The 2-1 Cowboys travel to The Big Easy this weekend to take on the winless Saints (0-3) who suddenly don’t have the same home field voodoo mojo they’ve enjoyed in recent years in the Superdome. Here are 5-to-Watch on Sunday night.
COWBOYS WR TERRANCE WILLIAMS #83: After being shutout during last week’s loss to the Falcons, will Weeden target Williams more than twice this week at New Orleans? Williams had one drop last week; the other time he was targeted he drew a facemask penalty. Otherwise, he was a non-factor. Yes, Williams heard all the criticism this past week, and he’s looking to make amends. Of course, where Weeden throws the ball is dictated by coverage. But surely there will be more chances outside and/or downfield this week, right? The Saints don’t play the same style as the Falcons. Another week of Weeden check-downs will have fans howling.
Speaking of the Saints defense….
SAINTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROB RYAN: Okay, he’s not a player, but the former Cowboys defensive coordinator will get as much camera time on NBC than any player. That’s not just because he looks like “Bad Santa” (or what Santa Claus would look like if he were part of a Harley Davidson motorcycle riding club). It’s because Ryan will once again be motivated to beat the team that fired him following the 2012 season. Ryan is famous for sending all sorts of blitzes. His defensive scheme and defensive play-calling can be described as “exotic”. He’s going to send the kitchen sink, plus everything that gets stuck in the sink’s garbage disposal.
Here’s the thing about blitzing: it’s risk/reward. If it works, you get sacks. But it’s risky because it exposes your defense to big plays. So if QB Brandon Weeden can connect with the ‘hot’ receivers and the line/backs/tight ends can pick up the blitz, the Cowboys can make some big plays.
Come to think of it, don’t worry about “watching” for Ryan. It won’t take a concerted effort. NBC will have a camera focused on him the entire game.
SAINTS RB MARK INGRAM #22: Last week the Cowboys couldn’t stop the Falcons run game, especially in the second half. The Cowboys cannot let history repeat itself on Sunday night, especially with Ingram in the Saints’ backfield. The Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama is a hard-nosed, powerful runner who made the Pro Bowl last season. The last time the Cowboys played the Saints at the Superdome, Ingram made mincemeat of the run defense, totaling 145 yards on only 14 carries.
Ingram’s running statistics through the first 3 games are not impressive (only 3.3 yards per carry; 39 carries for 127 yards), but Ingram also catches the ball out of the backfield. He’s tied with receiver Brandin Cooks for the team lead with 16 receptions. The Saints acquired C.J. Spiller in free agency this offseason to help compliment Ingram.
The former Buffalo Bills star was the 9th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. Spiller has only played the past two games because he was rehabbing from a knee injury that required surgery during training camp. So far he has only 4 carries this season. Khiry Robinson is the other running back who provides a changeup for the Saints offense. He’s in only his second season, but is versatile enough to also be a pass-catching threat out from the backfield.
COWBOYS DEFENSIVE TACKLE TYRONE CRAWFORD #98: Crawford makes this week’s list because, after seeing him in the postgame locker room following last Sunday’s second-half defensive debacle against the Falcons, it was obvious that he was angry with his own performance and that of the defensive unit overall. I’m going on nothing but a feeling here, but I think Crawford is going to have a big game this week. I think he’s still pis$#& about last week, and I feel sorry for the Saints linemen who have to block him. By the way, the best Saints o-lineman (guard Jahri Evans, knee) was on the injury report this week and missed practice time.
Because he’s a defensive tackle, Crawford doesn’t pile up big statistics. He’s the guy who does the dirty work as the ‘under tackle’. In selecting Crawford for this week’s list, it’s more of a representation of many defensive veterans (like LB Sean Lee & S Barry Church) who were unhappy with last week’s game, and would like to take out some frustration.
COWBOYS CB MORRIS CLAIBORNE #24: The Louisiana native and former LSU star will play for the first time as a Cowboy in front of family & friends at The Superdome. Claiborne missed previous road trips to New Orleans because of injuries, so he’s excited to be playing in New Orleans and especially excited because he’s feeling better physically than he has since his rookie season.
Claiborne dropped an interception last week, so that was a negative, of course. But he actually did a decent job in coverage (I know, that’s hard to write when you consider that Julio Jones torched the Cowboys secondary for most of the game). Claiborne is actually having a good season so far, and that’s great news because he’s worked so diligently in rehabbing from last year’s knee injury (torn patellar tendon).
But will Claiborne and his teammates in the secondary get a takeaway? The Cowboys only have 2 interceptions this year, one by LB Sean Lee and the other by S J.J. Wilcox.
The biggest problem for the Cowboys defense isn’t the lack of pass rush, it’s the lack of takeaways. Against the Giants in Week 1, and against the Falcons last week, the defense didn’t record a takeaway. But turnovers seem to come in bunches, so that will be a big help to start a turnover trend this week against a Saints offense that still racks up big yardage (averaging 370 yards per game) whether it’s Drew Brees or backup Luke McCown at quarterback.
Cowboys-Saints kickoff is 7:30pm central on Sunday night.