At first glance, the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints find themselves in similar situations heading into Week 13. The Cowboys have lost three of their last four and sit just two games up on the Washington Football Team for first-place in the NFC East. Meanwhile, the Saints have dropped their last four contests, moving them out of the current NFC playoff picture with a record of 5-6. Both teams are looking to break out of slumps.
For the Cowboys, their slump has consisted of several tough breaks against solid teams whereas the Saints’ slump has been more a story of teams figuring out how to stop Trevor Siemian. It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did, but now that Siemian is out, the Cowboys will have to figure out how to stop Taysom Hill. As easy as that might sound, we need to keep in mind that the Saints went 3-1 with Hill as their starting quarterback last season. While those games definitely weren’t against the best teams in the world (Broncos, Eagles, and the Falcons twice), Hill proved that he was capable of leading an offense in the short term. In 2020, Hill had a passer rating of almost 100 (98.8) while completing 72.7 percent of his passes with an air yards per attempt of 7.6, that’s the same average depth of target as 2020 Tom Brady and is actually greater than the numbers Matt Ryan put up in that category last season. The Saints were not forcing Hill to throw safe checkdowns all the time. They were letting Hill be a dual-threat passer and it worked. He had multiple touchdowns in every game he started.
The Cowboys are a better team than New Orleans, but if we’re being honest, Hill brings some tools to the table that Dallas could struggle with. The Cowboys have only faced one truly mobile quarterback all season, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts, and that was before Eagles’ head coach Nick Sirianni figured out how to properly run his offense, and in turn, it was one of Dallas’s biggest wins of the season. The Saints are a much better coached team than the Eagles. They know how to use their players, and they know how to create a game plan for Taysom Hill. However, with star running back Alvin Kamara out for the game with a knee injury, the play action likely won’t be as effective as it was for Hill when he made his starts last season.
As for the Cowboys, as much as everyone likes to talk about Dak Prescott as an MVP candidate this year, this game, just like every other Cowboys’ game this season, will come down to whether or not Dallas can get the run game going. Dallas is 6-0 when accruing over 100 yards on the ground. They are 1-4 when they don’t. The Saints have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry to opposing halfbacks — half a yard fewer than the next closest teams in the NFL. At the same time, the Saints have allowed over 100 yards on the ground in two straight games — both resulting in Saints’ losses — including two weeks ago when the Saints allowed the Eagles to rush for 242 yards — the seventh-most yards allowed in a game by any team all season.
The Saints’ defense lives and dies by its ability to force opponents to pass. The Cowboys are pretty much smack dab in the middle of the league in terms of pass-play percentage. Since Week 5, the Saints have just one win against teams with a lower pass-play percentage than Dallas (Washington, Week 5).
This game means a lot to the Cowboys. While several football fans considered them contenders in the NFC early in the season, they’ve since fallen from fans’ good graces. When we remember that the Cowboys suffered 28 penalties for 276 yards last week though — something that’s very unlikely to happen again all season — and they still managed to take the Raiders, who have a winning record by the way, to overtime, it’s hard to put this team in a poor light. Yes, this Cowboys team has their issues, but they’re still a solid team. However, if they fail to take down a Kamara-less Saints team with Taysom Hill under center, that’s when Cowboys’ fans can start hitting the panic button.