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5 Keys to Victory for Dallas Cowboys on Sunday

Jason HenryCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2012

5 Keys to Victory for Dallas Cowboys on Sunday

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    It is do or die time for the Cowboys on Sunday. They face the struggling New Orleans Saints, and have to beat them to keep their playoff hopes alive.

    An inserted interesting caveat to the Cowboys is the on-life-support playoff hopes for the Saints. Last week, they beat the Tampa Bay Bucs 41-0 and kept a faint heartbeat on their chances for a playoff berth.

    Dallas has to be mindful that New Orleans has more to play for than just pride when it takes the field. Also, the Cowboys recent history suggests that they come up short in big moments.

    Taking all of that into consideration, here are five things the Cowboys must do in order to win.

Stop the Saints' Pass Attack

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    Yeah, the Saints are 6-8, and yeah, they still have a shot at making the playoffs. Even with such a porous record, their offense hasn’t missed a beat.

    Against the Bucs last week, quarterback Drew Brees threw for 307 passing yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Brees leads the NFL in passing yards with 4,335 and touchdowns with 36.

    That Brees train doesn’t stop, no matter the record.

    Over his last three games, Brees has thrown for at least 305 yards. With the Cowboys' depleted secondary, I’m not sure if they can stop the Saints' air attack.

    Morris Claiborne is coming back from a concussion and Danny McCray is struggling mightily at safety. According to ESPNDallas.com, McCray gave up 124 yards against the Steelers.

    Brees will most certainly attack McCray and the rookie Claiborne. What will be key for Dallas is for it to keep the pressure on Brees.

    Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will have to find a nice balance between blitzing Brees and not being burned by his quick release. Against the blitz, Brees tossed 10 interceptions and just three picks in 2008.

    Dallas has to tread carefully.

Pressure Drew Brees

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    Speaking of pressure, the Cowboys have to take their chances and blitz Drew Brees. The last time these two teams met, the Saints beat the Cowboys by three points.

    Brees torched the Cowboys defense for 352 passing yards, but he was sacked twice and pressured five times.

    Dallas has to bring the same type of pressure, maybe even more, if it plans to keep Brees off his feet.

    Lastly, Brees and the Saints are without head coach Sean Payton, who is currently serving a season-long suspension. The halftime adjustments won’t be as crisp and neither will the play calling without Payton.

Run the Ball

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    Simply put, the Saints are the worst in the NFC against the run. For the season, they have given up 2,048 yards and almost 150 yards per game.

    That means they are ripe for the picking.

    The Cowboys offense has looked much better since running back DeMarco Murray has returned. Since his first game back against the Eagles on Dec. 2, Murray has a touchdown in each game with 217 yards.

    That may not sound like much because it isn't, but Garrett has Murray averaging 19 carries per game. He has brought some sort of balance back to the Cowboys offense, and should do a great job on the ground Sunday.

    Garrett has to feed Murray, and backup Felix Jones, if Dallas has any shot of winning this game.

Exploit Saints' Weak Pass Defense

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    The Saints defense is just downright bad, but how good can one defense be with eight losses?

    Again, the Saints are at the bottom of the barrel when playing against the pass. They have given up the second-most pass yards in the league with 4,018, which averages out to be 246 per game.

    Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett really enjoys passing the ball, and I'm sure he has taken a look at how to take advantage of New Orleans' weak secondary.

    Even with their beatdown of the Bucs last week, they still gave up 279 yards through the air. Now, the Bucs were down by 24 at the half, so they had no choice but to pass.

    In their last close game, which came against the Falcons in Week 13, they held Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan to just 165 passing yards, but gave up 124 on the ground.

    There is a chink in the armor, obviously, and the Cowboys just have to pick their poison.

Watch Tape from 2010 Game

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    Even though the Cowboys lost to the Saints on Thanksgiving Day in 2010, they were close to winning, until former wide receiver Roy Williams fumbled the ball with about three minutes remaining in the game.

    The Cowboys were down by 17 points at one point the second quarter and came back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.

    Dallas cannot allow the Saints to get out to a big lead again, or it can kiss its playoff hopes goodbye.

    This all sounds so simple for the Cowboys on Sunday. Stop the pass, run the ball and blitz the quarterback.

    But Dallas can be known to self-destruct and make dumb choices when faced with adversary. More than anything, the Cowboys have to refrain from the ill-timed penalties and mistakes.

    If they can simply do their jobs without fault, they should win the game. If Dallas commits too many penalties to go along with a few turnovers or bad plays and throws, they will be dead in the water.

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