The Cowboys are making December one to remember for all the right reasons. They’ve won three games this month and five of their last six. Now, they face New Orleans, a 6-8 team that is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. The Saints have been damaged by the penalties stemming from the bounty scandal that rocked the NFL in the off-season. But they still have one of the most prolific offenses in the league, producing more points on average than every other team except New England. Here is a look at how both the Cowboys and Saints match up:
When the Cowboys run
DeMarco Murray has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game once this season. But his impact is far greater than his output. His presence is vital to the Cowboys’ success. Since entering the league in 2011, Dallas is 10-1 when Murray has 14 or more carries. Murray should get plenty of opportunities Sunday against a New Orleans team allowing 146.3 rushing yards per game – the second-highest average in the NFL this season.
When the Cowboys pass
In the last seven games, Tony Romo has revived a season that seemed headed for disaster. Since Nov. 1, he has thrown 13 touchdowns passes and only three interceptions. He has also passed for 300 or more yards five times. Romo’s strong performance has coincided with the most productive stretch of Dez Bryant’s career. Bryant has collected eight touchdown receptions in the last six games and has a good chance to find the end zone again against a Saints team giving up 287 yards per game through the air – the second-highest average in the NFL this season.
When the Saints run
New Orleans’ commitment to its ground game can be questioned. This season, the Saints have rushed the ball 314 times – the second-lowest total in the NFL this season. But when New Orleans has turned to its running backs, they have been successful, averaging 4.45 yards per carry. Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory form a strong backfield that will test a Cowboys defense featuring a patchwork front. But Dallas held strong against Pittsburgh last week, limiting the Steelers to 69 yards on the ground.
When the Saints pass
Drew Brees has become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history directing a high-powered offense. Even in this season of disappointment, Brees has excelled. He leads the league in passing yards, throwing for 4,335 in 14 games. But his record has been blighted by 18 interceptions – the highest total in the league. Brees commands an air attack that Dallas’ secondary will be challenged to stop. Four Saints players are among the 50 NFL players with the most receptions. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for more than 250 yards in three of their last four games.
In less than two seasons, Dan Bailey has emerged as one of the NFL’s most consistent kickers and a key contributor for the Cowboys. In an overtime victory over Pittsburgh last Sunday, Bailey made his seventh game-winning field goal, tying a franchise record. This season, he has connected on 27 of 29 attempts and every kick inside of 50 yards. Bailey has been considerably more successful than Southlake’s own Garrett Hartley. Hartley has made only 15 of 18 field-goal tries and his conversion rate is ranked in the bottom half of the league.
The New Orleans Saints haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention. But with eight losses their chances of qualifying for the postseason are extremely slim. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have a very realistic shot of playing beyond the regular season. Their confidence is high after their recent stretch of success and they will be motivated to earn their sixth victory in their last seven games. A rejuvenated home crowd should help them.
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