The New Orleans Saints are a deceptive team and that’s how they draw teams into their trap and win blowout games that should have been close. Sure, the Saints haven’t been nearly as potent this season, but that’s at least partially due to not having head coach and offensive coordinator Sean Payton on the sideline. However, New Orleans is still very capable of pulling a team like the Dallas Cowboys into its snare and the ‘Boys will have to be very careful not to fall for it and play this critical game the Saints’ way.
New Orleans’ offense is one of the NFL‘s best, averaging just under 400 total yards per game and a hair under 300 passing yards per contest this season. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is one of the league’s most accurate passers and rarely does he make a mistake in a close contest (his career-worst five-interception performance earlier this season was a fluke and you know it). However, it’s the way he works with the Saints’ defense that often trips up unsuspecting teams like Dallas.
Opposing offenses have put up a ton of yards against the Saints this year—6,066 to be exact, the most in the NFL—as well as more points than every other team save five. Ironically, though, New Orleans has recorded the seventh-most takeaways of any team this year with 24, including 14 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
This is what the Saints do: They put the pedal to the metal on offense from the start of the game and force opposing teams to abandon their game plans in an attempt to keep pace. More pass attempts result in more chances for interceptions and fumbles by the quarterback when pressure is applied. Sure, the Saints are only 6-8 through 14 games this year, but they still boast a dynamic offense that easily tricks teams like Dallas, which are hot but extremely vulnerable, into that shootout mentality, and that never ends well for the Cowboys.
Again, the Saints may not have a great record, but they are technically still alive in the playoff race, so they have nothing to lose. That makes teams like New Orleans very dangerous this time of year. That means Dallas will have to be on its toes and stay disciplined to knock the Saints off their rhythm instead of the other way around.
That will include running DeMarco Murray early and often to slow the pace of the game and keep the Saints off balance. Murray runs the ball extremely well, but the balance he provides the Cowboys’ offense is the most important part of his game. Defenses absolutely must remain honest against the run, which opens things up tremendously for Dallas’ offense . With Murray this season, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has completed 24 of 36 passes off play-action for 384 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Without Murray, Romo is 16 of 23 for 92 yards, one score and one pick off play-action passes.
The evidence is in the enchiladas: Murray makes the Cowboys’ offense click.
However, Cowboys head coach and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett easily falls into shooting matches with opposing play-callers, which always ends badly for Dallas. Romo has thrown 62 passes on two separate occasions this year, both losses, in high-scoring games decided by a touchdown or less.
If you don’t think Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt hasn’t noticed that, you’re as delusional as Jerry Jones. He will try everything within his power to make Garrett abandon the run by turning Brees loose from the start while trying to put up a ton of points through passing. Vitt knows Garrett will let his itchy trigger finger get the better of him as he’ll try to do the same with Romo. If that happens, the Cowboys are toast.
The key to the game for Dallas will be the same it’s been over the past three: Run the ball with Murray and set up the big play for Romo down the field to guys like Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten. If those three players, along with Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, John Phillips and James Hanna, all have at least three receptions, then Vitt’s plan will succeed and Dallas will lose the game. That would mean no division title game in Week 17 in our nation’s capital. Keep your fingers crossed that Garrett holds steady, Cowboys fans.