We all remember last year's game between the Cowboys and the Saints. The Cowboys were coming off a two game losing streak and it appeared heading into the game that they wouldn't have Demarcus Ware after he was carted off the field the week before with a neck injury. The Saints were undefeated. No one gave the Cowboys a chance. And all the Cowboys did was dominate the game for three and a half quarters before holding on as the Saints mounted a furious late comeback attempt. In the end the Cowboys won the game 24-17 thanks to a ball control offense and a dominant pass rush.
So here were are this season. The Cowboys somehow find themselves with a ridiculous 3-7 record. The Saints aren't undefeated but they are heading into the game on a three game winning streak. The Saints have beaten the Steelers 20-10 and followed that up with dominating wins against Carolina and Seattle by a combined 68-22. The Saints seem to have found their mojo on offense but this time the Cowboys are coming in hot as well.
Most people don't give the Cowboys much of a chance to win this game. And they shouldn't based purely on the records of the two teams and the fact that the Cowboys are playing with their backup quarterback. But when the Cowboys pass rushers are on their game they have the perfect antidote for the explosive Saints offense. And Jon Kitna has been surprisingly effective over the last two weeks for the Cowboys on offense.
Obviously the Cowboys will need to score a lot of points on offense to win the game. But time of possession will be just as important against the Saints. The best thing, besides score points, that the offense can do is grind out first down after first down to keep the ball out of Drew Brees' hands. Drew Brees is a rhythm player and if the Cowboys can keep the ball away from him it will prevent him from getting in a groove.
With that said, I think the pass rush is the key to the game. I know Demarcus Ware will show up. He knows how to find another level for big games. My concern is Anthony Spencer. His pass rush has been nearly non-existant this season. He did have a sack wiped out by an accepted holding penalty last week but he only has three sacks for the entire season. And what makes that worse is the fact that he is seeing one-on-one match ups almost exclusively because the focus is on Demarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff.
Anthony Spencer needs to get pressure on the quarterback early and often. If he can establish himself as a pass rushing threat it is going to force the Saints to take their focus off of Demarcus Ware on the other side of the field. That makes the pass rush more effective because Drew Brees won't know where the pressure with come from. It is easy when the quarterback knows that all his has to do is avoid Demarcus Ware. But with pressure from Spencer Brees has no where to turn when Demarcus comes free.
The short week leading up to the Thanksgiving game gives the Cowboys an advantage. With only three days of preparation for the game it really hurts the visiting to team to lose time traveling to Dallas. The Saints have a short trip but it still takes valuable hours away from their game preparation time. Any little advantage the Cowboys can get is definitely a good thing.
There is really no reason for me to pick the Cowboys to win outside of feeling like they have momentum heading into the game thanks to the leadership of Jason Garrett. I would feel much more confident about the Cowboys winning if Tony Romo were going to be under center. Kitna has played well the last two games but I can't his Jacksonville and Green Bay performances out of my head. Hopefully those games were just a result of him getting the cobwebs worked out after sitting on the bench for so long.
My heart wants to pick the Cowboys. But logic tells me to pick the Saints. I'm going to go with my heart for no reason other than the fact that it just feels better to pick the Cowboys to win. I predict a 27-17 win for the Cowboys. Hopefully Anthony Spencer and the rest of the pass rushers will get enough pressure on Drew Brees to help make that happen.