It may not be a playoff game but the game Sunday between the New Orleans Saints (6-8) and the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) definitely has plenty of storylines.
Dallas, New York and Washington are all (8-6) on the season with the Redskins atop the division due to tiebreakers. The Cowboys need a fourth straight win to keep pace for a possible playoff spot, “We’re just concentrating on continuing to just grind and figure out a way to win a game against New Orleans who’s going to be a very-very tough test for us. ,” Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said this week.
The Cowboys are technically a hot team in that they have won five of six games although three of those could have easily been losses, with two of those being overtime wins. That said you do have to win them and they have been able to make plays late in games to secure the victory.
“They make explosive plays. I think they do a great job of just executing,” Saints safety Roman Harper says. “Romo does a great job of making plays in and out of the pocket making things happen doing the same things he’s been successful with his whole career. DeMarco Murray is running the ball really well for these guys and of course they got weapons all across the board on the outside with their tight end Jason Whitten. It’s definitely a tough offense to match up with.”
Murray is dealing with a foot injury and this week did not practice on Wednesday but did on a limited basis the rest of the week and is probable for the game. The second year back has only played in eight games this season but has scored a touchdown in three straight games. So keeping tabs on Murray will be a key on Sunday.
“When I look at players I ask myself who does he remind me of,” says Vitt. “Murray reminds me of Charlie Garner. He reminds me of a guy that can crease you and take it the distance. He’s a guy from tackle to tackle that has great balance so when you think you have him down, all of a sudden he’s out and once he’s out he can finish the run.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints offense will be going up against the 14th overall best defense in the NFL. The Cowboys are 14th in stopping the pass averaging 225.1 yards per game while on the ground they rank 15th giving up 115.2 yards a contest.
Dallas will get rookie first-rounder from LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne back after he missed last week due to a concussion suffered in Cincinnati. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot from the first game to now,” Claiborne says looking at his first NFL season so far. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot from the standpoint of just reading coverages going home doing my homework and studying teams.” The former Tiger has 40 tackles on the season and an interception.
This game means a lot for both teams. Sure the Cowboys still have a slight chance at the post season mainly by winning the NFC East. The Saints are playing for pride and don’t think for one second that the Sean Payton versus Jason Garrett talk doesn’t factor into this game as well. Dallas players know another season of no postseason play brings with it the high profile drama Jerry Jones of and his antics. Garrett is basically a dead man walking or at least it is perceived as such by NFL analysts, Cowboy fans, non Cowboys fans and maybe even players on his team.
“I just think you put your head down and go to work. Coaches usually coach football and players usually play, regardless of what’s being talked about and being said, it doesn’t matter,” Romo says of the constant talk surrounding head coach Jason Garrett and himself.
Dallas has the playoffs to play for and also no doubt playing for the pride of the man that leads them. The same applies to the Saints. Don’t think for a minute that the locker room on Airline Drive hasn’t had a conversation or two about the Sean Payton, staying or going questions asked of them, has been brought up. What I’m getting at is one way to show that coach Payton belongs on your sideline is to prove that you’re the better team.
The coach talk may add fuel to players’ fires but at the end of the day it will come down to the play on the field. New Orleans showed last week against Tampa Bay what type of team it could have been perhaps this season. Offensively, the play calling was creative, balanced and fast paced. A similar attack is needed this week against a team that has solid pass rushers. Move the pocket, use the speed of Sproles to keep the rushers at bay. Tight end Jimmy Graham could have a big game as he and Dallas tight end Jeremy Whitten likely will be key parts of their team’s gameplans.
New Orleans defensively recorded its first shutout in 17 seasons and did so by pressuring the quarterback and making plays when the opportunity provided itself. Tampa Bay turned it over five times with four being interceptions. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo can be a good quarterback at times and can also be a quarterback that throws interceptions in bunches. The Saints defense I think can take advantage of his gun slinging mentality.
I see this being a fun game to watch with the Saints perhaps, because of their defense, pulling one out late. 34-31 New Orleans thanks to a Garrett Hartley field goal.