Under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan the New Orleans Saints defense has rebounded from a historically awful year to become one of the NFL’s top five defenses through the first eight games.New Orleans gave up 7,042 yards and 28.4 points per game last season, and needed to make serious changes if it hoped to return to the playoffs.
Ryan has headlined the improbable turnaround less than year after the Dallas Cowboys fired him after two seasons, and on Sunday night he can gain a little bit of retribution from his former team at the Superdome.
Without Ryan Dallas has plummeted to second to last in total defense, with a secondary ranked 31st and a frontline 17th against the run, but have won three of their last four games to remain atop the NFC East.
The Cowboys defense could get a much needed boost with the return of defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who has been out with a thigh injury for the last three games. Even with the lost time the seven-time Pro Bowler is still third on the team with 4.0 sacks.
The Saints have lost two of their last three, including last week’s 26-20 disappointment to the New York Jets. Quarterback Drew Brees continued to sling the ball across the field for 382 yards and two scores, but also committed two interceptions and was sacked twice and hit another seven times. It was Brees sixth 300-yard game of the season.
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Ryan’s defense also allowed a season-high 198 rushing yards and two scores, but limited the Jets success on third down and came up with two sacks of their own.
Tony Romo and the Cowboys would be on a four-game win streak had it not been for the harrowing breakdown in Week Eight against Detroit in which they gave up 24 fourth quarter points and 488 passing yards.
Dallas got back on track with last week’s 27-23 victory over Minnesota, highlighted by two touchdowns from Romo, and afumble returned for a score by defensive tackle Nick Hayden.
Brees and Romo are No. 2 and 3 in touchdown passes this season, and are two of the five quarterbacks in the NFL with a 100.0 or better passer rating, but one will have a far easier time on Saturday.
Second-year Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne will sit out for a second straight game with a hamstring injury, and safety J.J. Wilcox missed practice all week and will be sidelined with a knee injury.
New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins participated in Friday’s practice after missing the previous two, a good sign that his status could move up from questionable. Jenkins is one of the 10 players the Saints have listed as questionable on their official site, including team sack leader and defensive end Cameron Jordan and leading tackler Curtis Lofton.
Two of the NFL’s best catchers will also be on display with neither team focused very much on the run. Saints tight end has hauled in 49 receptions for 746 yards and a league-leading 10 touchdowns, while fiery Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant is sixth in the NFL with 51 catches for 705 yards and eight scores.
Betting Odds: New Orleans is favored by 6.5 points.
Over/Under: 54 points
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Where To Watch Online: SNF All Access
Prediction: New Orleans 37, Dallas 30