Thanksgiving Day begins a stretch for the Cowboys where they play three of the top-rated quarterbacks in the NFL in consecutive weeks as they try to dig themselves out of this hole that has become the 2010 season.
Since Wade Phillips was replaced as the head coach by Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have done a much better job of consistently making plays in all three phases of their games.
The running game, which struggled for the majority of the season, has shown signs of improvement in the last two weeks against the Giants and Lions. It has not been a dominant unit but as a whole is doing a much better job of running with a purpose. The balance is due to the offense playing with a lead or the game in a manageable position.
The secondary has been helped with defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni relying more on a zone-coverage scheme, replacing the man scheme that exposed the defensive backs to big plays when the pass rush was unable to get home. Pasqualoni is focusing more on sound principles than the high-risk and pressure style of Phillips.
Quarterback Jon Kitna has been more than adequate leading an offense that is in the process of developing one of the most exciting and explosive players in rookie receiver Dez Bryant. The Saints have been a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to rushing the passer but are ranked second in the NFL is pass defense.
In studying the last game the Saints played against Seattle, cornerback Jabari Greer was beaten badly on two long completions, one on a “stutter-go” or double move. In the contest that these two clubs played last season, Miles Austin scored on a similar move to get the Cowboys on the scoreboard first.
Both Tracy Porter and Greer are aggressive corners but they can afford to play this way because the safety play of Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper has been outstanding. Harper likes to play close to the line and get in on the action while Jenkins is more of a true free safety.
The matchup with Harper and tight end Jason Witten will be interesting. To play Witten, you have to be physical and have strength but be able to run with him. Harper has those types of traits when you talk about safety play.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints have one of the most explosive attacks that you will ever see. Sean Payton does an outstanding job of using all of his players in this attack.
Quarterback Drew Brees is deadly accurate throwing the ball to a talented group of receivers led by Marques Colston. The Saints like to run a three-receiver package with Colston in the slot, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem on the outside. On third downs, watch Lance Moore. He seems to be a favorite target of Brees when he needs a play.
Speaking of players to watch, tight end David Thomas is an interesting player. He really stands out when you are studying tape. The Saints like to line him up in the backfield, inline and outside. He really plays the role of what John Phillips did for the Cowboys last season. Thomas is not as stiff of an athlete as Phillips and requires the defense’s attention anytime he is in the game. He can get down the field, work short or in the flat.
This week could mark the return of running back Reggie Bush to the Saints lineup. Bush is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL today, but how will his game conditioning be after such a long layoff?
The numbers say that the Saints are ranked 26th in the league running the ball, but rookie Chris Ivory is a player that I would love to have on my team. He is a physical load with the ball in his hands. He runs with power and brute force. If he can line you up in his sights, he will punish you.
The guards for the Saints are the best players along the offensive line. Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are outstanding. Center Jonathan Goodwin is able to be a marginal player because these guards are so good.
If the Cowboys are going to attack an area of the Saints, it should be Jon Stinchcomb at right tackle. Stinchcomb is not as strong in the running game and will give ground in the passing game. Jermon Bushrod at left tackle is who the Cowboys went at last season, but he appears to be playing better in both the run and pass.
After the game last season, Payton spoke of his team’s inability to protect in the game when it needed to the most. There is no doubt in my mind that the Saints will do all they can to help their tackles in this game against DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
When these two teams met last season, the one area that really stood out for the Cowboys was their ability to make plays in their nickel defense. There is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on the Cowboys secondary in this game. Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick will need to be at their best if the Cowboys are going to be successful in this game.