- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New Orleans Saints (6-2) are playing at home tonight in prime time -- where they’ve been their most dangerous in recent years. The Saints have won 11 straight night games at home, including the playoffs.
The last time they lost, however, was against the Dallas Cowboys in 2009. And they’ll be hosting Dallas again tonight. The Cowboys (5-4) have a potent passing offense, but they’re looking for their first victory of the season against a team with a winning record.
Here’s What 2 Watch 4:
Not as many people know about Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis. But they should. The fifth-year pro has been outstanding since signing as a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason. He has a great size-speed combo at 6-foot1, 208 pounds. And the Saints have often matched him up against top receivers this year -- a huge reason they haven’t been burned by the likes of Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald and Vincent Jackson.
Lewis will likely be matched up against Bryant, though the Saints probably won’t leave him in single coverage too often.
“We put him on their best receiver pretty much every week,” said Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins, who is questionable for tonight’s game with a knee injury. “You look at their attempts of trying to throw the ball deep, I don’t think they’ve really completed any. That’s where his skill set comes in handy. We’ll put him out there in press, and as a safety I’m not even worried about leaning to his side because I know that he’s gonna defend that deep ball.
“As a safety that takes a lot off me. I’m not baby-sitting Keenan at all.”
Can Dallas match up? On the flip side, the Cowboys’ secondary hasn’t had any answers for their toughest matchups this year. They have allowed four 400-yard passing games (a NFL record), including a game in which Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had 329 receiving yards on his own two weeks ago. Worse yet, the Cowboys are without one of their top cornerbacks, Morris Claiborne, due to injury.
Dallas’ biggest headache will be trying to match up with New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, who leads all NFL players at any position with 10 touchdowns this season. The Cowboys have struggled against tight ends all year (Antonio Gates, 10 catches for 136 yards and a 56-yard touchdown, and Julius Thomas, nine for 122 and two touchdowns, among others). Teams have recently begun using top cornerbacks against Graham, so it’s possible the Cowboys could try corner Brandon Carr in that role. But Carr struggled against Johnson after a strong start to the season.
Beware of Ware: Dallas’ dynamic pass-rusher, DeMarcus Ware, will be back tonight after missing the past three games with a quadriceps strain. He’s the Cowboys’ best bet to disrupt New Orleans’ passing attack -- especially since the Saints’ pass protection has been more vulnerable than usual this year.
Ware’s return sparks a little bit of déjà vu from that 2009 game. That year, he came back and played just six days after suffering a major neck injury that looked like it would keep him out long term. And he dominated the Saints with two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Will anyone run? These teams both feature pass-first and pass-often philosophies. Last week, the Cowboys only attempted nine runs in a 27-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, and the Saints only attempted 13 runs in a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets.