The Dallas Cowboys are attempting to get their first win without Tony Romo, while the New Orleans Saints are looking for their first win period. Can New Orleans use home-field advantage to get win No. 1 of 2015, or will Brandon Weeden help Dallas right the ship?
The Dallas Cowboys (2-1) and New Orleans Saints (0-3) are set to square off on Sunday Night Football in Week 4. While there’s plenty of talking points, the Cowboys are attempting to find an offensive rhythm without both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. As for the Saints, it’s been a matter of figuring out how to slow down opponents both on the ground and through the air. Can backup quarterback Brandon Weeden take advantage of the Saints’ defensive struggles, or will New Orleans get it going back home in the Superdome?
Here are three keys to the game for both the Cowboys and Saints.
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1. Take shots down the field
In Brandon Weeden’s first start, the Cowboys kept it simple — Weeden attempted 26 passes overall and six total passes to his wide receivers. In Week 4, that has to change. The Saints have been one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses dating to the beginning of the 2014 season, and they are especially susceptible to big plays over the top with cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux. Weeden needs to get wide receivers Terrance Williams, Brice Butler and Devin Street involved on passes that travel 20-plus yards in the air.
2. Make the Saints throw long
The Saints have attempted 13 passes of 20 yards or more this season and they have completed just three of them for 115 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, per Pro Football Focus. The Cowboys should utilize this plan regardless of who suits up at quarterback for the Saints.
3. Use the pass to open up the run
The Cowboys’ winning blueprint from 2014 was to use the run to open up the pass, but when this failed them against the Falcons, they had no answer. If the Cowboys get running back Lance Dunbar and tight end Jason Witten involved in the short passing game over the middle, they can open things up for running backs Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden. Saints linebackers Stephone Anthony and Ramon Humber have struggled in pass coverage.
1. Test Dallas’ run defense
Before last week, the Cowboys had allowed a league-best 53 yards per game on the ground. Then Devonta Freeman came along and torched the Cowboys for 141 yards and three touchdowns. The question becomes, is there a weakness in Dallas’ run defense, or was it an issue against the Falcons? Regardless, the Saints have three talented runners in Mark Ingram, C.J. Spiller and Khiry Robinson, so they need to test the Cowboys on a consistent basis on the ground.
2. Force Weeden to turn the ball over
The Saints are one of three teams in the NFL who have failed to intercept a pass in 2015. This simply has to change. While Weeden threw one interception last week, it was a bad one. If the Saints can get pressure on Weeden, either forcing an interception or a fumble this week is more than possible. New Orleans has done a solid job of recovering forced fumbles, totaling three through the first three games. However New Orleans does it, the Saints need to force Weeden to turn the ball over.
3. Keep Brandin Cooks trending in the right direction
Expectations were high for Cooks, but he got off to a slower start than expected. Cooks has caught 16 balls for 190 yards with no touchdowns. While those numbers aren’t great, the good news is that he’s improving each week. After catching four balls for 49 yards in Week 1, he caught five for 62 in Week 2 and seven for 79 in Week 3. Cooks is heading in the right direction, so the Saints need to keep the momentum going.