Fresh off two straight losses and an absolute brutal week of off the field issues, this game has massive implications for the future of this team. The Cowboys season is by no means over if a loss occurs Sunday, but just imagine the panic and question marks that will consume the facilities if the Cowboys do not find a way to get it done Thursday night.
Beyond the COVID protocols the Cowboys are dealing with heading into this game, the players on the field who will be available to help on Thursday night are about as good as the Cowboys have seen all season. Amari Cooper has been cleared to play which will allow for the top three wide outs to all be on the field together; the Cowboys are getting all five starting offensive linemen on the field together; and Demarcus Lawrence is back for the first time in over two months. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome to pull out a win in New Orleans this week, but the opportunity is ripe for the taking.
Here are five things to watch this week:
1. Watch for an increased role for Tony Pollard.
Ezekiel Elliott, by all indications, is good to go for Thursday’s game, but that doesn't mean he is healthy and at full strength. Look for the Cowboys to be smart with his work load and maybe even tilting the split of carries in Pollard’s favor for this week. Zeke is supremely talented and a true football player who will look to play at all costs, and that is to be admired and respected, however look for the team to protect him from himself a bit and to pick their spots while using him this week as the head into a 10-day window between then and their next game.
2. How will this offensive line hold up now that all five “starters” are back?
Its hard to believe the Cowboys have not had a complete unit up front since 2019, but the fact remains for the first time since then, the Cowboys will have just that. Nobody at this point in the season is completely healthy so you take that with a grain a salt, but to have all five from left to right, one can assume the offense is going to be able to operate in a much cleaner fashion as a result. Look for the running game to get back on track, and look for Dak to have the ample time needed to make plays down field.
3. With Demarcus Lawrence back in the fold, watch for how Dan Quinn deploys Micah Parsons.
Demarcus Lawrence back in the fold is huge for this Cowboys defense. A player of his caliber back into the mix not only helps the pass rush, but his relentless pursuit and effort in the running game can’t be overstated as well. Matching his tenacity with the likes of Micah Parsons can be a recipe for disaster for the Saints offense that are banged up themselves. Parsons is surely going to see his fair share of pass-rushing opportunities, but just how and when those chances come will be a game within the game. Parsons is a weapon pure and simple, and having Lawrence back to help that is nothing but good things for this team.
4. How will the Cowboys contain Taysom Hill?
By all accounts it is believed that Hill will be the opposing quarterback on Thursday night, and while he is not the most polished passer, he provides a unique challenge for this Cowboys defense. His Swiss army knife style of play where he is able to run and create like a true skill player will test the Cowboys discipline and will force the Cowboys to play a sound football game to defend the playmaker. Attacking Hill and making him uncomfortable while he is being a true passer will be important, but being smart and understanding how he will look to beat you when a play breaks down may be the key to victory.
5. How the Cowboys respond after two straight losses will tell us a lot about the make up of this team.
All year we have heard about the help coming for this team. We have heard about the talent, the skill, and how this team is different than years past. A sound performance out of this team Thursday night will go a long way to proving that. The Cowboys do have guys coming back, they do have a winnable schedule coming up, and everything they want is still very much in front of them, however it all starts with Thursday night in New Orleans and we as a fan base can learn a lot about this team at the conclusion of this weeks game.