If football is a game of matchups, the Cowboys’ defense probably doesn’t stack up too well with New Orleans’ offense. Up the middle, the Cowboys don’t really have an answer for either tight end Jimmy Graham or running back Darren Sproles. Of course, the same could be said for the Saints’ defense; weak up the middle, there’s no reason to think that Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray won’t have big days. If the Saints’ 41-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Bucs last week is any indication, the Cowboys are going to need every point they can muster.
Attack the Saints over the middle.
Free safety Malcolm Jenkins was just lost for the season and replaced by Isa Abdul-Quddus. Paired with Roman Harper, the Saints may very well possess the worst starting safety duo in the NFL. Harper—who the Saints could very well use to cover Witten—has allowed 9.98 YPA on 62 targets this year.
Use DeMarco Murray as needed.
The Saints’ run defense is poor. Harper helps out by lining up within eight yards of the line on nearly half of his snaps, but New Orleans has still allowed 5.0 YPC this year—second-worst in the league. The Cowboys don’t necessarily need to run the ball often early on, but they shouldn’t have any trouble getting Murray going when they need it.
Keep the play-action rolling.
The Cowboys ran fewer than four play-action passes per game through the first 12 games, but Jason Garrett has dialed up 18 of them in the past two weeks. It’s worked, as Tony Romo has totaled 11.4 YPA and a 146.4 passer rating on those looks. The Cowboys should continue to look downfield when they utilize play-action, keeping Witten in for extra pass protection. The tight end stayed in to block on 10 snaps last week after doing so just seven times combined in the previous three contests.
Help Doug Free.
The Cowboys could utilize a lot of two-tight end sets as they did last week in an effort to make sure Romo has time to throw. The Saints’ pass-rush is a bit underrated; they’re ranked just 28th in sack rate, but they’ve pressured the quarterback fairly often. Actually, based on historic sack totals, the Saints have gotten to the quarterback at a rate that would generally create 37 sacks, on average. They have only 27 on the year, suggesting they’ve simply been unlucky in bringing down the passer. If New Orleans recorded even a league-average sack-to-pressure ratio, they’d actually be ranked seventh in the NFL in sacks.
Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan—the team’s top pass-rusher—lines up on the left side of their defense over 90 percent of the time. He’s going to kill Free if the right tackle isn’t given aid. Look for Witten to stay in on play-action looks when Dallas wants to test New Orleans deep or James Hanna to help Free when Witten goes in a route.
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.