It takes a village to defend Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.
Or maybe just two defenders.
The Saints play at Dallas on Sunday night, setting up the latest matchup between their secondary and Bryant, who last season earned a spot on his first Pro Bowl squad.
Lucky for Bryant, his honor wasn’t based on a one-catch performance during last season’s 49-17 loss at the Mercedes-Benz Supderdome. Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis spent that game following Bryant around the field, often with help nearby, as needed.
“It was real rough,” Bryant said of the game. “Extremely, extremely. A lot of double teams. That’s something we didn’t expect going into that game. We expect it a little bit coming into this game.”
The Saints, though, are in no rush to reveal Sunday night’s defensive game plan.
Said strong safety Kenny Vaccaro: “He’s a big-play threat. He’s real physical after the catch. He’s not likely to go out of bounds after a catch. He’s going to try to run you over. He’s going to fight for those extra yards.
“And you always appreciate receivers that do that. Some guys like to just slide down, some guys like to get out of bounds.”
Bryant enters this week with 20 catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging 12.4 yards per catch.
He has faced the Saints three times, his best performance a nine-catch, 224-yard performance during a 34-31 win against the visiting Saints in 2012. Bryant scored on two Tony Romo TD passes of 58 yards en route to a career receiving yardage day.
Bryant called Lewis one of the NFL cornerbacks who force great players to give their best.
“You have to be on top your game,” said Bryant (shoulder), who was limited at Wednesday’s practice. “He’s a physical corner. You’ve got to be well prepared. If you’re not, you’re going to get beat.”
What about the Cowboys’ line?
The Cowboys offensive line allowed three Week 1 sacks in a loss against San Francisco. The following week, the offensive line surrendered four sacks in a win at Tennessee.
Last week’s 34-31 rally to beat St. Louis served as the line’s best outing as the group kept an aggressive Rams defense line and the rest of the unit without sack.
“It was weird because they were down 21-0 (to St. Louis). That’s where you’d think they would give up a lot of sacks,” said Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette. “But they ran the ball. St. Louis got gashed.”
DeMarco Murray ran for 60 of his 100 yards in the second half, including a 44-yard run. He also scored from one yard in the second quarter.
The Saints have four sacks in three games, placing the defense in a five-way tie for 22nd in the NFL.
Starting inside linebacker David Hawthorne, who missed Sunday’s win against Minnesota, missed his first practice of this week (ankle/knee).
Against the Vikings, Ramon Humber took over, playing in 49 of 56 defensive snaps.
Tight end Benjamin Watson, who left Sunday’s game, also did not practice Wednesday (groin), joining center Jonathan Goodwin (ankle). Inside linebacker Curtis Lofton (shoulder) was limited.
For Dallas, Romo (back) did not practice, joining defensive tackles Terrell McClain (groin), Henry Melton (hamstring) and Davon Coleman (knee) and linebacker Rolando McClain (groin). Defensive end Anthony Spencer (knee) was limited, while linebacker Justin Durant (groin) and tight end Gavin Escobar (knee) returned to practice.
Caliborne is back
Former LSU standout Morris Claiborne’s rift with the Cowboys is in the past, coach Jason Garrett told New Orleans-area media during a Wednesday afternoon conference call.
Garrett said Claiborne returned to Dallas’ team facility after storming out Tuesday following news this week of his demotion. He also missed a walk-though practice, according to reports.
Claiborne, the sixth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, has struggled during three games (two starts) this season, leading owner/general manager Jerry Jones to admit in a recent radio interview that Claiborne has not lived up to expectations.
“We informed Mo that he was going to be in a different role this week and he didn’t take it very well and left the building,” Garrett said. “Subsequently, he and I visited last night in my office, and he was back at work today.”