The Dallas Cowboys have now won three straight games and five of their last six, despite a wave of injuries that have caused Defensive Coordinator, Rob Ryan, to bring in guys off the street and put them in as starters. In those six games, the defense has managed a poor 26.2 points per game allowed, but has managed just to do enough to keep the offense within striking distance.
December 9, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reacts after a call in the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Dallas won the game 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys have managed to score 29.5 points per game during that same 6 game span. The Cowboys’ offense, despite being borderline inept in the first half, have become a team that comes on strong in the 2nd half. They’re going to need to continue their prolific output if they have any chance at making the postseason. The Cowboys fate is firmly in Tony Romo’s hands.
The 2012 Saints have been kind of a disaster – blame it on Roger Goodell or Gregg Williams, the Saints went from being 13-3 and a Super Bowl contender in 2011, to basically an unmitigated disaster. After starting the season 0-4, the Saints seemingly rebounded by winning five of their next 6 games; however any playoff hopes soon crashed down to earth. The Saints then went on a 3 game losing streak, all against teams with winning records, ending any chance of a postseason push. This seemed like the season would end as disastrously and ineptly as it began – but then they completely thumped the Buccaneers.
I am not going to try to convince you that the Buccaneers are a great team, but beating any team 41-0 is quite a statement. Shutting out an NFL offense completely is a serious feat, and it’s not exactly as if the Saints defense has earned a reputation as even a mediocre defense, nor the Buccaneers possessing a bad offense.
To restate the obvious – they have one of the best offenses (particularly when throwing the ball) in the NFL and one of the worst defenses.
Saints vs. Opponents’ Average
The story of the Saints is fairly clear – they have an offense that can put up a lot of points and defense that can give up a lot of points. The average Saints opponent scores 23.6 points and yields 22.6 on defense – meaning the Saints average 5.2 more points than the opposing defense normally allows and yields 3.5 more points than opposing offenses normally score. Keep in mind that 3.5 points is heavily reduced by their shutout of Tampa Bay.
Cowboys vs. Saints – Shared Opponents
The Cowboys and Saints have 6 shared opponents (they’ve each played the other’s division rivals, as well as their own) for a total of 8 games. The Cowboys edge them out slightly by 1 win in this category. The Saints edge out the Cowboys by .5 PPG in offensive points, but are worse by almost 10 points allowed on defense. The asterisks indicate that they have played that opponent twice – an asterisk with a ‘T’ meaning they split the series.
What have you done for me lately?
Over the past 4 games, the Cowboys are 3-1 and have averaged 29 points per game, giving up an average of 28.5 points against. Every game within this 4 game stretch has come down to one score to win the game – and I suspect we will see more of the same against the Saints.
During this same stretch of 4 games, the Saints are 1-3, which at first glance looks like two teams headed in opposite directions – a first impression which we certainly hope is true. I would point out that the Saints have had a much tougher schedule over these 4 games and the blowout win against Tampa Bay gives me pause. Contrary to the close games the Cowboys have found themselves in lately, the Saints games have come down to decision by no less than 10 points, and in two of the four games, by blowout margins.
Keys to the game
- Run Game. Keeping Drew Brees off the field is going to be vital to the Cowboys if they plan on staying in this game. Until this past week against Tampa Bay, the Saints defense was extremely susceptible to the run game. Most of the issue in the game against the Buccaneers is that they found themselves down early in the game, leading them to pass 54 times, but they were not effective even in their limited rushes. DeMarco Murray has the potential to help the Cowboys stretch out drives and keep the Saints’ offense off of the field and limit their possessions.
- Tony Romo. At this point, this team will go as far as Romo takes them. If he has a bad game – I don’t think this team can win. This is going to be a high scoring affair and he needs to beat Drew Brees in the turnover battle.
- Pass Defense. I know, duh. I think the Cowboys will be able to score on the Saints, but I don’t have a lot of faith that the defense is going to do much to slow Brees and the Saints high octane offense down. They have to do whatever they can to mitigate the big play, even if that means giving New Orleans the opportunity to run the ball. If you have to pick your poison, I think it’s pretty clear what the answer is.
- Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware. Well boys, this is the game the Cowboys pay you the big bucks for. D-Ware is playing hurt, but this is the game, more than any other, where he needs to get pressure on the quarterback and force him to make mistakes. Anthony Spencer has played tremendous football the past few weeks and he needs to continue his productivity if the Cowboys are going to win this game. The better these guys both play, the less they can key on one of them, and the fewer receivers they can send out on the play. I think the Cowboys will give up points, but forcing crucial turnovers will inevitably be how this game is decided.
I didn’t do too badly last week- I predicted the Cowboys would win 24-21 and they, of course, won 27-24. I predicted the correct margin, and I only undersold each offense by 3 points. Not too shabby. Ok, I’m done patting myself on the back – because I have a pretty good chance of blowing it this week.
The Cowboys try to continue their path toward the postseason, and while this game isn’t definitively a make-or-break game statistically, it would be foolish to suggest that a loss against the Saints would be anything but a letdown and would surely serve to let some of the air out of the Cowboys’ hope balloon. In the end, staying true to recent fashion, the Cowboys do just enough to squeak out another victory and put both the Giants and Redskins on notice in the race for the NFC East division crown.
Cowboys 34, Saints 31