Saints vs. Cowboys: 10 Keys to the Game for New Orleans

Jonathan Peralta@itsjperaltaContributor IIIDecember 21, 2012

Saints vs. Cowboys: 10 Keys to the Game for New Orleans

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    This is it. These last two games will either make or break the New Orleans Saints season...well, not really. Even if the Saints do win their last two games, they will still need a lot of help from other teams in order to have any chance at the playoffs. But, as the old adage goes: one game at a time. And it starts in Arlington, Texas.

    The New Orleans Saints face a tough and surging Dallas Cowboys that have caught fire at the right time and are on a three-game winning streak, fighting to make the playoffs.

    The Saints have had the upper hand against the Cowboys in recent years, winning six of the last seven meetings between the two, the most recent coming in 2010 where the Saints edged the Cowboys 30-27 in Cowboys Stadium.

    The Cowboys will be playing for first place in the NFC East and the playoffs, and the Saints are playing for pride and a shot at the playoffs. This game will probably be just as tough and just as close.

    The following are the 10 keys to the game for the New Orleans Saints.

Shut Dez Bryant Down

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    The third year receiver is having his best season yet. He is finally showing the potential everyone expected him to have. He's playing fast, tough, physical football; he's more physical, running more precise routes and is more focused when hauling in catches.

    This season, Dez Bryant has been Tony Romo's favorite target. He has caught a touchdown pass in six straight games, he has 79 receptions for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns.

    The Saints secondary must slow Bryant down, and the corners have to get physical with him.

Slow Down Miles Austin

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    The Cowboys, just like the Saints, have a good amount of options when it comes to their offense. It will be tough, sort of like a "pick your poison" type of deal. Either focus on shutting down Bryant and deal with Austin or vice versa.

    The Cowboys have another good receiver in Miles Austin. He, like Dez Bryant, has been targeted several times by Tony Romo. Austin, having played with Romo for years now, has a lot of chemistry with his quarterback.

    For the year, Austin has 62 receptions for 898 yards and five touchdowns. Miles Austin is less physical than Bryant so jamming him at the line of scrimmage may slow Austin down, but it's imperative to not let Austin get the big plays down the field.

Stop Jason Witten

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    This will be a battle of two of the most dynamic, and dangerous tight ends in the league. Both Jimmy Graham and Jason Witten are having Pro Bowl seasons, but which one gets in?

    Dallas Cowboys tight end Witten is having a terrific year. Even with a serious spleen injury at the beginning of the season, he has put up some good numbers (97 receptions, 923 yards and two touchdowns) and can hurt the Saints with his big playmaking abilities. The Saints linebackers and safeties have to get physical with him and not let him get big plays down the field.

Jabari Greer Has to Keep Up His High Level of Play

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    The Saints cornerbacks will have their hands full with Dallas' variety of weapons. Cornerback Jabari Greer, coming off one of his best games against Tampa Bay last week, must keep up the level of play he showed.

    Last week he did a great job in coverage and even had a couple of picks. Greer needs to step it up and shut down his receiver and try to create some turnovers as well.

Get to Tony Romo

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    Like the Saints, the Cowboys are a pass-first offense, and it shows with the number of pass attempts Tony Romo has. The Saints pass-rush really have to be on their game in Week 16 against the Cowboys and the quarterback. If you give him time, he will pick apart the Saints secondary.

    This season, Romo has completed 379-of-568 pass attempts for 4,269 yards, 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. As you can see, Romo is a bit of a gunslinger, so the defense has to put pressure on him and create turnovers by forcing him to rush his throws.

Drew Brees Has to Play Like He Did Against Tampa Bay

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    Last week Drew Brees had an incredible game, and he looked like his old self. He was accurate, and made some big-time throws. He needs to protect the ball like he did in Week 15 and not have any turnovers; Brees can not force any of his throws, and just stay patient. He doesn't need make big plays all the time.

Running Backs Must Be Productive

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    Notice how the Saints have been successful when their running backs have had good games? The Saints need to get their ground game going early in the game and set the tempo, it'll open up their air attack. The Cowboys defense is kind of middle-of-the-pack, so the Saints should wear them down with the run and the big plays through the air will open up.

Jimmy Graham Needs to Have a Big Game

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    Saints tight end Jimmy Graham needs to have a big game against the Cowboys. This game will most likely be shootout and it will come down to who makes more plays. This season, Jimmy Graham has been suffering from a case of the dropsies and if he continues that nasty streak against the Cowboys, it will cost the Saints.

    Every catch counts, so Graham has to focus and not drop any passes. He is a dangerous weapon that can expose the Cowboys secondary and can make the big plays down field.

Offensive Line Has to Have a Big Game

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    The offensive line has to play its best game. They are going against some tough pass-rushers in Week 16. Cowboys linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer have combined for 21.5 sacks. The line has to protect Drew Brees and give him time in the pocket to be able to pick apart the Cowboys secondary. If Brees is pressured, he'll try to force his throws, and that can lead to turnovers.

Marques Colston Has to Scorch the Defense

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    The Saints need a big game from their No.1 receiver Marques Colston. He's having a good season after starting off slowly. Colston has 68 receptions for 949 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Colston needs to make his presence felt early with some big plays. The receiver has the size and speed to make it happen, and can scorch the Dallas secondary. If Colston can make the Cowboys focus on him throughout the game, it'll open up the Saints other playmakers to have big days.