After a two-game, 10-day road trip, no team is happier to be home than the New Orleans Saints (2-1), who lost a starting quarterback, won a game in one of the league's most difficult venues (against Seattle, at CenturyLink Field) and rose to the top of the NFC South Division standings.
The best way to keep the vibe going is a win against Dallas (3-0), a team that beat the Saints last season. Here are a few ways that might be achieved:
- In Dallas' 13-10 victory last season, the Cowboys did as good a job as any team has in smothering Saints running back Alvin Kamara. He had 72 yards on 19 touches in that game. He's coming off his most productive game of this season (25 touches for 161 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle) and he's a quick study. Whatever methods Dallas used to contain him last season, he's learned from and adapted to. It's going to be interesting to see exactly how the Saints will employ him – he's a chess piece who can line up just about anywhere – and how inspired Kamara will be to show that last season was the exception, not the rule. He's the focal point for opposing defenses with Drew Brees out, and he has shown the ability to rise to the occasion. The matchup between him and Dallas' talented linebackers – specifically, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch – will be one to watch.
- The thought here is that the Saints are going to take a few more deep shots in the passing game against Dallas than they did against Seattle. Partly, the weather wasn't conducive to it in Seattle and, partly, there wasn't much need; New Orleans scored touchdowns on special teams and on defense to jump ahead of the Seahawks. Of course, you can't throw deep unless you can protect the quarterback and, as always, the Saints' offensive line is going to have to give quarterback Teddy Bridgewater some time to survey. If the Saints are going to take a shot or two, receiver Ted Ginn Jr. is going to factor into it. Yes, Dallas has a fantastic secondary, but every secondary looks a little more human when quarterbacks have sufficient time. Also, hopefully for the Saints, this will be a chance for tight end Jared Cook to make an impact. Cook hasn't played a huge role thus far, and a couple of drops really have hurt his production. This would be a good time for him to exert his physical advantages and show why he was such a highly regarded pick-up this offseason.
- It's not just that Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott is playing well. It's also that he has Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the best in the league, at running back and Amari Cooper, who's much more than a crisp route runner, at receiver. This is going to be a stern test for the Saints' defense. New Orleans didn't record a sack against Seattle, mainly because Russell Wilson is a contortionist at quarterback. Prescott is almost as elusive, but the Saints have to at least make him uncomfortable, and look for defensive end Cam Jordan and defensive tackle David Onyemata to wield some influence. Onyemata sacked Prescott three times last season and he can be extremely disruptive in the middle. Too, the secondary has to be stickier. I don't think any member of the unit would say he's been pleased with how the group has played so far this season, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore is due for a big game. The national television lights might help bring it out of him.
- It wouldn't be reasonable to expect the Saints special teams to replicate what it did against Seattle every week. Returning a punt for a touchdown (53 yards by Deonte Harris), and having the punter have one of the best games of his illustrious career (Thomas Morstead punted six times for a 52-yard net, with four punts inside the 20 and two inside the 5), simply isn't easy. But what the Saints can do, and have to do, is clean up a couple of spots One was a missed PAT by Wil Lutz; we have to figure that was an aberration. The second was a muffed punt by Harris. Put that atop a decision to fair catch a punt inside his 5-yard line, and an illegal fair catch penalty – both in the season opener – and that's three plays that could've proven costly (the fair catch inside the 5 was nullified by a penalty by Houston). It's still a learning process for the undrafted rookie, and he'll need to be up to the task against the Cowboys.