If there were ever an NFL game in which the over/under should reach 60 points, this is it. The Cowboys and Saints both have porous defensive units that are susceptible to the run and pass up the middle. Both teams’ offenses have the perfect personnel to exploit those weaknesses. The Cowboys’ Week 16 home matchup with New Orleans—one they might very well need to win to make the postseason—could quickly turn into a race to 35 points. Here’s how Dallas can hold New Orleans under 30. . .
Cowboys’ Secondary versus TE Jimmy Graham
The big issue for Rob Ryan this week is how he’ll limit tight end Jimmy Graham. If he consistently places Dan Connor or another linebacker on Graham, he’ll get beat. If Ryan puts safety Danny McCray on Graham, that’s probably even worse. You could see the Cowboys in a lot of zones with multiple defenders tracking the tight end, but keep an eye on cornerback Brandon Carr.
Remember, Carr played safety earlier this season, and using Carr to shadow Graham could be the Cowboys’ best bet. Of course, they’ll need a different strategy near the goal line, where Graham (6’7’’, 265 pounds) won’t need to get open against Carr (6’0’’, 210 pounds) to make an impact. Graham’s 12.1 percent career touchdown rate is remarkable.
DT Sean Lissemore versus OG Jahri Evans
When I was in high school, I visited a football camp at a small Division II college in northern Pennsylvania called Bloomsburg. There, I watched a massive man bench press 185 pounds 50 times, easily, and then get up and walk away. They called him “Rhino,” and now he (Jahri Evans) is one of the best offensive guards in the NFL.
The Saints love to run the football outside (when they run it, that is), averaging 7.4 YPC on 78 carries outside of the tackles. Outside linebackers Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware play so well against the run, however, that New Orleans could be forced to run it up the gut. There, Lissemore’s ability to man his ground against Rhino & Co. could be the deciding factor in the Saints’ ability to rush the ball effectively. Playing against one of the league’s most lethal air attacks, the last thing Dallas needs is to be unable to stop the run as well.
OLB Anthony Spencer versus RT Zach Strief
Spencer should be able to win against Strief in the running game, but Dallas also needs Spencer to continue his string of pass-rushing success. It’s worth noting that Spencer, already with a career-high 10 sacks in 2012, isn’t actually rushing the passer better than in past seasons. He’s on pace for fewer pressures than any year since 2009, meaning he’s just gotten lucky in terms of bringing down the quarterback.
It’s essential for the Cowboys to make Drew Brees at least somewhat uncomfortable in the pocket, but they probably can’t blitz a whole lot to do it. Brees has recorded a 102.6 passer rating and 8.9 YPA against the blitz in 2012, meaning Spencer’s ability to beat Strief off the edge will be vital in the Cowboys’ defensive efforts. If Rob Ryan is forced to consistently send five or more rushers, Dallas will be in trouble.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.