Payton returns to the Lone Star State to face the Cowboys as
coach of the surprising New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Payton was an assistant with the Cowboys the last three seasons
before being tabbed as the Saints' new coach in January. He
served as the Cowboys' passing game coordinator last season.
A former quarterback at Division I-AA Eastern Illinois in
college, Payton made a huge contribution in Dallas, suggesting
the club sign Romo, who also went Eastern Illinois. The advice
by Payton has turned into gold for the Cowboys, who signed Romo
as an undrafted free agent in 2003.
All Romo has done since replacing veteran Drew Bledsoe as the
starter is gone 5-1 while leading the Cowboys to the top of the
NFC East, where they hold a two-game over the New York Giants
In his six starts, Romo has completed 131-of-189 passes for
1,683 yards and 11 touchdowns with four interceptions.
Romo directed a late drive last Sunday that Martin Gramatica
capped with a 46-yard field goal with one second remaining to
give Dallas a 23-20 victory over the Giants.
Dallas, which has won four straight, plays three of its final
four games at home.
While Romo has excelled, Payton's Saints are having just as much
success. They enter with a two-game lead over both Carolina
and Atlanta in the NFC South.
Payton, who tried to trade for Romo when he came to New Orleans,
wound up signing Drew Brees as a free agent. That move also has
paid off since Brees leads the league with 3,649 passing yards
to go along with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Brees could be without both of his starting wide receivers for
this contest. Rookie Marques Colston, who has 54 catches for 869
yards and seven touchdowns, has missed the last two games with
a high ankle sprain, and veteran Joe Horn left last Sunday's
contest against San Francisco with a groin injury.
Rookie Reggie Bush enjoyed his best game of the season in the
34-10 victory over San Francisco, rushing for three touchdowns
and catching another score. He finished with nine catches for
131 yards and rushed for 37 yards on 10 attempts in tying
Horn's club record for TDs in a game.
NFL: How Graham is learning to be a Saint In ESPN The Magazine's Renegades Issue, Kevin Van Valkenburg writes that Jimmy Graham is the highest-paid tight end in the NFL and has a signature goalpost celebration dunk. So why is he still struggling to find his identity?
This matchup features the student (Saints coach Sean Payton) against mentor (Cowboys coach Bill Parcells). The Saints continue to find ways to win, while the Cowboys are the hottest team in the NFC. However, something has to give on Sunday as both teams are still in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Payton will continue to spread the field and rely on the strengths of QB Drew Brees and his strong supporting cast, while the Cowboys will focus on shutting down the Saints' rushing attack and forcing Brees to attack through the air. Cowboys QB Tony Romo continues to play at a high level and will rely on the running attack to set up the play-action pass. However, Saints defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs will have his hands full in containing the Cowboys' explosive offensive unit.