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Cowboys news: Can rebounding Cowboys stop high-powered Saints offense?

It’s another big test for Dallas, with both them and New Orleans having win streaks on the line.

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Dallas Cowboys v New Orleans Saints
Yeah, he’s coming.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

3 bold predictions for Cowboys-Saints, including another big game for QB Dak Prescott - John Owning, SportsDay
Beating New Orleans is a huge task. But there are some things about the Saints the Cowboys can attack.

The Saints haven't scored less than 30 since Week 7 against the Baltimore Ravens and have only been held under 30 points twice this entire season. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have only scored 30 twice this season. Therefore, even if the Cowboys defense plays well and holds the Saints offense under 30 points, Dallas' offense will still likely need to score 25-plus points to get the victory.

While the running game will likely be the focal point of the Cowboys offense in hopes of slowing down the game and keeping the Saints offense off the field, Prescott will need to make some big plays in the passing game to keep the Saints defense honest. Otherwise, the Saints, who have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, will be able to stack the box and bottle of Ezekiel Elliott without penalty.

Luckily for Prescott, this Saints defense can be had through the air, as it ranks 30th in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) to opposing teams' No. 1 wide receiver and 32nd in DVOA to No. 2 WRs, per Football Outsiders. Furthermore, the Saints rank 29th in DVOA against deep pass (passes that travel 16-or-more yards in the air).

How can the Cowboys attack the Saints’ defense? – Marcus Mosher, The Athletic
More ways for the Cowboys to skin that cat.

If Dallas is going to convert a lot of third downs in this game, they will need Beasley to do some of the heavy lifting in a favorable matchup. Beasley has 11 third-down conversions this season, second-most only behind Ezekiel Elliott. With Cooper and Gallup likely drawing the tougher matchups, expect this to be a Beasley-heavy matchup on Thursday.

The Cowboys may also attempt to get Ezekiel Elliott more involved in the passing game. Since Cooper was traded to Dallas, Elliott has 22 pass receptions in his last four games. The Cowboys seem to have finally figured out how to use their gifted runner in the passing game to complement their rushing attack. If Dallas can’t find a way to rush the ball successfully against New Orleans, expect Scott Linehan to use Elliott more as a swing receiver.

First-and-10: Saints offensive line proving to be better than Cowboys - Josh Katzenstein,
The Cowboys are founded on having a dominant offensive line. This season, the Saints may not only have caught up, but may have passed them as injuries have plagued Dallas.

I think the Cowboys in some ways laid the foundation for how to build a line as they spent first-round picks in 2011, 2013 and 2014 on linemen (Smith, Frederick and Martin), but New Orleans has been building its current group for several years.

The Saints feature two first-round picks (Andrus Peat in 2015 and Ryan Ramczyk in 2017) and a highly paid free agent in (Larry) Warford. They also made Max Unger their key target in the Jimmy Graham trade in 2015 and were fortunate to take Terron Armstead in the third round in 2013.

“Listen, that blueprint, I think has existed for a long time,” coach Sean Payton said. “I was taught as a young coach in this league that that position group permeates throughout your locker room and your team. And, you draft to it, you sign to it and we’ve been fortunate over the years to have some really good offensive lines, and I just think it’s critical to everything you’re trying to accomplish.”

For a final similarity with the groups, I asked Warford what he remembered from watching the 2016 Cowboys group.

“They look so in sync and so coached up to a T where their footwork directly mirrors each other,” he said. “It’s perfect. You can tell that they trust each other. Nobody is … going rogue.”

Then, I asked him what he expects someone to say about this Saints O-line two years from now.

“In the same way I was saying that Dallas trusts each other, the chemistry between us is second to none, I think,” Warford said. “I think that we’re to a point where we hold each other accountable and anybody can demand something more from another player without taking it personal. I just think that chemistry is outrageous.”

The Cowboys defense and Colts offense appear on their way to being elite – Ted Nguyen, The Athletic
So with the high-powered Saints offense coming to town, it would be nice to have a similarly effective defense to face it. Maybe Dallas does.

Michael Irvin’s rant about the Cowboys being back may have come a game too late. He made his impassioned speech right before the Cowboys lost to the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football. Since then, the Cowboys have won three straight games. The offense has played better with the trade for Amari Cooper, who’s been a spark plug for the unit, and a greater focus on getting their best player, Ezekiel Elliott, the ball. But quietly the Dallas defense has kept this team afloat and is a big reason why the Cowboys are back in the playoff hunt.

The Cowboys are fourth in the league in points allowed per game (19.4). They are fifth in rushing yards per game (93.6). They are sixth in sack percentage (7.81 percent). In their three-game win streak, they are averaging (1.6) takeaways per game, which would tie them for eighth in the league.

The secret to their success is they are playing fundamentally and assignment sound football. Each player is doing his job and they aren’t beating themselves, which is allowing their talent to shine through. Their run defense is legit; it’s not like they are playing with huge leads and forcing opponents to abandon the run. Opponents are running the ball an average of 24.6 times per game (16th in the NFL) yet the Cowboys are giving up only 3.7 yards per rushing attempt (fifth in the NFL).

The dynamic duo of Jaylon Smith and this year’s first-round draft pick, Leighton Vander Esch, looks like one of the most athletic linebacking corps in the NFL. Smith is starting to look like the top-five pick he was projected to be before his nerve injury.

Sean Lee impressed with Leighton Vander Esch - Clarence Hill Jr., Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Sitting out can be frustrating to some NFL players, especially if their replacements do well. But that is not how Sean Lee is made up.

“It’s great. It’s fun to watch. It motivates me to get back because I want to be a part of such a great group, not only as a defense but the linebacker group, just playing the way they are,” he said. “That is a dream for me to be able to play in a group like this. I have worked this for a lot of years. So being able to be part of this something I want, especially with the opportunity to go the playoffs and hopefully beyond. Seeing this group come into their own and make plays is exciting and something I want to get back to and try to help them.”

Again, Lee is targeting the Eagles game on Dec. 9 after the Cowboys get a 10-day break following Thursday’s matchup against the New Orleans Saints. His goal is not to just get on the field, but to stay on the field. He missed three games earlier the season with a hamstring injury, returned to play two before re-aggravating the injury against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 5, which forced him to miss the past three games.

Amari Cooper named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after dominating Thanksgiving performance - R.J. Ochoa, Blogging The Boys
So, is this good?

The Cowboys traded a first-round pick in order to acquire Cooper just over a month ago, and on turkey day they cashed in big for the first time when he caught eight passes to the tune of 180 yards and two touchdowns. If you thought that sounded ridiculously impressive then you were right, so much so that Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 12.

This marks twice in three weeks that Cowboys players were designated with this honor as rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch earned it on the other side of the ball two weeks prior when the Cowboys took down the Philadelphia Eagles. Those are the current and next first-round picks at work for Dallas, it seems like they’re doing alright.

Cowboys using Amari Cooper, unlike the Raiders - Kimberly A. Martin, Yahoo Sports
We have been talking a lot about how Amari Cooper has helped the Cowboys. And according to him, the trade turned out to be really positive change for him, and not just in his stats.

“I wasn’t really happy in Oakland or anything like that. But when I sat and thought about it [Monday] night … ” Cooper said with a chuckle, as if still in disbelief all these weeks later, “I thought about the fact that they traded me away. I don’t know how to feel about it.”

He finished with career-lows in catches (48) and yards (680) in 2017, his third NFL season. But new Raiders coach Jon Gruden insisted in February that Cooper would be “the focal point of our offense” this season. And when rumors began swirling last month about Cooper being on the trading block, Gruden — the man given a 10-year, $100 million contract after almost a decade in the broadcast booth — said the Raiders weren’t shopping him.

A week later, the 24-year-old receiver was shipped to Dallas.

Since then, Cooper has emerged as a go-to playmaker in the Cowboys’ offense, a reliable third-down target for quarterback Dak Prescott, and a much-needed weapon alongside running back Ezekiel Elliott.

“Just reflecting on my last four games here and my personality here, I feel like it did change me, as far as having that chip on my shoulder,” Cooper said, five days after his dominant Thanksgiving Day performance against the Washington Redskins (eight catches, on nine targets, for 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns) helped seal the Cowboys’ 31-23 victory. “Not that I wasn’t passionate before, but playing with more passion, trying to intentionally have fun out there. It definitely has changed me, in terms of me going out there and just having fun with it."

Cowboys have a tough decision to make when it comes to WR Cole Beasley - Jon Machota, SportsDay
From a mailbag session, a problem facing the Cowboys in the future (but really, a nice one to have).

Will Dallas pay the top slot WR money Cole Beasley wants to keep him around? They already showed willingness toward other guys when they drafter Switzer.

Machota: I think it's going to be tough to pay Cole Beasley elite slot receiver money while also trying to give contract extensions to DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones. The Cowboys have a lot of cap space beginning next season, but they still will have to be careful how they spend. There's no question they'd prefer to keep Beasley, but it's going to be difficult to keep everyone.

5 possible landing spots for Ex-Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury: Could a reunion with Patrick Mahomes be in play? - Selby Lopez, SportsDay
Every known name is linked to the Cowboys when they become available, whether it is a player or coach. But in the case of recently dismissed Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, it actually makes sense.

Although the NFL has become more of a college-offense type of league, the Cowboys rank 25th in total offense, averaging 334 yards per game.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett both came under fire after the Cowboys' 3-5 start capped off by a 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 5.

Although criticisms have calmed some after a three-game win streak, it's clear that Linehan's offense is outdated and doesn't work in today's NFL.

Kingsbury may be exactly what the Cowboys need to get Dak Prescott and this struggling offense on the right track. The question is if Kingsbury is willing to take on that challenge.

If he can somehow work his quarterback magic with Prescott, who ranks 31st among NFL quarterbacks with an average of 220.6 yards per game, Kingsbury will prove himself as one of the best offensive minds at all levels of football and potentially put himself back in the head coaching discussion.

Check out our video preview for the game as well!

Agent's Take: Cowboys likely to go on spending spree during 2019 NFL offseason - Joel Corry,
Owner Jerry Jones has exercised restraint the last few years, but that will change in the offseason, Corry explains.

Jones announced his intention to give quarterback Dak Prescott a new deal hours after a home loss to the Titans on "Monday Night Football'' earlier this month. The 2016 fourth-round pick becomes eligible for a contract extension once the regular season ends on December 30. Signing wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was acquired from the Raiders for a 2019 first-round pick as the late October trading deadline approached, to a new contract reportedly is an offseason priority. Pro Bowl defensive end Demarcus Lawrence also has an expiring contract.

The increased spending will be both by choice and out of necessity. The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) requires each team to spend 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over the four year period of 2017 through 2020. The Cowboys rank 31st in the NFL in spending during the 2017 and 2018 league years at just under $293.5 million according to NFLPA data. The $293.5 million has Dallas below the 89 percent threshold. Spending is 85.3 percent as the halfway mark of the period approaches. The league wide average for team spending in this period is close to 20 percent higher at nearly $350 million.

Dallas doesn't run the risk of getting back into salary cap hell like in the early part of the decade and the late 1990s with a massive spending spree in the offseason. There are just under $74.5 million of cap commitments in 2020. Only two teams, the Bills and Jets, currently have fewer 2020 cap obligations. Even if the cap starts becoming tight, the Cowboys have consistently been willing to aggressively manage the cap where multiple contracts are restructured to free up space.

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