In the second part of our Week 10 preview of the Cowboys visit to New Orleans we will take a look at the Saints’ injuries. Quarterback Drew Brees has been on fire this season and despite key injuries has led his team to a 6-2 record. This week they face the Dallas Cowboys (5-4) in Sunday Night Football at the Superdome.
Veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma is not listed on the injury report, but he has been placed in the Reserve/Injured, Designated to Return list in New Orleans. Vilma missed the first seven weeks of play in recovery from knee surgery and was added to the active roster last week against the Jets. The Saints’ official webpage credits Vilma with only one tackle last week, far below his normal level of productivity.
Saints’ head Coach Sean Payton announced Vilma’s status last Thursday, stating that his season was over despite his attempt to come back to the field. “He didn’t have any setbacks… (but) there’s still some work to go for him in regards to his rehab.”
Vilma missed the first six weeks of last season due to rehab on the same knee that has ended his season. As defensive captain from 2009-2012, Vilma led the team in tackles three times in 2008-2010. Vilma’s leadership goes beyond stats however. He was a team leader and an inspiration to his teammates, helping them elevate their level of play.
Safety Roman Harper chimed in on Vilma’s absence saying, “He’s like an older brother to me…He’s a great leader (and) he’ll definitely be missed.” Payton echoes the same sentiment, “Bring me as many Jon Vilmas as you can.”
Tight end Jimmy Graham is listed as questionable with elbow and foot injuries. Graham has been playing with a painful partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot. Despite the pain, Graham was activated in Week 8 and has turned in performances that are getting better every time.
In Week 8, Graham caught only three passes for 37 yards. His productivity was more than acceptable however, as he averaged 12.3 yards per catch and scored two touchdowns. Last week against the Jets, he caught nine passes for 116 yards, averaging over 12 yards per catch again and hit the end zone two more times.
Graham is a favorite target for Brees, and his absence is significantly felt. When he is on the field, he draws attention away from other receivers and allows the running game some breathing space. Brees is entirely capable of completing passes without him, but life is much simpler with Graham distracting the secondary.
Graham sat out of practice Wednesday but Saints report he “should be fine” on Sunday. Graham is ranked fifth among league tight ends in yards (746) and leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 10 this season.
Tight end Josh Hill is probable with a foot injury but his production is not as dramatic as Graham’s. He caught two receptions against Buffalo in Week 8 and rushed once against the Jets for an eight yard loss.
Running back Darren Sproles suffered a concussion last week but was in full practice. He is listed as probable and should be ready to go on Sunday when the Cowboys come to town. Sproles took a hard hit in the opening drive against the Jets last week and had to leave the game. The Saints rely on Sproles as a cornerstone of their running game. He went into the Jets game with 484 yards, including 366 yards from catches, as well as two touchdowns. The Saints missed him quite a bit in the loss to the Jets. Having him back on the field will be an asset Brees has become highly accustomed to utilizing.
Also of note, rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro is listed as probable with a chest injury. He was in light practice on Wednesday but had full practices on Thursday and Friday. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has used Vaccaro in six different positions this season: deep safety, in-the –box safety, nickel back (in the slot), corner, inside linebacker and outside linebacker.
Each position was used in a series of schemes and formations and Vaccaro has delivered on each one. He is pleased with his position(s) in the lineup and looks forward to continuing to be a game-changer for the Saints.
Wide receiver Marques Colston is also on the injury list with a knee injury. He had light practice this week and is listed as questionable. Colston has only started five games this year but has 27 catches for 342 yards averaging 12.7 yards per reception. He has scored one touchdown this season but has been out since the Saints beat Buffalo in Week 8. Colston was inactive against the Jets and pulled out of practice on Friday.
Rookie Kenny Stills has been filling in and his contributions have been significant. Against Buffalo, he caught only three passes but cleared 129 yards, averaging a whopping 43 yards per catch and scoring two touchdowns. Stills also had three receptions against the Jets for 35 yards, helping to move the ball down field.
Inside linebacker David Hawthorne did not practice this week with a toe injury. Safety Malcolm Jenkins did not practice Wednesday or Thursday with a toe injury, but was in full practice Friday. Both are questionable for Sunday.
Defensive ends Cameron Jordan, Tom Johnson and Tyrunn Walker are also questionable. Walker has a knee issue, Johnson has a hip problem and Jordan has an ankle injury. All three are listed as questionable for Sunday but Johnson and Walker were in full practice all week. Jordan did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and was in light practice on Friday.
Inside linebacker Curtis Lofton has a hamstring issue and was in full practice Wednesday and Thursday but sat out of practice on Friday. Lofton is questionable for Sunday.
Finally, safety Roman Harper is listed with a knee injury but was in full practice all week and listed as questionable.
None of the players for the Saints is listed out this week, so this bodes well for their availability on Sunday. With Colston, Sproles, Vaccaro and Graham on the field, the Saints’ passing and receiving game should be healthy enough to give the Cowboys serious problems.
By Brandi Tasby