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Big Picture: 5 Storylines for Cowboys & Saints

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Luckily for the Dallas Cowboys, the next time they take the field, the month of November will be in the rear-view mirror.

The Cowboys (7-4) finished the month 1-3 and attempts to turn their fate around on the road against the New Orleans Saints (5-6).

The Saints, head coached by former Cowboys assistant Sean Payton, would also like to forget the past month as they enter with a four-game losing streak. However, New Orleans has some newfound hope this week as they expect the return of some missing stars.

Here are five additional storylines for each team heading into Thursday's matchup at the Superdome.

Saints

  • New Orleans enters Week 13 fresh off their worst loss of the season as the Buffalo Bills dominated their Thanksgiving meeting, 31-6. Despite the four-game losing streak, the Saints had never really been out of games with two of the losses within a single possession. However, everything went wrong Thursday as Buffalo scored the first 24 points of the game, and it took until the fourth quarter for the Saints to get on the board.
  • The Saints have announced on Monday that Taysom Hill will start at quarterback as they look to figure out the position that has seen plenty of changes. One of the biggest reasons for the recent struggles after a 5-2 start, is the loss of Jameis Winston, who tore his ACL in the second quarter of the Week 8 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is ruled out for the rest of the season. Trevor Siemian took over and led the Saints to a magical win over the Bucs, 36-27. Since then, New Orleans is 0-4 with Siemian starting as the sixth-year quarterback has only thrown over 250 yards once this season. Hill is a hybrid receiver-runner and part-time QB who has thrown just eight passes this year, completing seven. He did start four games at QB last season for the Saints, posting a 3-1 record.
  • A jolt of resurgence is expected in the New Orleans offense this week as All-Pro running back Alvin Kamara returned to practice. Kamara has missed the last three games with a knee injury that he sustained in the loss against Atlanta in Week 9. Additionally, fellow tailback Mark Ingram and All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk also returned to practice this week after missing some time. There is a realistic shot for all three to be available for the matchup with Dallas on Thursday.
  • Despite some of the struggles on offense, the New Orleans defense still has some formidable talent throughout. Pro Football Focus has the Saints as the third-highest graded defense in the league entering the week with notable names like Cam Jordan, Marshon Lattimore, Demario Davis and Malcolm Jenkins leading the way. Outside of the veterans, rookie linebacker Pete Werner has been playing well at the second level alongside Davis, and Marcus Williams is one of the highest-graded safeties in football.
  • Thursday marks the first meeting between Dallas and New Orleans since 2019, a game the Saints won 12-10. The defensive struggle was compounded by New Orleans holding Ezekiel Elliott to just 35 yards on 18 carries in the game. Cam Jordan said earlier this week that the game plan is the same for the Saints in 2021. Taking away Elliott will be the focus for a defense that ranks third against the run this season.

Cowboys

  • While Dallas has struggled on the field with three losses in four games, now they have issues off it. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy will not be on the sidelines this Thursday as he officially entered the NFL's Covid protocol. This comes on the heels of six other coaches that have been confirmed to be in the protocol, including offensive line coach Joe Philbin, assistant line coach Jeff Blasko and offensive assistant Scott Tolzien. The team has not announced who will coach the team Thursday, but McCarthy is expected to be involved with the preparations virtually throughout the week.
  • Along with the coaching staff, there is one player currently in the Covid protocols, offensive tackle Terence Steele. Steele started 10 of the 11 games this season at either of the tackle positions including this past week at right tackle over La'el Collins. The shuffling on the offensive line had already been a topic of conversation prior to the Covid designation, but now it is cut-and-dry. Collins will be the starter at right tackle this Thursday after playing just three total snaps against the Raiders.
  • Another concern for the Cowboys this week is the health of Ezekiel Elliott. The All-Pro tailback has been active, yet limited, over the last few weeks despite dealing with a lingering knee injury dating all the way back to October. Dallas, who at one point boasted a top-three rushing attack in the NFL has only tallied a single 100-yard game since the bye week and has dropped down to the number seven rushing offense in the league.
  • o Dallas had their fair share of struggles on Thanksgiving as their comeback effort fell short against the Las Vegas Raiders, 36-33 in overtime. It was a game that will be remembered for the sloppy play and massive number of penalties. By the end of the game, both teams were flagged 14 times for a combined 276 yards, 166 of which belonged to Dallas, most in franchise history. The Raiders led by as much as 11 in the second half before Dallas found a rhythm on offense and tied the game at 33. After a quick three and out to start the overtime period, the Dallas defense had the Raiders at a 3rd-and-18 before a pass interference call on Anthony Brown put Vegas in field goal range. Daniel Carlson converted with a 29-yard game winner a couple plays later.
  • o One beam of hope for the Cowboys this week is that the next time Dallas would have to face an AFC team would mean they made it to the Super Bowl. Three of the four Dallas losses this season have come against the AFC West in Denver, Kansas City, and Las Vegas. To this point, Dallas has the best conference record of any NFC team at 5-1, their only loss coming in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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