What We Saw: Cowboys at Saints

An inspired Cowboys defense showed its worth for stand-in Head Coach Dan Quinn on an important night for the NFC playoff picture.

Cowboys @ Saints

Final Score: Cowboys 27, Saints 17

Writer: Benjamin Haller (@benjaminhaller1 on Twitter)

 

Two teams on a downward trajectory aimed to reignite their playoff push in a crucial NFC Thursday Night Football clash in New Orleans. The Saints handed a first start of the season at quarterback to Taysom Hill but was once again lamenting the absence of star running back Alvin Kamara. Cowboys signal-caller Dak Prescott welcomed back Amari Cooper from the COVID-IR to finally have a full complement of receivers and running backs at his disposal after a rough couple of weeks for this offense. There were notable coaching absences on Dallas’ sideline due to COVID protocols, including Mick McCarthy, who handed Head Coach duties to Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn.

An unwatchable first quarter surely had a lot of neutrals reaching to change the channel before the game finally sprung into life as Prescott connected with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb for big gains before finding Michael Gallup in the back corner of the end zone to open the scoring. Gallup reaching up and over Bradley Roby before keeping both feet inbounds for a spectacular grab for the touchdown.

 

Hill answered back immediately with his own impressive 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, finished off by the emerging Lil’Jordan Humphrey for a 24-yard score. Game on! And just when the Saints were rolling deep in Cowboys territory late in the first half, safety Jayron Kearse came up with a sensational interception grab to take points off the board for New Orleans.

 

Prescott took the Cowboys down the field to put them into field goal range before Greg Zuerlein gave them a narrow 13-7 lead going into the half.

The second half saw the Saints commit to using Hill in the run game more – the quarterback carrying the ball four times for 42 yards on their opening drive after the break before the drive stalled with three straight incompletions. Hill was struggling with a finger injury sustained in the first half and it became quickly evident that it was affecting his throws.Β  Four straight punts were followed by three straight interceptions, the final one resulting in a pick six that gave the Cowboys an unassailable 27-10 lead with less than three minutes in the game.

 

Prescott was also less than impressive after the break, throwing a terrible interception to Marshon Lattimore as the Cowboys punted on 5-of-6 drives. The only positive was an electrifying 58-yard touchdown run by Tony PollardΒ that gave Dallas some breathing room.

Deonte Harris exploded for a late score but it was too little too late for the Saints, who slump to yet another defeat. Their playoff hopes are diminishing fast. The Cowboys come away victorious thanks to a sterling defensive effort with Micah Parsons balling out once again. Questions remain about this Dallas offense but at 8-4, they are positioned nicely for the run in.

 

Dallas Cowboys

 

Quarterback

 

Dak Prescott: 26/40, 238 yards, TD, INT, Sack | 3 carries, -3 yards

 

After flashing signs of the Dak Prescott that dominated at the start of the season, the Cowboys quarterback continued his disappointing and erratic performances with this unconvincing showing against the Saints. It looked like he had something going early with an impressive 6-play, 80-yard touchdown drive where he targeted his two main receivers, CeeDee Lamb and the returning Amari Cooper.

 

Dak completing this perfect back shoulder fade for Michael Gallup to go up and haul in the score – the placement was perfect in an area where only his receiver could go up and make the play.

 

However, that was about as good as it got through the air for Prescott, who has now been held to under 300 yards in five of the last six games. Up by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, Dak put pressure on his defense once again by throwing a poor interception in the direction of Lamb in his own territory. Lattimore read it all the way and easily stepped in front of Lamb for the takeaway.

 

Luckily, Taysom Hill was even more careless with the football and the Dallas defense saved face. Worrying times for this offense as they approach the business end of the season. With three straight divisional matchups ahead of them, Dak will need a significantly better performance next week at Washington.

 

Running Back

 

Tony Pollard: 7 carries, 71 yards, TD | 4 targets, 2 receptions, 3 yards

Ezekiel Elliot: 13 carries, 45 yards | 3 targets, 2 receptions, 2 yards

 

The Cowboys struggled to run the ball all night with Ekeziel Elliot and Tony Pollard combining for just 58 yards on 19 carries outside of the Pollard 58-yard breakaway for the score. Still, that touchdown run was the difference between these two teams at the end of the day so job done on the ground for this split-backfield.

Pollard showed great awareness and vision in taking the deep toss from Prescott to the house, avoiding pressure early in the backfield behind the line of scrimmage before exploding through a hole and escaping the tackle of P.J. Williams.

 

Ekeziel Elliot hobbled in and out of the huddle all night and looked very limited on the odd occasion he found a bit of space through the line of scrimmage. His troublesome stiff knee was clearly impeding his ability to drive into lanes and despite a late 10-yard run to seal a first down late in the fourth quarter to bring up victory formation, his contribution was irrelevant. That final run was his longest of the night. Yikes.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

CeeDee Lamb: 13 targets, 7 receptions, 89 yards | 1 carry, 33 yards

Dalton Schultz: 5 targets, 5 receptions, 43 yards

Amari Cooper: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 41 yards

Michael Gallup: 9 targets, 5 receptions, 36 yards, TD

Noah Brown: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 14 yards

Malik Turner: 1 target, 1 reception, 10 yards

 

CeeDee Lamb continues his meteoric rise into the top 10 wide receivers in the league after yet another fantastic, energetic and exciting all-round display that catapulted this Cowboys offense to the win mainly thanks to a handful of chunk plays, such as this early catch and run to setup the Gallup touchdown at the end of the first quarter.

 

Lamb caught only 7-of-13 targets but at the same time a handful of those were simply poor throws from Dak that he had no real chance of hauling in. He suffered from his quarterbacks inaccuracy and had to make things happen for himself. This outrageous one-hand grab nearly gave us one of the most spectacular touchdowns of the year but the former first-round selection couldn’t bring his feet down inbounds due to the high throw.

 

Michael Gallup has had a solid return from injury and he showed again today why he shouldn’t be overlooked in favor of Lamb and Amari Cooper. Gallup laid out a number of times for his quarterback, not only on the touchdown pass. This brilliant grab on the sideline on second down and long parades all that Gallup does well – he creates good separation, shows trusty hands, and has the agility to stay in bounds and complete high difficulty catches. An invaluable piece for Dallas in the run home.

 

Amari Cooper, who returned after a terrible time with COVID, saw limited action in this game and was used mainly on third downs in a passing situation. Catching just two passes for 41 yards – with one of those that early 41-yard connection with Prescott, Cooper played just 35% of snaps. However, he did draw a key pass interference call on third down on a drive that led to points for the Cowboys just before the half.

Dalton Schultz failed to find the end zone as the Cowboys struggled to get into the Saints red zone but saw his usual serviceable production with five catches for 43 yards, one of those being a terrific contested catch to move the chains.

 

New Orleans Saints

 

Quarterback

 

Taysom Hill: 19/41, 264 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, 2 sacks | 11 carries, 101 yards

 

From the first drive of the game for the Saints, Taysom Hill was living dangerously, throwing a pass back across his body into coverage in the middle of the field. That throw resulted in a completion to his receiver, however that luck did not last. Hill did draw the Saints level after an impressive Cowboys drive at the end of the third quarter – Hill connected with Juwan Johnson for a big gain down the middle of the field before taking advantage of blown coverage to find Lil’Jordan Humphrey for a 24-yard score.

 

Hill did most of his damage on the ground, and fantasy managers would have benefitted from his 101 yards rushing no matter what else happened through the air. Hill turned on the acrobatics to try and pull the Saints back in the game in the third quarter.

 

However, chemistry with his receivers and ball security were a huge issue. Hill threw four interceptions and failed to find his playmaking receivers regularly – Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway and deep threat Kenny Stills combining for just three catches for 28 yards on 16 targets. Ouch. The killer interception was a tipped ball on first down deep in Dallas territory with the DSaints down by 10 with just over six minutes remaining. It was a drive the Saints needed points from.

 

After the Saints defense got the ball back for him, Hill immediately fed second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs with his ninth interception of a remarkable year.

 

Rookie Micah Parsons also got in on the act as Hill became too predictable with his deep drops.

 

A rough first start of the season for Hill, and it’s tough to see where he came improve quickly enough to save this Saints season.

 

Running Back

 

Mark Ingram II: 10 carries, 28 yards | 2 targets, 1 reception, -2 yards

Ty Montgomery: 4 carries, 21 yards | 7 targets, 4 receptions, 9 yards

 

With Hill taking the reins as the primary runner, this backfield was a complete wash. Mark Ingram II, returning from injury, and veteran journeyman Ty Montgomery ran for just 49 yards on 14 touches at a measly 3.5 yards per carry. Montgomery even failed to make anything out of seven check downs, totally just nine yards. It was a grim watch. The Saints abandoned any type of tactical run game just after the half, allowing Hill to take off whenever he felt he needed to.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Deonte Harris: 8 targets, 4 receptions, 96 yards, TD

Lil’Jordan Humphrey: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 49 yards, TD

Nick Vannett: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 48 yards

Juwan Johnson: 1 target, 1 reception, 27 yards

Tre’Quan Smith: 7 targets, 2 receptions, 15 yards

Marquez Callaway: 4 targets, 1 receptions, 13 yards

Garrett Griffin: 1 target, 1 reception, 9 yards

Kenny Stills: 5 targets

 

With Hill impeded by a finger injury in this game and struggling to find any kind of chemistry with this receiving corps, it took a wonderful bit of individual play to provide the splash the Saints needed to get back into the game. Speedster Deonte Harris, who looks to be facing an imminent three game suspension at the least, took a simple screen pass 70 yards for a crucial score with time running out.

 

The only other notable catch was this grab by former wide receiver-turned tight end Juwan Johnson on Hill’s only passing touchdown drive in the first quarter. Johnson using his huge frame to bring in a high pass and setup the Saints in Dallas territory.

 

Tre’Quan Smith could only pull in two of seven looks from Hill for 15 yards, highlighting just how dysfunctional this passing offense was with Hill at quarterback. Smith has seen over 20 targets in the past four games but his production is nowhere near where you want it to be. Poor quarterback play was the primary reason Smith once again failed to impact the game.

 

Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

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