It's another week and another personal battle for New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Last week, Ryan went head-to-head with New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who happens to be his twin brother. Now Ryan will get ready to face his former boss Jason Garrett and the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys (5-4) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night. This one has the potential to have even more intrigue than last Sunday's brothers matchup because this NFC clash presents an opportunity for Ryan to match wits against Garrett, who unceremoniously fired Ryan after last season. Ryan has clearly moved on, but you can tell it still burns him being dismissed during a year in which the Cowboys remained respectable despite several key injuries. Ryan knows the Cowboys offensive personnel probably as well as anyone in the league. But Garrett and his staff also know Ryan, his tendencies, and perhaps how to neutralize a defense that likes to change players in and out. It should be interesting because Ryan has certainly redeemed himself in his first season with the Saints, transforming one of the worst defenses in the NFL into one of the one best in one season. The Saints (6-2) have been particularly strong against the pass, which is the strength of the Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo. Ryan's aggressive 4-3 defense has kept the pressure on opposing quarterbacks while the secondary, which includes newcomers Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro, has done its part. One of the more intriguing personal matchups on the field will be Lewis versus Cowboys star receiver Dez Bryant. Bryant is having an impressive year so far with 705 receiving yards and eight touchdown receptions. Lewis will have his hands full with the 6-foot-2, 222-pound receiver who is physical and explosive. Given that both the Saints and Cowboys have dynamic offenses, expect Drew Brees and Romo to put up huge numbers in a game that could turn into a shootout. The Saints could be without running back Darren Sproles, who is the X-factor when opposing teams try to double up on receiving threats. Sproles was knocked out of Sunday's game with concussion-like symptoms and his status for Sunday remains unknown. But the Saints still have tight end Jimmy Graham, who should have his way against the second-worst pass defense in the NFL. The NFC South-leading Saints are looking to rebound from a disappointing 26-20 loss to the New York Jets. Dallas, meanwhile, is coming off a much-closer-than-expected 27-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings. COWBOYS OFFENSE The Cowboys have all of the pieces to be one of the most explosive and dangerous offenses in the NFL. But inconsistency has plagued them. The unit, led by quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten is certainly capable of keeping pace with the best of the offenses, as was the case in their narrow 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos and their top-ranked offense. Romo has shown more consistency by throwing 20 touchdown passes and just six interceptions, and he led an impressive comeback in Sunday's win over Minnesota. What has held them back offensively has been the dysfunctional relationship of the key figures. Bill Callahan, who has taken on the play-calling duties this season, hasn't always seemed to be on the same page with his quarterback and star players. Witten is one of the best tight ends in the game but before his eight catches for 102 yards and one touchdown in the narrow win against Minnesota on Sunday he had become almost a forgotten man in the offense. Running back DeMarco Murray and the ground attack has all but become a forgotten entity with just nine rushing opportunities against the Vikings. Bryant is one of the most prolific wide receivers in the game but he still drops too many passes to reach the level of Detroit's Calvin Johnson. The Cowboys offensive line has improved, but still is inconsistent in protecting Romo and creating holes. Rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams has developed into the No. 2 receiving option, while veteran receiver Miles Austin has been bothered by a hamstring injury that has him questionable for Sunday's game. COWBOYS DEFENSE The Cowboys and head coach Jason Garrett booted defensive coordinator Rob Ryan after last season, but that certainly hasn't turned around their defensive fortunes. Dallas, which has been plagued by injuries to key personnel such as star defensive end DeMarcus Ware (thigh), has plummeted to being one of the worst defenses under Monte Kiffin. The unit ranks 31st in overall (419.2 yards) and passing defense (305.2). Four quarterbacks have thrown for 400 yards or more. The Cowboys are a respectable 16th in the league against the run, allowing 114.0 yards per game. Against a Vikings teams that ranks 27th in total offense, Dallas gave up 393 yards of offense. Perennial All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson clipped them for 140 yards on the ground, but the worst part is struggling quarterback Christian Ponder had one of his best games of the season, throwing for 236 yards against the Cowboys almost non-existent pass defense. The Cowboys are in need of safety help, while cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr seem to be improving. Nickel corner Morris Claiborne had been seen as a weak link but since suffering a hamstring injury he has looked credible in comparison to rookie B.W. Webb. Ponder seemed to look for him covering the slot each time he needed a play. The Cowboys' pass defense, however, could be getting some help this week with the expected return of Ware, who was sidelined the last three weeks due to injury. He is their best defensive player, without question. Ware has four quarterback sacks and 16 quarterback pressures so far this season. Defensive tackle Nick Hayden has been a good addition so far. Against the Vikings he recovered a fumble in the end zone for a defensive touchdown while recording six tackles and one tackle for loss. The Cowboys' defense can be opportunistic at times. So far the unit has scored four defensive touchdowns. COWBOYS SPECIAL TEAMS The special teams units seem to mirror the Dallas Cowboys overall. There are some awfully impressive aspects and then areas that are marred by inconsistency. Combo return specialist Dwayne Harris is one of the most explosive in the NFL. Harris has an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown this season and a 90-yard kickoff return. Harris ranks fifth in the league in returns, averaging 34.5 on kickoffs and 15.1 yards on punt returns. Kicker Dan Bailey has been reliable in his kickoff duties and his field goal kicking. He has converted 16 of 18 field goals, which includes going 4 for 5 from 50 yards or more. Punter Chris Jones hasn't been nearly as consistent, averaging 44.2 yards per punt and 39.9 net yards. Jones has dropped 19 of his 46 punts this season inside of the opponents' 20, but 21 of his punts have been returned while 17 have been fair caught.
New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys: Scouting Report
New Orleans Times-Picayune | Nov 6