Washington Redskins RGIII’s NFL debut vs. New Orleans Saints on NFL Game Rewind.

BREAKING NEWS: Saints player bounty suspensions overturned on appeal

VIDEO - Bounty appeal overturns suspensions - The Boys Are Back blog

VIDEO: CBA appeals panel overturned NFL suspensions regarding Saints Bounty program.

A collective bargaining agreement appeals panel overturned the NFL’s suspensions of four players for their involvement in the New Orleans Saints’ "bounty" program, NFL Players Association spokesman George Atallah said Friday.

While the suspensions are vacated immediately, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can go back and suspend the four players if he proves there was an intent to injure. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said all players are eligible to play, starting this weekend, until Goodell does so.

"Consistent with the panel’s decision, Commissioner Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league’s pay-for-performance/bounty rule," Aiello said in a statement. "Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend."

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season, free agent Anthony Hargrove for eight games, Saints defensive end Will Smith for four games and Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita three games.

Fujita and Hargrove played for the Saints during the program’s duration, from 2009 to 2011, under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. The suspensions of Williams, coach Sean Payton (season-long), general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (six games) weren’t involved in this appeals process.

Vilma took to Twitter to express his satisfaction about the ruling, writing: "Victory is mine!!!!."

Hargrove’s agent, Phil Williams, wouldn’t comment on his client’s status. Williams also wouldn’t say whether or not teams had begun calling him on the assumption that Hargrove is eligible to be on the field for the opening week of the 2012 NFL season.

"It’s all too new," Williams told NFL.com and NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport.

When asked if his client is physically able to play after being released by the Green Bay Packers in August, Williams said: "Of course. He’s ready to play if he falls out of bed after a month."

According to a source close to Smith, the defensive end plans to play Sunday in the Saints’ regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins and has been led to believe by the team that he will play.

Saints safety Roman Harper said he’d welcome the return of his defensive teammates, Vilma and Smith.

"Well, if coach (Aaron) Kromer would let him come out, I’d definitely like to play with these guys," Harper told reporters.

"I’m excited," Saints quarterback Drew Brees told NFL.com and NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala. "I’ve been focused on the game, but I hoped that that would be the case. No, I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t call me surprised. Obviously, they saw the information that we’ve seen for a long time."

Albert Breer | NFL

 

Video - Watch Now - The Boys Are Back blog - Press play VIDEO: Saints Harper reacts to teammates overturned suspensions

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