I don't know about you but I'm dying to get that Jets game taste out of my mouth. The Saints need to come back home and put together a good performance in the worst way. The difference in this game is between going 7-2 and 6-3 which I view as a big difference. It's the difference between staying in the mix for the NFC top seed and fighting for your playoff life. Granted there is a very long way to go. Still, owning the tiebreaker over another division leader in the same conference (the Saints already beat the Bears) would be big. The Saints typically play extremely well at home in prime time, so I'm expecting them to answer present in this game. I'll also be scoreboard watching as the 49ers could do us a real solid and drop the Panthers back down to size. Here's the five things I'll be watching for come game time:
1. Will the Cowboys run the football?
You think the Saints are bad at running the football? Well, they're 26th overall in the NFL and the Cowboys are 27th. You think the Saints called a horrible game last week with a 53-13 pass/run ratio? Well, the Cowboys pass/run ratio against the Vikings last week was 54 to 9! As bad as the Saints looked stopping the run last week you would think the Cowboys would be well served to really commit to the ground game. But they like to pass and they can't help themselves. It'll be interesting to see if Jason Garrett pulls a complete 180 and sticks to the ground game based on the Saints' weakness, or if he keeps chucking the ball playing right into the Saints' hands. If they were smart, they'd pound DeMarco Murray all day long.
2. How big of a difference does DeMarcus Ware's return make?
The Cowboys' defense is 31st overall and they have performed horribly. Getting rid of Rob Ryan doesn't seem to have been a very good move for him. DeMarcus Ware is scheduled to be back for this one and he has a long history of owning the Saints. He has been hurt and hasn't played in almost a month, but he is scheduled to come back for this game. Despite all the time he's spent hurt, missing half the games, he still accounts for almost 20% of his team's season total sacks. So while this defense can be crushed regardless, DeMarcus Ware makes a HUGE difference. He's had 2 sacks against the Chiefs and 2 sacks against the Rams already this season. As inconsistent as the Saints' o-line as been, this could be a multiple sack day for him again. The big question is will he be rusty coming back from injury, and will the Saints be able to contain him and take advantage of an otherwise great matchup on paper?
3. Will the Saints run the ball?
It will be VERY tempting for Sean Payton to have an even worse pass/run ratio against the Cowboys than he did against the Jets. The Cowboys are 31st against the pass and they are getting torched by just about every single team they play. The return of Ware will help, but even still the Saints have a very favorable matchup in terms of passing in this one. The Saints may not run once all game long! Still, you want to keep a defense honest especially when DeMarcus Ware is on the field. If he's just coming back and not 100%, you want to run right at him and see how he holds up in the trenches, as oppose to allowing him to pin his ears back and pressure all day. Clearly the Saints are going to throw, and they are going to throw a lot. A commitment to the running game won't be happening this week given how bad the Cowboys are in pass defense. Even with what happened against the Jets, I think Payton will be very pass happy. But running a bit and having a little success doing it would be nice. The Cowboys yield 4.6 yards per carry (27th overall) so when teams try to run against them they've been successful.
4. Dez Bryant vs. Jimmy Graham, will it live up to the hype?
Dez Bryant and Jimmy Graham are two of the most dominant receiving threats in football. Problem is, Graham has missed practice with arm and foot problems and Bryant has too with back issues. So it's not a given both, or even either, will play. Knowing what I know about those guys, though, they'll probably go out there compromised. And they are so good they can still dominate a game playing injured. We've already seen that from Graham and I promise you Bryant is the same way. If they both go it will be fun to watch two of the very best try to one up each other. Don't forget about DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten too, though, who are massive threats in this very dangerous Cowboys offense.
5. The return of Rob Ryan, does he have something special for Tony Romo?
Romo is the butt of a ton of jokes, but make no mistake, he is playing amazing football this season. They are 5-4 because their defense is atrocious, but Romo has played good ball. He has 20 TDs, 6 INTs, 66.2% completions and a 100 QB rating. Those numbers are all exactly in line with what Brees has put up (21 TDs, 7 INTs, 66.1% and 104.5 rating). He is playing at a high level and when he's hot he can embarrass any defense. He does have a knack in his career for awful turnovers at critical stages, though, thus his reputation. Some timely turnovers from him in this one would be nice. Anyway, Rob Ryan has very specific knowledge of Romo and this Dallas Cowboys' offense and their tendencies. This should be an advantage for Ryan in creating a game plan that will disrupt Romo. Plus it will be fine to watch him play his old team, you know it's personal for him and he really wants to stick it to the Cowboys.