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UP NEXT: Can Saints Avoid Getting Upset by the Red-Hot Dallas Cowboys in the “Big D”?

The New Orleans Saints know a thing or two about being “red hot”; as they have been the very definition of that phrase this season during their current NFL season-best winning streak; which has reached 10 straight in a row following yesterday’s 31-17 Thanksgiving Night win that gave them a season-sweep over their NFC South arch-rivals, the Atlanta Falcons.

But no other team in the NFL besides New Orleans might be as “hot” right now as the (6-5) Dallas Cowboys, who lead the NFC East and have won 3 straight games in a row behind their trio of young offensive “superstars” (QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliot, and WR Amari Cooper) and a surprisingly-but-much-improved defensive unit.

And one could likely surmise that from as well as they appear to be playing on both sides of the ball at the moment, that it’s Dallas who could be a team that’s more than capable of pulling off an “upset” of the (10-1) Saints and breaking that 10-game winning streak.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Yesterday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (suburban Dallas), Texas, the Cowboys hung on at the end to beat their arch-rivals the Washington Redskins by a score of 31-23 win, and pulled even with them record-wise but took over the lead atop the NFC East because of the tie-breaker advantage that Dallas has over Washington at the moment.

Without question, the main reason for the Cowboys’ sudden resurgence after a slow (3-5) start was their decision to give up a first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders a few weeks back before the NFL trade deadline, for former University of Alabama All-American WR Amari Cooper — who has completely come in and changed the identity of the Cowboys offense.

Yesterday Cooper’s breath-taking athleticism was on full display with the Cowboys’ entire 2018 season essentially “on the line”; and he single-handedly willed the Cowboys to a crucial win in their traditional Thanksgiving Day appearance.

With Dallas trailing 13-10 midway through the 3rd quarter, the 3rd year veteran scored twice within a span of a few minutes on a pair of long touchdown receptions on back-to-back consecutive drives. 

Photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News

The first touchdown that he scored on — a 40-yard catch and run — put the Cowboys ahead by a score of 17-13. Then on the Cowboys’ very next series, Cooper broke loose from a Redskins defensive back and galloped 90 yards for the touchdown to put Dallas ahead 24-13; and they basically “coasted” the rest of the way for the win as their defense held the Washington offense and back-up QB Colt McCoy at bay.

The Redskins managed a couple of late garbage-time scores, but by that point it was too late.

Cooper finished the game with 8 receptions (on 9 targets) for 180 yards and 2 TD’s and an impressive 22.5 yards per catch average. His insertion into the line-up has done wonders for Prescott, the 3rd year Dallas QB who at times has notably struggled at guiding the Cowboys offense.

But yesterday Prescott had another solid performance, as he went 22 of 31 for 289 yards, two touchdowns, no picks, and a 121.6 passer rating.

And while he didn’t exactly “set the world on fire”, he still managed to get the job done.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

He wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he was still good enough to lead the team to a much-needed win, especially with his noticeable poise that he displayed late in the game.

But the Cowboys won’t kid themselves: their “turnaround” happened because they finally got what their team was missing the most above all else: a #1 WR for Dak and their offense. 

As noted by CBS Sports.com NFL writer Sean Wagner-McGough: Cooper’s biggest impact has been that his mere presence allows the Cowboys to spread out their offense, to modernize their personnel groupings, to create more space for 3rd year superstar RB Ezekiel Elliott, and gives Prescott an explosive downfield target.

It’s definitely served as a huge boost for Elliot and the Dallas running game; as the former Ohio State University star has tallied 500 yards from scrimmage in the Cowboys’ current 3-game winning streak.

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post

Yesterday, Elliot had 143 yards on 31 touches and a touchdown, and continually ” bashed and gashed” Redskins defenders with his powerful running style.

Elliot scored his touchdown on the opening series of the game; and just one year after he famously jumped into a giant-sized Salvation Army kettle that sits in the end zone as a stadium prop, Elliott this time around made a $21 donation to the charity foundation (as a joke) to celebrate his score.

Over his past four games, Elliot has put up 643 yards of total offense; and with the lone exception of Rams RB Todd Gurley a few weeks back and Steelers RB James Conner in a few weeks from now, Elliot might be the most dangerous dual-threat running back as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, that the Saints will face for the remainder of this season.

However, for all of the Cowboys’ recent success on the offensive side of the football, it’s been the Dallas defense that’s actually been the impetus for their team’s sudden regeneration and rise back towards the top of their weak division.

Photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News

Yesterday the Cowboys defense — which entered the game with just four interceptions — picked off McCoy 3 different times and also limited Washington (and former Vikings and Saints) running back Adrian Peterson to 35 yards; while and generating a consistent pass rush against McCoy that clearly affected the game’s final outcome.

Much like the Saints defense has shown great improvement as the season has gone on, so too has the Cowboys defense.

They were solid in wins over both Philadelphia and Atlanta within the last two weeks; and without question rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is going to be a future star in this league, if he isn’t considered to be a current one already.

Vander Esch, who starred at Boise State University, is the heir apparent to be the team’s defensive leader someday; and paired with former University of Notre Dame All-American and fellow 2nd year linebacker Jaylon Smith certainly look to be one of the more outstanding and young “up and coming” linebacker duos in the entire NFL.

Throw in an improved pass rush led by defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory and improved secondary play particularly from safeties Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath, and it’s fairly evident that the Cowboys defense is starting to show dramatic signs of improvement from over a year ago.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Bottom line: this is a DANGEROUS Dallas team, and one that the Saints can ill-afford to look past.

There’s also the chance that the Saints could end up facing the Cowboys again in the Playoffs, which could possibly be a factor in how the Saints ultimately decide how to plan for next week’s contest.

In any event. the Cowboys are “red hot” right now and facing them could prove to be a difficult challenge for a Saints team that will be looking to win their 11th straight game in a row — and the same team that will be hoping to avoid being upset in “The Big D”….

 

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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