8:30 PM ET, November 10, 2013
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Rob Ryan famously stated he would be "out of work for like five minutes" when the Dallas Cowboys fired him as their defensive coordinator after last season.
Though he was unemployed for a bit longer than he originally thought, Ryan has helped improve a New Orleans Saints defense that will look to shut down his surging former team Sunday night at the Superdome.
Ryan spent two seasons in Dallas, with his unit ranking 14th in 2011 and 19th in 2012 in total defense. He was let go Jan. 8 after the Cowboys finished 8-8, and with his usual confident swagger said he knew it wouldn't take long for him to land on his feet.
Saints coach Sean Payton hired Ryan on Jan. 24 to help transform a defense that finished dead last in the NFL last season. New Orleans (6-2) ranks ninth this year and has given up 18 points or fewer six times.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said there's no animosity between him and Ryan, even though he informed his former coordinator of the decision via phone call.
"I love Rob Ryan," Garrett said. "He is a fantastic person. He is a fantastic coach. And has been for a long time."
Cowboys who served under Ryan spoke highly of him, though they know his personality and realize this contest will provide some extra motivation. Ryan's current players know that, too.
"Any time a guy gets fired from a spot he's at and he has an opportunity to play them, he wants to prove a point," Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis said. "They know that. We know that."
New Orleans has been strong against the pass giving up an average of 211.9 yards to rank fifth. That unit will be tested against Tony Romo, who is fifth in the NFL with a 100.0 passer rating -- one spot behind Drew Brees' 104.5 mark.
Romo went 34 of 51 for 337 yards and two touchdowns, including a scoring pass with 35 seconds remaining to give the NFC East-leading Cowboys (5-4) a 27-23 win over Minnesota last week.
Dallas has won three of four, and Payton knows slowing Romo will be a difficult task. Payton served as Dallas' assistant head coach from 2003-05 and helped sign Romo, who like Payton is an alum of Eastern Illinois, after he went undrafted in 2003.
"I was there three years working with him, and he has improved each year," Payton said. "He's got a very quick delivery. He's very accurate and studies hard. He's a student of the game and likes playing a lot."
Romo threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns in New Orleans' 34-31 overtime win over the Cowboys on Dec. 23.
"He's having the best year of his career this season," Payton said. "He's been very good in regards to his decision making. He knows pre-snap where he wants to go. He's got a very quick way of getting through his progressions and the ball comes out extremely fast."
Dallas' running game has struggled, though, ranking 27th with an average of 75.7 yards per game. It finished with a season-low 36 last week on only nine attempts.
"DeMarco (Murray) looked like he was going to have a good day, but as it wore on there were some minus runs that got us behind the sticks a little bit," Garrett said. "Hard for us to get in a rhythm. So, when you step back from it and you look at it and say, `Boy, we need to run it more."
The Cowboys may want to do that against a Saints defense that ranks 25th allowing an average of 121.3 yards on the ground, including a season-worst 198 in last week's 26-20 loss to the New York Jets.
New Orleans has dropped two of three following a 5-0 start, cutting its NFC South lead over Carolina to one game.
"We're not down," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "We know the kind of players we have in the locker room and what kind of coaches we have. When we do play efficient football and execute, there's not too many teams that can play with us."
Payton said his team needs to have more balance offensively, which falls on him. Brees finished 30 of 51 for 382 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets, but he also threw a pair of interceptions while the Saints only ran the ball 13 times.
"We've been a little bit lopsided," Payton said of his play-calling. "Pass protection becomes more manageable when you're running the football and so this gets back to me."
New Orleans has won seven of the last eight meetings with Dallas after Brees passed for 446 yards and three touchdowns in the last matchup.
Dez Bryant, who caught nine passes for a career-high 224 yards and two TDs last season against the Saints, plans to play Sunday night despite a back injury.
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New Orleans Saints
|Avg Points Allowed||25.8||18.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||DAL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||DAL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New Orleans leads 6-1|
|Dec 23, 2012||DAL 31, NO 34|
|Nov 25, 2010||DAL 27, NO 30|
|Dec 19, 2009||DAL 24, @NO 17|
|Dec 10, 2006||DAL 17, NO 42|
|Dec 12, 2004||DAL 13, NO 27|
|Dec 28, 2003||DAL 7, @NO 13|
No team has abandoned the run as quickly as the Cowboys when trailing this season. 83 percent of their plays when trailing have been dropbacks (including sacks and scrambles).[+]
Cowboys' Play Calling by Situation - This Season
From Elias: This is the time of year when the Romo-coaster is riding high. ... NOVEMBER. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2006, Romo has posted a 22-and-4 career record in the month of November... the best of any quarterback who made their debut since 1970. Romo has never faced the Saints in November. He's lost 2 of his 3 starts against New Orleans.[+]
Dez Bryant brought a lot of attention on himself a couple weeks ago, but his ability to rise up in big games this season is hard to ignore. He leads the league in TD receptions against teams that are currently .500 or better, and his receiving yards per game in those contests is double his average in games against teams below .500:[+]
Dez Bryant by Opponent Win Pct - This Season
Drew Brees has completed 78.7 percent of his attempts to Darren Sproles this season. When Sproles misses time, Brees completes fewer passes and throws more interceptions.[+]
Of the Saints 244 rushing yards (excluding kneel downs), 165 of them came before first contact, led by Mark Ingram's' 107. The Saint's 165 rushing yards before contact is the most they have had in a game since 2009 (173 - Week 3 vs. Bills).
The Cowboys allowed a franchise-record 625 yards to the Saints offense Sunday Night. Second on the list? They allowed 623 yards to the Lions Week 8.[+]
Cowboys Most Yards Allowed in Franchise History
Drew Brees had a perfect completion percentage in several facets Monday, including third down. While Brees didn't have an incompletion on third down, Tony Romo didn't have a completion. - Brees was 9-of-9 with two touchdowns against five or more pass rushers, including 6-of-6 when the Cowboys blitzed a member of the secondary - Brees was 7-of-7 with two touchdowns on screen passes[+]
Passing on Third Down, Sunday
Drew Brees had his 15th career game with at least 4 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions, tied with Tom Brady for the most such games in NFL history.[+]
Darren Sproles had two touchdowns in the first half Sunday (1 rushing, 1 receiving), the sixth time he's had multiple touchdowns in a half in his career. Sproles also had two touchdowns in the 1st half in Week 4 against the Dolphins.
The Cowboys are 21-21 since Jason Garrett's 1st full season as head coach in 2011. They are 16-2 against teams at or above .500 and 5-19 vs teams below .500. This takes into account a team's end of season win percentage, or in the case of this season, its current win percentage.[+]
Cowboys by Opponent's End-of-Season Win Pct - Since 2011
ESPN Stats & Information