Texas Stadium: Payton's Place?

IRVING, TX. - There is a widespread assumption that no team prepares better for an opponent than a division rival. The logic is obvious: see the same team twice a year, and little is left to the imagination -- with familiarity comes a heightened level of understanding.

But it's quite possible no team will be better prepared to face the Cowboys than Sunday's opponent: the New Orleans Saints.

Saints head coach Sean Payton -- the odds-on favorite to be this season's NFL Coach of the Year -- was the Cowboys assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach for the last three seasons. Assistant coach Gary Gibbs is a former Dallas assistant. The New Orleans roster includes wide receiver Terrance Copper, offensive tackle Rob Petitti and linebackers Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle, each of whom was a Cowboy in 2005. The Saints signed safety Keith Davis to a free agent offer sheet in the offseason, only to see Dallas match the offer and retain Davis. Payton wanted to trade for then-backup quarterback Tony Romo.

Dallas head coach Bill Parcells said he doesn't think Payton's familiarity with the Dallas personnel will not play a major role in the outcome of Sunday's game.

"We both have a pretty good understanding of what each other does," Parcells said. "It's a matter of execution."

The execution of the Saints' potent offense is engineered by quarterback Drew Brees, a free agent New Orleans signed in the offseason from San Diego.

"They have several weapons in the run game and the pass game, but it all starts with the quarterback, and he's playing very well," Parcells said. "There was some concern about his shoulder, but it was obviously unwarranted."

Linebacker Bradie James echoed his coach's comments about the Saints' potent offense, and the fact that Brees is the spark that makes the offense go.

"It's no fluke that they're playing well," James said. "(Brees) is hard to get to, because he releases the ball quickly. He's definitely one of the best quarterbacks, not just in the NFC, but in the entire NFL.

"These guys, they're the real deal. It's no mistake that they're 8-4."

If Brees is the key to the New Orleans offense, the most visible Saint has been electric rookie Reggie Bush, who the Saints deploy in a number of roles.

"He's a very dynamic guy, athletically," Parcells said. "He had his first real breakout last week against San Francisco (when Bush scored four touchdowns in the Saints' win over the 49ers). You have to be concerned about him in the running game, but he also leads the league in receptions, so you have to be concerned about him in space, too. You have to be good tacklers, and San Francisco didn't tackle him very well."

Romo said Payton deserves a great deal of the credit for Romo's sudden arrival as one of the league's best quarterbacks.

"Sean had a huge effect on me -- he taught me a lot, like how to develop my reads," Romo said. "He's a great coach, and he will be for a long time."

But Romo said the fact that Romo is so familiar with the Dallas players and schemes doesn't necessarily mean he has a leg up as he leads his new team against his former employers.

"I don't think it means he has a real advantage," Romo said. "In fact, it might even hurt you, if you think you know a person too well. You never know."

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