Cowboys - Saints Breakdown

The Saints will be going against the NFL's top-ranked pass defense without their top receiver and possibly another of their speedy wideouts. Joe Horn is out with a separated shoulder, which he sustained early in the fourth quarter of last week's game with the Jaguars, and Michael Lewis strained a quadriceps muscle.

* DT Jermaine Brooks got an early Christmas present on Wednesday when the Cowboys moved him to the active roster from the practice squad.

The facts are that the Cowboys needed another tackle to replace Leo Carson, who had season ending surgery last week.

And coach Bill Parcells chose Brooks over fellow practice squad tackle Shaun Smith because he felt it was best for the team going into the playoffs.

Now Brooks is preparing to play football for the first time in more than a year. He was suspended midway through the 2002 season at Arkansas after being arrest on drugs and weapons charges.

In March, Brooks was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 10 years suspended. But a plea bargain with prosecutors allowed Brooks to enter a boot camp program, and he was released in late August.

Brooks, who remains on probation for 10 years, admits wondering if he would ever get a chance to play football again.

He got that chance when the Cowboys signed him to the practice squad Oct. 27. But it was only after Brooks was given a good recommendation by defensive tackles coach Kacy Rodgers, who coached him at Arkansas, and a stern warning from Parcells.

"He said: 'I am giving you a second chance, make the best of it. Come out here and work every day and the rest will deal with itself,'" Brooks recalled.

"This is a wonderful thing," Brooks added. "I want to make the most of it."

* P Mat McBriar was signed to the practice squad on Wednesday. McBriar went to training camp with the Broncos before being traded to Seattle in late August. His stay there didn't last long, becoming a free agent again.

While Cowboys punter Toby Gowin has struggled this season, ranking last in the NFC with a 38.6, this move is more about the future. Signing McBriar now gives Cowboys kicking coach Steve Hoffman an opportunity to work with the young punter right away, getting him ready to compete in the off-season.

McBriar, a native of Australia, averaged 42.2 yards in three years at the University of Hawaii, second in school history to Elam's average of 43.5.

* QB Quincy Carter and safety Darren Woodson were in the gift-giving mood on Wednesday. Carter presented the entire offensive line with framed jerseys and action photos. Woodson also gave framed jerseys to the defensive backs.

* SS Tony Dixon said he knew he needed to improve his play on special teams coming into the season. Well, with just one game to play in the regular season, Dixon will likely finish the year as the Cowboys' leader in special teams tackles. Dixon, a third-year safety, has 20 tackles, four more than Markus Steele and Bradie James, each with 16 stops.

"It's a big deal because you know how much the kicking game is stressed around here," Dixon said. "I knew if I'm not starting at safety, I had to make myself valuable in the kicking game. And it's something I've had to get better at. I didn't play any special teams in college."

The Cowboys already clinched a playoff berth and the Saints are out of the running. This game could prove meaningless of the Eagles clinch the NFC East title on Saturday. However, for Cowboys coach Bill Parcells there are no meaningless games. He said it is important for the Cowboys to play well and go into the playoffs with some momentum.

While their defense has played at a consistently high level, they still need to get their offense running on all cylinders. They are consistently struggling in the red zone and that will be the area of focus against the Saints, who have the talent to seriously threaten the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. Again, the key for Dallas and quarterback Quincy Carter is to play mistake free and turnover free, allowing the defense to handle the bulk of the load as usual.

Saints offense vs. the Cowboys defense:
With one of their main weapons in the passing game sidelined by an injury, the Saints will have to rely on Aaron Brooks and Deuce McAllister to carry the load offensively against the league's No. 1 ranked defense. Brooks, a streaky quarterback, will have to be especially effective and take care of the football while picking his spots against the Cowboys' top-ranked pass defense. Of course, it will help if McAllister, who has 1,592 rushing yards, can get going early and take some of the pressure off the passing game.

The Cowboys think there is a chance they will get the Minnesota Vikings in the wild card round of the playoffs. And if so, the Saints offense will serve as a dress rehearsal. Quarterback Aaron Brooks is a big strong mobile quarterback who thrives on the big play like Daunte Culpepper. The Saints have big speedy receivers in Donte Stallworth and Joe Horn and they have a big-play running back in Deuce McAllister. The Cowboys defense ranks first in the league overall, first against the pass, and sixth against the run. They will be tested by the Saints and they are looking forward to it.

Saints running back Deuce McAllister vs. Cowboys middle linebacker Dat Nguyen
These two should meet up a few times Sunday as McAllister, one of the league's top power backs, may get more touches than usual because of the injury to Joe Horn. McAllister has a club-record 2,102 total yards (1,592 rushing and 510 receiving on a career-high 67 catches), while Nguyen, a terrific hitter, leads the Cowboys with 132 total tackles -- 30 more than linebacker Dexter Coakley.

Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks vs. the Cowboys secondary
The Cowboys allow a scant 159.9 passing yards per game, so trying to throw against cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mario Edwards isn't always the best way to go. But the Saints like to come with a balanced attack, so they will still take their shots when they have the opportunity.

Wide receiver Randal Williams is hobbled by an ankle sprain. However, Parcells doesn't view as serious and says Williams will play Sunday against the Saints.

Once again, the Saints will be working with a thin offensive line against the Cowboys. With guards LeCharles Bentley and Spencer Folau out with injuries, the only backups are second-round draft pick Jon Stinchcomb, who could line up at guard or tackle, and backup center Terence Wagner.

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