Coming off a tough loss, the Dallas Cowboys (7-4) look to stop their skid against the New Orleans Saints (5-6). Before the two teams square off in New Orleans on Thursday, here are three bold predictions for the prime-time matchup.
1) Cowboys force two turnovers on defense
For the Cowboys to get back to their winning ways, they need their defense to start taking away the football again. In the first six games of the season, the Dallas defense took the ball away a league-high 13 times. Not coincidentally, the Cowboys were 5-1 during that stretch.
In their last five games where the Cowboys have gone 2-3, they’ve managed to force just five turnovers. In fact, two of their worst defensive performances of the season, against Denver and Las Vegas, came in games where their defense was not able to force a single turnover.
For the Cowboys defense to be successful, it’s pretty clear they need to take the football away from the opposing offense. Lucky for them, they should be able to do that this Thursday against the New Orleans Saints.
During their four-game losing streak, the Saints offense has really struggled to take care of the football. New Orleans has turned the ball over six times during this four-game stretch, which has been a big reason why they haven’t been able to win games. On the season, New Orleans is 3-0 when they don’t turn the ball over and 2-6 when they do.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, New Orleans is leaning towards starting Taysom Hill at quarterback this week over veteran Trevor Siemian. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the Cowboys should be able to force either of these sub-par signal-callers into some turnovers.
The Dallas defense gets themselves back on track after a rough Thanksgiving, forcing two turnovers and paving the way for the offense to put some points on the board.
2) Ezekiel Elliott rushes the ball less than 10 times
Two weeks ago, Ezekiel Elliott had recorded less than ten rushes in a game just once In his six-year NFL career. Today, that number has increased by two, as Elliott rushed the ball just nine times in each of the Cowboys’ last two games.
It’s been tough sledding for Elliott after a dominant start to the season. Since Week 8, Elliott has failed to record over 51 rushing yards in a game. The 26-year-old has averaged just 3.2 Y/A over the last five games and has seen his EPA on the season drop to -1.4, according to Player Profiler.
Outside of the overall struggles the Cowboys are having trying to generate any traction running the football, Elliott has been dealing with a nagging knee injury that has clearly affected his explosiveness. He’s a warrior, so he has been trying to gut it out, but It’s pretty clear by watching him on the field he is not close to 100%.
On 105.3 The FAN this morning, Jerry Jones said that Elliott will see a “serious load” of snaps and touches this week against New Orleans.
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott is expected to see a “serious load” of snaps and touches Thursday vs. Saints, team owner Jerry Jones said on @1053thefan. Elliott has dealt with occasional knee stiffness since Week 4. Was a full participant in practice Monday.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) November 30, 2021
I’m not buying it. If the Cowboys want to go deep into the postseason, they are going to need a healthy Elliott down the stretch. It’s clear to anyone that could use some rest, and contrary to Jerry’s comments they are going to give it to him this week.
The only reason I can think of why the Cowboys will give Zeke a big workload is if Tony Pollard can't go.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 30, 2021
Otherwise, this makes no sense. https://t.co/uYkTgewVw0
Elliott will play in the game, but he won’t be the featured back. Tony Pollard will take over duties as RB1 and get most of the carries. This is a game I don’t see the Cowboys running the ball in much anyway, as New Orleans is the second-highest graded rush defense in football according to Pro Football Focus, but when they do, Pollard will get most of the carries.
3) DeMarcus Lawrence announces his return in a big way, recording a game-changing strip-sack
After missing 10 games due to injury, the Cowboys will finally get DeMarcus Lawrence back on Thursday.
Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence “has had a good week. You’ll see him this week in New Orleans,” team owner Jerry Jones said on @1053thefan. Lawrence has missed past 10 games to foot fracture.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) November 30, 2021
Lawrence’s return could not have come at a better time, as the Cowboys desperately need some help rushing the passer. The 29-year-old is the clear leader of this defense, and he’s going to announce his return in a big way on Thursday.
Lawrence will make the play of the game midway through the fourth quarter, sacking Taysom Hill and forcing a fumble, leading to the Cowboys punching in the game-sealing touchdown.