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Air assault to take place between two NFC division leaders
Tony Romo and the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys travel to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to face Drew Brees and the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints in tonight's key intra-conference matchup on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" at 8:30 pm ET. The Cowboys (5-4) are still looking for a statement win after dropping a close game to Peyton Manning and the Broncos a few weeks ago, while the Saints (6-2) look to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time this season.
3 Things to Watch
If you like offense then you're sure to like this game, in which the ball will be chucked up and down the field for 60 minutes. Drew Brees is second in the NFL in passing yards with 2,672 and Tony Romo is fifth with 2,553, while both rank in the top eight in pass attempts. Both signal-callers, along with Peyton Manning, are the only quarterbacks with at least 20 touchdown passes, and both are among only five with a quarterback rating over 100.0 on the season. As a result of their success, each has a pass-catcher in the top 10 in the NFL in yards, receptions and touchdowns. Both tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Dez Bryant have proved to be big-play threats, as Graham has 11 catches of 20+ yards and Bryant has seven. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these teams can put up points. Dallas has already scored 30 or more points on five different occasions, while the Saints have registered more the 26 points in six straight games. The Cowboys are fourth in the NFL in points per game with 28.6 and the Saints are seventh, averaging 27 points per contest.
Saints' Injury Report
After a tough loss to the Jets last week, New Orleans headed home from New York a battered and bruised football team. On their injury report Jimmy Graham (foot, elbow), Marques Colston (knee), Jahri Evans (hip), Malcolm Jenkins (knee), Roman Harper (knee), David Hawthorne (toe), Curtis Lofton (hamstring, ankle), and Cameron Jordan (ankle) are all listed as questionable this week. Seven of these players are starters and all are key contributors. Noteworthy among these are Colston and Graham, who have managed to practice every day this week, albeit on a limited basis. If there's any week for the Cowboys to face this Saints, this appears to be the most advantageous.
Struggling Rushing Attacks
The ground game is not where these two teams excel. The Saints make use of four backs, each having received 20 carries; however, they only have two rushing touchdowns as a team. In fact, rookie Khiry Robinson is the only back with a rushing touchdown, while the more well-known names of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram have averaged just 3.4 yards per carry as a group and none have registered a rush of over 20 yards. For Dallas, DeMarco Murray is clearly the lead back as he has more than double the amount of carries of anyone else on the team. However, the Cowboys really haven't gone to him as much as they need to. Murray broke open for a 27-yard run on Dallas' opening drive last week against Minnesota and proceed to get three more carries the rest of the game. Head coach Jason Garrett can't ignore Murray's impressive 4.9 yards per carry average, especially against a Saints defense that has given up 4.9 yards per rush this year.
Key Player for New Orleans: Kenny Stills, WR
With injuries possibly hampering tight end Jimmy Graham (foot/elbow) and wide receiver Marques Colston (knee) the young wide receiver will need to continue to step up. Over the last three weeks, Stills has three receiving touchdowns and has developed a good rapport with quarterback Drew Brees.
Key Player for Dallas: DeMarcus Ware, LB
The Cowboys gladly welcome back their best defensive weapon. Ware missed the last three games with an injured quad that appears to have healed up enough for him to return for tonight’s matchup with the Saints. The key to stopping Drew Brees is putting pressure in his face, as his completion percentage falls 25.1 percent and his quarterback rating drops 42 points when he's blitzed.
The Saints are banged up, especially on the defensive end, while Dallas gets DeMarcus Ware back. I think this is the week Tony Romo takes down one of the NFC's best teams and the Cowboys officially arrive as a serious contender in the NFC.
Dallas 31, New Orleans 28