Cowboys’ Defense Facing Another Elite QB In New Orleans
ARLINGTON — The Dallas Cowboys have given up 400 passing yards four times this season, and their pass defense is their weakest point. That makes their Week 10 game with the New Orleans Saints possibly their most dangerous game of 2013, outside of the Denver Broncos game and the December contest with the Green Bay Packers. The only way that Dallas can win this game is to stop Drew Brees.
Brees has eclipsed 4,000 passing yards for seven straight seasons and 5,000 in three of those years. In his best season in 2011, Brees averaged 342 yards a game and he is averaging 334 yards a game this season, on pace for a fourth 5,000 yard season. That is horrible news for the Cowboys who are giving up 305 yards a game, second worst in the NFL.
What is also bad news for Dallas is that quality tight ends have shredded them this season and the Saints have the best tight end in the NFL in Jimmy Graham. The Cowboys have allowed five touchdowns to tight ends on the season and the two elite tight ends they have faced this year – Julius Thomas and Antonio Gates – have combined to catch 19 receptions for 258 yards. There is little chance that Dallas can stop Jimmy Graham, who has broken 100 yards in five games and has 10 touchdowns on the year.
As always, the Saints receivers are pretty interchangeable. Marques Colston is still the best receiver on the team, but was inactive in Week 9. Kenny Stills is the rookie from the Oklahoma Sooners who broke out two weeks ago with a big 129 yard, two touchdown performance. Lance Moore and Robert Meachem are also options, but between Graham, the receivers and the running backs, there are a lot of weapons in this offense, which is what Dallas saw in the Denver game.
The running game is still not up to par for the Saints and took a hit when Darren Sproles suffered a concussion in the team’s Week 9 game. Pierre Thomas is the leading rusher for the team, but outside of Adrian Peterson, no running back has done much against the Cowboys defense.
Since they primarily throw the ball, this will be a high scoring game for the Saints, based on the Cowboys pass defensive performance so far this season.
Normally, the New Orleans Saints pass defense is horrible, and their offense has to fight to keep up. When Dallas took Denver to the limit, it was against the Broncos 30th ranked NFL defense. The Saints this year have been surprising, ranked fourth in the league, giving up an average of 211 passing yards a game with only eight touchdowns allowed in eight games. They are also opportunistic, with nine interceptions on the year.
However, they have only faced three elite quarterbacks this year. Of those quarterbacks, Tom Brady played the worst with 269 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception. Both Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan threw for over 300 yards and the Saints won two of those games.
The Saints rushing defense ranks 21st in the NFL, and that is where Dallas needs to focus with the now healthy DeMarco Murray. However, looking at the Denver game, Dallas will likely come into this game throwing the ball. The best way for Dallas to win is to run Murray against a team who has faced only one elite running back this season in Matt Forte.
There is a good chance this game will resemble the Denver game, but if Dallas wants to win, they need to control the clock against a Saints team that can score almost at will.
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Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.