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Saints vs. Cowboys: Catching Up With New Orleans

Are you kidding? I have to <em>work</em> on Thanksgiving?
Are you kidding? I have to work on Thanksgiving?

So, what have the World Champions been up to this year? The New Orleans Saints ride into Dallas on Thursday for the Cowboys annual Turkey Day game. You just might remember, the Saints won the Super bowl last year, with our old friend Sean Payton at the helm. How have the 2010 Saints compared to that 2009 team? Well, they had a little bit of a hangover during the beginning of the season - nothing like the Cowboys 'drive yourself off a cliff' disaster - but at one time were struggling to get it all going like it was 2009 all over again.

The Saints think, and others who follow them agree, that they are looking more and more like the team that won it all last year. After starting the year 4-3, they've reeled off three straight wins. They've been dealing with some injury issues, especially at running back and in the secondary, but that's getting better. And Drew Brees and the offense are putting up points, while the defense has clamped down.

Let's take a look around to get a feel for the Saints. Of course, your first stop should be Canal Street Chronicles, SB Nation's blog about all things Saints.

New Orleans is getting healthy just in time to play Dallas. Just our luck.

The Saints are hoping [Reggie] Bush returns Thursday after he sat out his eighth straight game Sunday with a broken bone in his right leg. Bush worked out on the field before the Seattle game, but New Orleans decided to make him a late scratch. The Saints could also have safeties Malcolm Jenkins (neck) and Darren Sharper (hamstring) along with tight end Jeremy Shockey (rib) back for this game.

That is a boatload of good players that are likely to be back on the field. Some of it on offense, where New Orleans has rebounded to look like the 2009 Saints.

It's likely the Saints' offense won't mind getting right back on the field. The unit posted a season-best 494 yards Sunday. Brees became the Saints' franchise leader in career completions during a 29-of-43 effort for 382 yards and four touchdowns. He extend another franchise record — career 300-yard passing games — with his 35th such effort. Even without stars Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, the Saints have scored 34 points in back-to-back games.

That's all true, but the Seattle defense (their last opponent) is junk this year, and before that they took on the 'worse than the Cowboys' Carolina Panthers. Still, it's impressive, and doing it without injured stars makes it even more so. There's no denying they're a potent offensive team, and Drew Brees is one of the elite.

But the defense has really stepped up over the last month or so.

Overlooked in the midst of an offense that's now alternating between clutch and spectacular is a defense that has given up two touchdowns during the three-game winning streak. While the offense was lamenting the points it left on the field Sunday, the defense could smile at having allowed the Seahawks to their 25 or closer four times in the first half and gave up just one touchdown and three field goals -- and, in the second half, forced fumbles twice in Saints territory.

The Cowboys are going to need touchdowns, not field goals, in the redzone to win on Thursday. That's where Dez Bryant comes into the picture. He's either going to be scoring those touchdowns, or drawing attention so guys like Miles Austin (3 TDs in 2 games) can put six on the board. The redzone woes of the Cowboys recent past will have to be absent this week.

One area we might be able to exploit? Special teams. We already know that Dez Bryant and Bryan McCann can make the explosive play. So you have that, plus, the Saints are having long-snapper issues.

Scrambling since the abrupt loss of their long snapper to injury last week, the Saints late Monday signed Justin Drescher to a deal to handle the job, according to a league source... The Saints used Jake Ingram as their long snapper Sunday, and the kicking game was an adventure. A bad snap on an extra point forced Chase Daniel to try to run the ball in, and kicker Garrett Hartley missed his only field goal attempt, a 27-yarder in the fourth quarter. On that play, however, Coach Sean Payton said the snap and the hold were clean.

Perhaps a blocked punt, or botched FG will help our cause.

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