Cowboys and Saints collide in an effort to stop mid-season slippage

New Orleans – The New Orleans Saints have lost four goals in a row for the first time since 2015 and the Dallas Cowboys have had one better win over their past four games.

Those simultaneous segments set up a pivotal NFC clash at the Superdome Thursday night when Dallas (7-4) visited New Orleans (5-6).

Complicating matters for the Cowboys is the absence of at least six coaches – including head coach Mike McCarthy – and at least two players due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rookie cornerback Nahshon Wright and right tackle Terrence Steele are the two outside players. McCarthy tested positive on Monday and was participating in virtual meetings.

“One thing about Zoom meetings, especially after we had them last year, is that our operation is much better in the virtual environment than it was last year,” McCarthy said. “I am confident in the way the information is distributed and the ability of the trainers who are there” in the training and meetings.

‘It’s like nothing; We’re far enough into this that everyone understands what we need to get done,” McCarthy continued. I feel good about the prep. I think with all the change that’s going on around us, it’s making our team’s focus tighter.

The Saints faced a similar challenge in week two, heading to Carolina without eight assistant coaches. This match did not go well with New Orleans. The 26-7 defeat was the second most lopsided loss of the season.

However, the worst loss of their previous game came on Thanksgiving night – a 31-6 loss by the Buffalo Bills in which coach Sean Payton said he would need to take a look at everything his team is doing and who is doing it.

One big change could come in the quarterback. Trevor Simian has lost all four of his starts since helping the Saints overtake Tampa Bay in a game that saw James Winston pick up a knee injury at the end of the season.

But now it looks like Taysom Hill’s recovery from a partial rupture of the plantar fascia is far enough that he can either start or play important midfield shots.

Although Hill went 3-1 as a starter last season while Drew Brees was injured, he has not yet been the Saints’ primary quarterback this season, instead playing as a threat to read option or as a receiver. His foot injury occurred while picking up in Tennessee, as did his concussion in Washington earlier this season.

So Hill’s first chance to serve as QB No. 1 could come at a time when New Orleans is trying to emerge from its mid-season coma.

“There is nothing quite like midfield in this league and it definitely takes an extra amount of energy and responsibility,” Hill said. “You have a greater ability to influence the outcome of the match.”

Lawrence’s Return

The end of the Dallas defense, DeMarcus Lawrence is set to return for the first time since he broke his foot in practice in the week following the opener. The highest paid passer in the club is looking for his first red card, making up for lost time. He’s almost guaranteed a third year in a row without hitting 10 sacks after consecutive double-digit years earned him a $105 million contract.

‘He’s still our leader,’ said Trevon Diggs, the NFL’s eight-person interception captain. “I’m back, nothing has changed, our captain is still there, he’s still candid, he’s still making sure everyone does what they’re supposed to be doing there.”

encouraging signs

During their losing streak, the Saints have been playing without a slew of injured key players – with no absence more conspicuous than that of their top attacking player, versatile linebacker Alvin Kamara. He has missed three matches, but is back in training on a limited basis this week. Teammate back-to-back Mark Ingram, who also missed last week’s game, is back in training, starting Ryan Ramsic’s correct tackle for two practices before sitting out on Tuesday.

“It’s good for the guys to be healthy, because we need all hands on deck,” Ingram said.

However, defensive end and sacking leader Marcus Davenport (shoulder) did not train this week.

moving target

Dallas quarterback Dac Prescott’s hopping could pose a problem for the Saints, who have struggled in back-to-back games to contain two accomplished players. Galen Hurts of Philadelphia rushed for 69 yards against New Orleans and Josh Allen 43 of Buffalo.

“The quarterbacks might not move around a lot all season until they play with us, you know, and then they run all over,” said Karl Granderson, the defensive end of the captain. “So I think that’s going to be the thing for the rest of the year: every time we play back players on mobile, just to contain them.”

Elliot Health

McCarthy hinted that the Cowboys might rest Ezekiel Elliott with the return of the star, who is having increasing difficulty turning around on his injured right knee. But owner/general manager Jerry Jones said on his radio show that he expects Elliott to have “a serious burden against New Orleans.”

Elliott has matched his run-down career in each of the past two weeks with a score of nine. It’s the first time in his six-year career for a two-time Rush Champion that he’s been playing back-to-back games with fewer than 10 campaigns. He has only missed one game in his career due to injury.

“No one crossed my mind,” Elliott said Sunday of his suggestion to sit down for a game. “If they bring it up to me, I have to go with what they think is best for the team.”

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Schuyler Dixon contributed AP Pro football writer to Dallas.

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