NFL Preview - New Orleans (1-2) at Dallas (2-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - "Let's put the women and children to bed and go looking for dinner."
Those words uttered by quarterback Joe Kane in the 1993 movie "The Program" sums up what the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys will do Sunday night in the house that Jerry Jones built.
AT&T Stadium will be rocking with the beloved Cowboys back home on a two-game winning streak and looking to keep pace with the Philadelphia Eagles in the top half of the NFC East standings. The Cowboys erased a Week 1 home loss to San Francisco with back-to-back road wins over Tennessee and St. Louis.
The Cowboys rallied from a 21-0 deficit for a 34-31 triumph over the Rams and once again rode the legs of NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray. Murray ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in every game this season. He has a touchdown in all three as well.
Murray leads the NFL with 385 yards and is averaging 128.3 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. However, Murray has fumbled in each game and has lost each one. He's not pleased with the ball control despite his success, and neither is head coach Jason Garrett.
"This is something we have to address, because these are big, pivotal plays," Garrett said. "Any play that has to do with the football is going to make a difference in the game. We found that out (Sunday). We have to find a way to make sure he secures the ball better, and we secure the ball better as a team to give us a better chance to win."
Murray, whose fumbles have occurred in first quarter, gave an assessment similar to his coach's.
"I'm very disappointed. I didn't play the way I should've played," Murray said after hitting the 3,000-yard rushing mark in his career. "I've got to get it fixed and will get it fixed. I've just got to hold it high and tight."
Murray has rushed for five touchdowns in the past four games at home dating back to last season. He became just the third player in franchise history to start a season with three straight 100-yard games, joining Tony Dorsett (1981) and Emmitt Smith (1995). Smith has the franchise record with four consecutive 100-yard games to start the 1995 campaign.
The Cowboys have a plan to run the football and are sticking to it.
"That's just our football team," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "It's a little different than what we've been in the past, but just stay with it. We're committed to running the football. I think everybody's waiting for that to break. It's not."
Dallas used a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Bruce Carter to climb back into Sunday's game, but the team should be worried about how it fell behind quick and early to an inferior Rams team. The Cowboys allowed 28 points to San Francisco and held Tennessee to 10 points, but giving up 31 points to St. Louis is unacceptable.
One move that may occur is the benching of cornerback Morris Claiborne in favor of Orlando Scandrick. Garrett has not said anything definitively on that front as of Wednesday, but is evaluating that position and all positions. Garrett said Claiborne was isolated on some situations and the Rams just made good throws and catches. More development is needed, according to Garrett.
"I pretty much stunk it up for the first three quarters, I felt like," said Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. "But we came out with a win and a big play at the end, so ... be happy."
Claiborne skipped practice after learning he had lost his starting job. Jones said during a radio interview Claiborne had not lived up to expectations and Garrett confirmed Claiborne returned to the facility on Tuesday.
"He did come back to the building last night. He and I visited, and he was here early this morning and has been going through everything," Garrett said. "We're going to discipline him. We'll keep how we're disciplining him in- house, but we'll move forward. It's behind us."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees would probably prefer Claiborne to be in the starting lineup Sunday night. Brees opened the 2013 season with 300 or more passing yards in the first four games and has just one this season back in Week 1 at Atlanta.
Maybe that's why New Orleans is 1-2 after entering the campaign favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. That is still a strong possibility, but some adjustments have to be made.
The defense played better in Sunday's 20-9 win versus the Minnesota Vikings at the Superdome. The Saints, who played their first two games on the road at Atlanta and Cleveland, didn't have to worry about all-world running back Adrian Peterson (exempt list), while Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel left the game with a season-ending foot injury.
Linebacker and leading tackler Curtis Lofton was pleased with the win.
"Just getting the win itself boosts your confidence and it changes your outlook on everything," Lofton said. "We've been 0-2 and it hasn't been all cupcakes and clowns. Now, all the work you put in pays off on Sunday."
Fellow linebacker Junior Gallette is now looking forward to Dallas.
"It's a prime time game and we usually play pretty big. We have to get this next win. That's all that matters," Gallette said. "We can't care about the bright lights. Let's get this next win on the road and move on from there."
The Saints trail the all-time series with the Cowboys, 15-11, but have won three straight and eight of the last nine meetings. New Orleans destroyed Dallas, 49-17, last Nov. 10, as Brees completed 34-of-41 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns. Mark Ingram ran for 145 yards and a score in that one.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw for 416 yards and four TDs in a 34-31 overtime loss to the Saints at home on Dec. 23, 2012. The Cowboys haven't defeated the Saints at home since the 1991 season, losing four straight.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This game has the possibility of being a high-scoring affair with both quarterbacks airing it out. But then again it's hard to stray away from Murray's hot legs at the moment.
Let's start with Brees and his band of targets in tight end Jimmy Graham, and receivers Marques Colston and rookie Brandin Cooks. Graham had six catches for 54 yards against Minnesota, one week after posting 10 receptions for 118 yards and two scores at Cleveland.
Graham, who leads the Saints with 24 catches, is always a matchup problem against opposing defenses and this week shouldn't be any different with how inconsistent Dallas has played defense. Cooks is second with 18 catches and has 168 yards with a touchdown. His speed and versatility allows head coach Sean Payton to put Cooks in several positions.
Colston is the third and final receiver so far with 100 or more yards (135) for New Orleans and often gets lost in the shuffle. Brees and Colston have connected for 64 touchdowns, a combo that is sixth in NFL lore.
Brees has smoked Dallas for 838 yards and seven TDs with no interceptions the past two meetings. He has won his last three starts in this series.
Romo's top target is Dez Bryant. Bryant has one 100-yard game this season -- Week 2 at Tennessee (103 yards, TD) -- and finished with six catches for 89 yards and a score at St. Louis. Bryant is Dallas' wild card and can explode at any moment.
Both defenses needs help with the pass rush. Dallas has three sacks to just four for New Orleans. In order to keep Sunday's game from getting out of hand, both Brees and Romo must experience pressure.
"We've been getting a lot of pressures. Sacks up front haven't been coming yet," Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton said. "When they do come, they're going to come in bunches. We all feel like we're really close. We're just going to keep working at one."
Melton, though, is dealing with a hamstring issue. The Cowboys are hoping to get a boost defensively from linebacker Justin Durant. Durant was back at practice Wednesday after missing two straight games with a groin injury.
There's an outside chance Cowboys DE Anthony Spencer (knee) could play Sunday, when the franchise goes for its 500th total win (499-374-6).
Homefield advantage will benefit the Cowboys in this one regardless of what Brees and the high-powered Saints do. Murray seems unstoppable and will have Dallas back to football relevance in the early hours of Monday. While Payton and the Saints would love nothing more than to keep a frown on Jones' cosmetically enhanced face, it will be the billionaire owner who has the last laugh from his luxurious perch.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Cowboys 31, Saints 27
09/25 13:26:41 ET