By Shawn S. Lealos

The Dallas Cowboys opened the season with high aspirations. After two games, they were undefeated but then lost their starting quarterback and wide receiver and now things look bleak and they sit at 2-1 after a tough loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The New Orleans Saints opened the season in a rebuilding mode, with quarterback Drew Brees as the only reliable superstar on the team. In their second game, the Saints lost Brees and fell to 0-3 after they lost to the Carolina Panthers. The two teams face this weekend on Sunday Night Football. 

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Season Record

The New Orleans Saints traded away their best offensive playmaker in Jimmy Graham in the off-season and then traded one of their top young receivers in Kenny Stills. They opened the season with Brees behind center and the surging Mark Ingram in the backfield. With few weapons on offense, their defense has not held up well enough for them to win games. They lost to a strong playoff contender in Arizona, last year’s worst team in Tampa Bay, and division rival Carolina in their first three games, sitting in last place in their division, 0-3.

New Orleans Saints on Offense

Drew Brees was the team’s only real weapon on offense, and he is injured with an injured rotator cuff. However, he received great news when he learned it was not broken and will not require surgery. However, he missed the first game of his NFL career due to injury on Sunday.His replacement, Luke McCown, played better than the Cowboys’ backup Brandon Weeden, completing 31 of 38 passes for 310 yards in the game, but didn’t throw a touchdown and the Saints lost the game. Both Brees and head coach Sean Payton are optimistic that Brees will return for the Cowboys’ game.

One thing that Brees misses this year is his top receiving target Jimmy Graham, who is now in Seattle doing very little for the Seahawks. His top target has been youngster Brandin Cooks, who has 16 receptions for 190 yards. The second best receiver is running back Mark Ingram with second year player Willie Snead sitting in third with 10 catches. Those are not numbers Saints fans are used to and that is one reason that New Orleans is 0-3.

Ingram is also not tearing things up like he did in 2014. He has 39 rush attempts for 127 yards, a low 3.3 ypc average. He does have two touchdowns on the ground, while youngster Khiry Robinson has one touchdown and 79 yards on 20 carries. CJ Spiller returned to action last week, trying to play the role that Darren Sproles once played in the offense. He did almost nothing in his first game back from injury and this offense just isn’t clicking right now.

New Orleans Saints on Defense

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New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan came over from the Dallas Cowboys two years ago. In that season, Dallas dropped to last in the NFL in total defense while Ryan improved the Saints defense drastically. It seemed like a huge misstep by Dallas. However, in year two in New Orleans, Dallas jumped to 19th while the Saints free fell back down to 31st in the NFL, only the Atlanta Falcons playing worse football.

Frustration is spilling over in New Orleans, as the sideline cameras caught Payton yelling at Ryan during the game on Sunday after a silly penalty. The Saints still rank a low 29th in the NFL while Dallas has climbed to 10th. The Saints rand 23rd against the pass, an area that Dallas will struggle with for the next two months, and 27th against the run, which is where Dallas has to try to win their games until Romo returns.

In three games so far in 2015, the Saints have given up 31, 26, and 27 points, and if they let Dallas jump out to a lead with the running game, there is little chance they have to catch up with their lack of offensive firepower. Defense will win this game, and right now the Cowboys are better on that side of the ball.

New Orleans Saints’ Players to Watch

Drew Brees is the only player on this offense who can lead the Saints to victory. He has to hope that CJ Spiller will open up a brand new part of his game that was missing in the first two contests. If Spiller can open up the screen passing game and use his speed to make plays, that will help receivers like Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston and that will open up running lanes for Mark Ingram. However, it all falls on Brees’ shoulders to make the decisions needed to get this team moving. He also needs to stay on his feet, after six sacks in two games.

Hau’oli Kikaha is a name that New Orleans Saints fans will hear for a long time. The rookie second round draft pick out of Washington ranks second on the team with 18 tackles and is tied for first with 12 solo. He also has a team leading two sacks and has forced two fumbles on the season. The linebacker is a front runner for the Defensive Rookie of the Year and he will just get better over time.

Outlook

The Dallas Cowboys play in their second Sunday Night Football game of the season this week and their first was considered the worst game of the year so far in sloppy play. If Drew Brees misses this game, it could be a repeat performance. However, if Brees returns, he is good enough to win any game. This isn’t going to be a great game, and the Cowboys can win the game if they get their running game going early. For the Saints to win, they have to stop the run and force Dallas to throw the ball. If they do that, and Drew Brees plays, this will be a Saints win. Without Brees, it could go either way.

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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.