Grudge Match: Saints-Cowboys matchups

The key matchups for this afternoon's Saints-Cowboys game:

*Cowboys secondary vs. Saints QB Drew Brees: Coming into last week’s game against the Lions, quarterback Shaun Hill did nothing to make me believe that he would press the ball down the field against this Cowboys secondary. Everything that Hill was doing was short and in the middle of the defense.

This week the Cowboys face one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL since 2006. Drew Brees has been outstanding in taking Sean Payton’s offense to a whole new level. He is the perfect quarterback for this system because of his ability to be accurate, to get rid of the ball quickly and to be able to throw on the move.

When you study Brees, his most impressive trait is his ability to be accurate. There are plenty of plays where the defensive backs have his receivers covered and there is little separation, but Brees is able to fit the ball into a tight window and allow his receivers to make yards after the catch.

When these two teams met last December, it was the Cowboys secondary that played well in the nickel.

The Saints will play with three receivers and two tight ends that can all catch the ball. Brees likes to try and look the defenders off with his eyes when he begins his drop. Brees is outstanding at pulling defenders away from where he is going with the football.

Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni has played more zone coverage in the last two weeks trying to help his secondary but needs to find a way to get some form of pressure on Brees. That might be difficult against the Saints, who are second-best in the league protecting their quarterback.

*Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs, Saints SS Roman Harper: The Saints come into this contest as the second-ranked defense in the NFL against the pass. Despite that ranking, there are some plays to be made against them.

In studying corners Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, the Seahawks were able to make some plays on the double move against them. Miles Austin hit them with the same move to opening the scoring for the Cowboys in December.

If the Saints are able lock it down on the outside, watch tight end Jason Witten. The Saints are in the middle of the pack when it comes to rushing the passer and the scheme might not require Witten to stay in and help with protection. Saints safety Roman Harper likes to hang around the line of scrimmage and play the run, while Malcolm Jenkins is more of a cover guy and plays the role of a true free safety.

Jenkins will also draw coverage of Witten, because to play Witten, you have to be physical and have to have the ability to run with him. Harper played Witten last year and it was a physical game between the two.

Jon Kitna has done an excellent job of getting the ball down the field and into the hands of his receivers. Where Witten has helped him is with routes to the outside going away from the defenders.

Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams might be forced to use Jenkins on the outside against Austin or Bryant and that leaves Witten one-on-one with Harper and a match up the Cowboys could try and work.

*Cowboys DEs Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen vs. Saints RT Jon Stinchcomb: The strength of this Saints offensive line is inside with the guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans. Where they struggle is at the center spot with Jonathan Goodwin and tackle Jon Stinchcomb.

Last year when these two teams met, it was Jermon Bushrod that had the most problems with DeMarcus Ware. In studying Bushrod, he is playing much better and is not the weak link of the offensive line. Stinchcomb doesn’t play with much power at all and there are times where he is driven into the backfield when he takes his pass set or while trying to get push at the point of attack.

After last year’s meeting, Sean Payton said that his coaches would need to think of different ways to help their tackles in pass protection. The Saints have a fullback on the roster in Heath Evans and also use tight end Dave Thomas in that role.

The Saints coaching staff is well aware of what Ware did to them last season and might try to make sure that doesn’t happen again. They will try and help Stinchcomb with a back to that side in the passing game.

Regardless of who is lined up over Stinchcomb, they need to take advantage of him in the running game setting the edge or in the passing game by closing the pocket to the right side on Brees and not allowing him to get outside and throw the football.