Another week of football, and another week of our Interview with the Enemy series. This week, our friend, David Halprin of Blogging the Boys, answers 5 quick questions about our week 13 matchup, a battle in Jerry’s World against “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys.
It’s pretty clear Amari Cooper has helped the Dallas offense in ways Allen Hurns was initially expected to. Outside of Cooper, though, what other legitimate threats do the Cowboys have at receiver?
Besides Cooper, the Cowboys have some players who can help the offense, but they aren’t doing it on a consistent basis. Slot receiver Cole Beasley is probably the best of the rest and operates really well underneath and in the short-middle of the field. He used to be the Cowboys main third-down target, but that spot has now been taken over by Cooper. Michael Gallup is a rookie who has had some big plays, but is still working on his chemistry with Prescott. Gallup has the ability to get open deep, but Prescott hasn’t been able to time it up regularly. It’s a work in progress. Allen Hurns has been reduced to a minor role player. Tight end is also bereft of consistent production, especially with starter Geoff Swaim sidelined with injury.
The real receiving threat besides Cooper is not a receiver or or a tight end, but a running back. Ezekiel Elliott is doing a lot more work in the passing game this year. He can be explosive on the screen pass and has acted as the regular security blanket for Dak Prescott on checkdowns.
If you were Sean Payton, game planning to attack the Cowboys defense, how would you do it?
Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch do a masterful job at controlling things in the middle so you have to get them blocked if you want the run game to succeed. The Cowboys do a good job controlling the run, but the Saints are going to run at them anyway. The Cowboys are a fast, attacking defense so counters, cutbacks and misdirection can catch them out of position.
Most teams spend more time passing against Dallas, who will give up plays between the 20’s. Most teams tend to stay away from corner Byron Jones and attack the other corner, Chidobe Awuzie. Jones has been a shut-down corner this year, but Brees will probably test him anyway. The Cowboys have struggled covering tight ends, so the Saints will probably want to test that a few times. The biggest thing the Saints need to do is control DeMarcus Lawrence. He can wreck a gameplan so it all starts with keeping him under control.
Who is one player for the Cowboys that Saints fans might not be familiar with that you expect to make an impact in this game?
Well, he’s a player you might have heard of but you might have forgotten about. Defensive end Randy Gregory has missed so much time due to substance abuse issues that most fans, including some Cowboys fans, thought he was basically washed up. He has so much talent, but it has never transferred to the field. Over the last few games, though, it feels like he’s starting to put things together. He’s had two sacks on the last three games and has really started to affect the quarterback more. If the Cowboys are going to pull off the upset, then they will need to harass Drew Brees. DeMarcus Lawrence is the guy who we would expect to do that, but he’ll need help. Maybe this is the week Gregory finally breaks out.
Before the season, you predicted a 10-6 record for the Cowboys. Think you can rattle off win in four of the final five to hit double digits?
It’s certainly possible, but with this team, it just as possible they lose four of those five. The Cowboys have been everything but consistent this year. It’s hard to know what kind of team they really are. 10-6 is doable, but there is no way I would say it’s likely. Things definitely look different since Amari Cooper has arrived so there is the hope.
What’s your prediction for the game? How does it play out? Final score?
It’s tough. I really want to stay with my fandom and optimism and predict a Cowboys win. But as an analyst of NFL football, my head says the Saints are the superior team. Dallas being at home helps, they have been a better team at home this year. It also helps that Amari Cooper is fully integrated into the offense and flourishing. The Cowboys defense is stout and should at least present some issues for Drew Brees and that juggernaut offense. I don’t expect a blow out and the Saints should score under their season average. But I don’t think the Cowboys offense can keep pace and the Saints will win by something like 31-27.
A big thanks to David for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure you check out his work and the rest of the good folks at Blogging the Boys for tons of Cowboys content. You can follow Blogging the Boys on Twitter @BloggingtheBoys, and of course you can always follow me @dunnellz.