SNF preview: Cowboys-Saints

Robert Couch of ProCoach.Network previews Sunday Night Football's matchup between Dallas and New Orleans.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

SNF preview: Cowboys-Saints

ProCoach.Network is a group of coaches with NFL experience who provide expert analysis and training for players and coaches of all levels. This article was written by Robert Couch, in conjunction with the ProCoach.Network.

Sunday Night Football heads to the Big Easy for a matchup between the winless New Orleans Saints and the 2-1 Dallas Cowboys, which, without quarterback Tony Romo and a banged up Drew Brees, is anything but an easy game to pick. Fear not, the retired NFL coaches at ProCoach.Network have watched extensive film on both of these teams, and are here to provide you with a detailed breakdown of each side of the ball.

Cowboys’ defense vs. Saints’ offense

Dallas runs a penetrating, gap-charging, eight-man front on defense with over 80 percent single high safety, with man free and three-deep zone coverage. Their defensive backs play outside alignment on receivers, allowing clean releases off the line of scrimmage. The film shows open receivers all over the field. All inside routes (slants, crosses) are wide open. There wasn’t a single play our coaches saw where everyone was covered. They doubled Atlanta’s Julio Jones a week ago and he still racked up 12 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Even injured, Brees is still a top-5 QB, and is too good to not take advantage of this deficiency. He could very well throw for 400 yards in this one.

Dallas’s defensive line plays with a lot of energy. Their aggressiveness often leaves big holes at the line of scrimmage, due to their constant penetration.  They aren’t good at defending perimeter runs, belly pitches, tosses, or reverses.  The Saints have always been a sound pick-screen team, and we expect a lot of these types of plays, as Dallas is a man-to-man coverage team.  We should also see a healthy dose of crack blocks, cut blocks, tosses, and outside run plays to combat the defensive line penetration. Furthermore, their linebackers do not play cut blocks very well.

Guys are wide open on QB naked boot plays against Dallas because the linebackers are often out of position. Brees is a rhythm passer. Not getting your hands on his receivers at the line of scrimmage isn’t smart. Unless Dallas learns to bump and run this week, which is highly doubtful with Ron Marinelli’s Tampa-style man free philosophy, Brees will most definitely find his rhythm. Expect the explosive wide receiver Brandin Cooks to be used early and often.  He should easily see 10 plus targets in the game.

Although the Saints don’t have an overwhelming rushing attack so far this year, they will look to establish the line of scrimmage. Last week against the Cowboys defense, the Falcons, a below average rushing team, racked up 158 yards for nearly 5 yards per carry and three touchdowns on the ground. If Mark Ingram and the rest of the running backs find their groove, it will be a long night for the road team.

Saints’ defense vs. Cowboys’ offense

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the Saints’ defense will confuse quarterback Brandon Weeden with single high safety, bump and run coverage. Their secondary is good in coverage, and Weeden will need big throws against the tight coverage, complemented with confusing blitz packages. Unfortunately for Weeden, he will need to do this without Dez Bryant, Dallas’s most dynamic offensive player, who is out for most of the year with a broken foot.

It’s difficult to possess the ball for long periods of time against the Saints. They are a boom-or-bust defense, and a typical drive against them could look like this: a long run, long pass, two pass interference calls, and a touchdown or interception. Ryan’s defenses, historically, give up hidden yardage with pass interference calls. It will be wise for the Cowboys to try to establish the run, as they have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and will need to keep their defense off the field as long as possible.

Pro Football Focus key players to watch: 2015 overall grades

Offensive line

Cowboys PFF grade
OG Zack Martin +7.5
LT Tyron Smith +6.4
RT Doug Free -5.1

The Cowboys have an elite offensive line, anchored by Martin and Smith.  Smith hasn’t allowed a sack this year at left tackle, and has only been responsible for one QB hit.  Veteran right tackle Doug Free has gotten off to a lousy start on the year, giving up nine QB hurries.

Saints PFF grade
LT Terron Armstead +10.2
RT Zach Strief -2.3

Armstead has been the most consistent player on the Saints’ roster this year, giving up no sacks and just one QB hit.  Strief has struggled somewhat, as he has allowed three sacks. We believe he will play stoutly against a Cowboys’ defensive line that has only tallied one sack this year.

Defensive Line

Saints PFF grade
Cameron Jordan +8.8

Jordan has been all over opposing quarterbacks early in the season. Although he’s tallied only one sack, he’s put pressure on opposing QBs nine times through three games. This will be a great battle to watch between him and Tyron Smith.


Cowboys PFF grade
Sean Lee +9.4

When Lee is healthy, he is one of the best linebackers in the NFL.  He’s been all over the field, with 29 tackles in three games. He’ll have his work cut out for him against this Saints’ offense.


Cowboys PFF grade
Morris Claiborne -2.7

Claiborne has struggled, as he’s given up 14 receptions on 22 targets for a 63.6 completion percentage. This has a lot to do with how the Cowboys allow receivers to get a clean off the ball. Look for Brees to take advantage of this and throw his way from the get go.

Saints PFF grade
Brandon Browner -10.1

Browner, an off-season acquisition expected to help solidify the Saints secondary, has not lived up to expectation. Last week against the Panthers, he surrendered 139 yards and had an eye popping completion percentage of 80 against Cam Newton. CB Keenan Lewis should give this unit a lift as he returns from pre-season hip surgery.


ProCoach.Network pick: Saints 26, Cowboys 17

The Saints get their first win, covering the -4 point spread comfortably. The Dallas defense looked lost last week against the Falcons, and won’t be much better on Sunday night. After not playing last week against the Panthers, Drew Brees picks apart the Dallas secondary, throwing for 300 yards on a tiring Dallas defense. The ground game eclipses the 100-yard mark as the Saints dominate in time of possession.

With no Dez Bryant, Weeden will try to utilize tight end Jason Witten throughout the game. Witten should have a big game as tight end; Greg Olsen had eight catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns last week against New Orleans.  This won’t be enough, as Weeden and the Cowboys turn the ball over several times against the aggressive Saints’ defense, feeding off a fired up Superdome crowd.

2014 game results

These two teams met in Week 4 a year ago in Dallas, with the Cowboys winning 34-17. Brees threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns. Each team is very different this year, personnel-wise, as the Saints no longer have Jimmy Graham, wide receiver Kenny Stills, or running back Travaris Cadet, who together accounted for 208 total yards in that game.  The Cowboys are without Romo, Bryant and free agent departure DeMarco Murray, who combined for 461 total yards, including three Romo touchdown passes, two rushing touchdowns by Murray, and a Bryant receiving score.

  • crosseyedlemon

    If the Saints can’t beat a crippled team in their own house they will be lucky to edge out Tampa Bay at the end of the year. They won’t be winning many road games outside their dome.