Facing the possibility of an 0-4 deficit that would put their postseason hopes in serious jeopardy, the New Orleans Saints will rely on quarterback Drew Brees and his injured shoulder in their “Sunday Night Football” matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Brees was a limited participant in Friday’s practice, but head coach Sean Payton said he plans to start the 36-year-old All Pro, who sat out Week 3’s loss to Carolina due to a bruised rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.
"I think he's planning on starting and we're planning on starting him," Payton told reporters Friday. "He looked crisp today. I think he's going to end up starting and based on the way the week unfolded each day, I felt like he's made the progress we're looking for.
Luke McCown filled in last week and threw for 310 yards and nearly pulled off the victory, but with former league MVP Brees under center the winless Saints remain a threat in the NFC and can avoid their first 0-4 hole since 2012. That was the same year Payton was suspended for the entire season due to the “Bountygate” scandal and New Orleans went 7-9 to miss the playoffs.
In two games Brees has thrown for 610 yards with two touchdowns and two picks, not the kind of production Saints fans are use to seeing. But opposing pass rushes have burst through New Orleans’ offensive line to sack Brees six times.
With McCown starting last week, the Saints showed improvement letting up one sack against a top notch Carolina defense. This week they’ll draw a Cowboys pass rush that’s forced only three sacks, and is sorely missing injured rookie defensive end Randy Gregory and suspended rushers Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy.
Dallas must also deal with the absence of quarterback Tony Romo, with Brandon Weeden starting for the second straight week after nearly leading the Cowboys to a victory over Atlanta in Week 3.
With running backs Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden scoring four combined touchdowns and 122 of 127 rushing yards, they nearly bumped off undefeated Atlanta but the offense floundered in the second half with only 52 total yards under Weeden.
The 31 year-old former Brown, who didn’t complete a pass longer than 22 yards, faced some criticism this week over his lack of deeper throws, but he dismissed that talk and could have a stronger game against the Saints No. 21-ranked pass defense.
“Obviously you guys (media) are beating a dead horse talking about throwing the ball underneath,” Weeden said Wednesday. “That was our plan all along. You look back, were there a couple times maybe I could have thrown the ball to outside receivers given the plays that were called? There were maybe one or two that I could have thrown out there.”
However, New Orleans does stand to improve with cornerbacks Jairus Byrd (knee) and Keenan Lewis (hip) and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (toe) all listed as probable and likely to make their debuts after missing the first three games.
Kickoff Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online: SNF All Access