The Saints have risen from 31st to fifth in scoring defense, and they're just one takeaway shy of the 16 the Cowboys had last season.
Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will coach against his former employer Sunday in the Superdome.
IRVING, Texas (AP) - Dallas defensive end Jason Hatcher has a pretty good idea what Rob Ryan is telling his players in New Orleans while getting ready to face the Cowboys less than a year after they fired him.
Hatcher heard some of those choice words last season, when Ryan was preparing Dallas to face Cleveland, the previous team that dumped the defensive coordinator after just two seasons.
"I don't remember all the details," Hatcher said Wednesday, smiling and squirming just a bit, trying to keep the content suitable for a general audience. "But yeah, he's going to be jacked up for this one."
Ryan offered some version of "heck yes" when asked a year ago if playing the Browns was personal.
It's hard to imagine the feeling will be any different Sunday night after he declared that he would be "out of work for like 5 minutes" when Dallas let him go last January.
It's personal for the Cowboys, too - in a positive way.
Hatcher credits Ryan for a sudden upward swing in his career that has him tied for second in the NFC with seven sacks.
Dallas coach Jason Garrett says the relationship "didn't end" after he had to inform Ryan of his firing by phone because Ryan was out of the country.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick, coming off one of his best games in a 27-23 win over Minnesota, says "that guy was one of the best coaches I ever had."
Ryan, who enjoyed a 23-20 overtime win against Cleveland a year ago, became something of a scapegoat for a defense that broke under the weight of serious injuries in the final two games, keeping the Cowboys out of the playoffs for the third straight year.
First, Dallas was helpless to stop Drew Brees - the quarterback on Ryan's side now. Then the Cowboys let rookie Alfred Morris run wild in a winner-take-all finale against NFC East rival Washington.
Ryan was gone a little more than a week later, and just three days after that, Garrett declared the Cowboys were switching back to a more traditional four-man front under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Ever since, Garrett has tried to make one thing clear: It wasn't personal.
"I love Rob Ryan," said Garrett, who hired him in 2011 as the fiery counterpart to Garrett's button-downed public persona and has kept in touch with Ryan. "He is a fantastic person. He is a fantastic coach. And has been for a long time."
The statistics say so in New Orleans, when they didn't for two years in Dallas.
The Saints have risen from 31st to fifth in scoring defense, and they're just one takeaway shy of the 16 the Cowboys had last season. Dallas tied a franchise low with seven interceptions, and New Orleans already has nine.
"I would imagine he probably wouldn't trade it (being in New Orleans), and how much we appreciate him being here," Brees said. "Certainly he's done a great job for our team - a big part of our team, big part of our success."
Brees knows the feeling of facing a team that didn't want him anymore, and Ryan can only hope it goes as well against the Cowboys.
Brees threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 37-32 win over San Diego at home three years after the Chargers chose Philip Rivers over him.
"Any time a guy gets fired from a spot he's at and he has an opportunity to play them, he wants to prove a point," Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis said. "They know that. We know that."
And Hatcher knows that. But he'll still be reaching out to the boss who helped make him a full-time time starter for the first time after five years in the league - possibly before the game and definitely afterward.
"I'm going to say, 'What's up, dog?'" said Hatcher, who is battling a neck injury that might keep him out of the game. "He knows it. That's my dog. I owe a lot to that man, so it's going to be good to see his crazy butt."
NOTES: Cowboys WR Dez Bryant missed practice Wednesday with a tight back, but said he was playing against the Saints. ... DE DeMarcus Ware practiced in shoulder pads for the first time since injuring his right thigh against Washington on Oct. 13 and missing three games. He had never been sidelined in his nine-year career. ... The Cowboys signed DT Everett Dawkins, a seventh-round pick by Minnesota this year, and added G Phillipkeith Manley and DE Hall Davis to the practice squad.