This is the Cowboys' chance to make a statement that they're not just the mediocre team everyone expects. If most of the nation were asked after the loss to the Lions what the Cowboys' record would be entering the Week 11 bye, 99 percent would have predicted 5-5 with a win against the Vikings and a loss on the road in New Orleans. Until they break out of their .500 funk, the one they've been mired in after going 8-8 and 8-8 the last two years and then 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 and 4-4 this year, it's been hard to predict otherwise. But a win before the bye would turn a lot of heads against a talented Saints team.
The Cowboys have dropped three of their past four meetings against the Saints, yet that one win occurred on the Cowboys' only trip to New Orleans in those meetings. Like in that 2009 game, the Saints are going to be favored and have gotten off to a better start than the Cowboys. But the numbers aren't all that different between the teams this year and the Saints aren't undefeated this time.
When it comes to scoring and turnovers, the Cowboys have the advantage by the numbers. The Cowboys are the No. 4 scoring team and own the second-best turnover ratio in the league, thanks to their 21 takeaways which ties them for second in the league. The Saints aren't bad in those areas, either, boasting the No. 7 scoring team and seventh-best turnover ratio in the league, having created 15 takeaways this year.
Despite the advantage in scoring, the Cowboys haven't exactly been dominating offensively recently. They have the No. 13 total offense in the league, which has been struggling to get into a rhythm in recent weeks. Surprisingly, their 31st-ranked defense has played a vital role in their point total with the number of turnovers and touchdowns they're creating. If the Cowboys are to make a run to and through the playoffs, their offensive playmakers will need to get going once again. Dez Bryant had nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns when these teams played last year. The Cowboys will have to hope that continues with new sets of defensive coaches on both sidelines this year.
Well, technically one of those defensive coaches just switched sidelines. Rob Ryan, who served as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012, was let go in the offseason and hired by the Saints, where he's thrived and helped turn around one of the worst defenses in league history. The Saints got back their head coach and changed defensive coordinators and at 6-2 are now just one win shy of their entire win total last season. While Sean Payton has obviously played a pivotal role in that, so too has Ryan, who's helped turn the Saints into a top 10 total defense in the NFL.
That said, the Saints have dropped two of their last three contests, and history might actually be playing into the Cowboys' hands this weekend. The Saints have won three of their last four games against the Cowboys since 2006, but all three wins have been at Dallas. The lone loss came in New Orleans. On the other hand, the Saints could be hungry after a minor slump the last few weeks.
This group isn't storming through the season the way that 2009 team did, but the return of Sean Payton and addition of Ryan seem to be paying dividends. Though they've dropped two of their last three games overall, both of their losses have come on the road. The Saints are a perfect 4-0 this year at home, and with Drew Brees at the helm, their offense is always capable of going off. Brees and Tony Romo are No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, in quarterback rating this year.
These teams aren't all that different, at least offensively. Unfortunately for the Cowboys and their poor running attack, which ranks 27th in the league, the ground game is what's hurt the Saints' defense the most this year. But as much as the Cowboys' running game has been maligned, the Saints are only averaging four more rushing yards per game on 3.6 more rushing attempts per game. Therefore, it's likely this one will be decided by the air attack, and Brees has a ton of options in his repertoire, none better than tight end Jimmy Graham. Even with the foot injury to Graham, the matchup nightmare has still played through pain to catch four touchdown passes in the last two weeks.