Head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will attempt to get the Saints back in the win column Sunday night.
The Saints (6-2) lost to the New York Jets on the road a week ago, and the game wasn't nearly as close as the 26-20 score sounded. New York controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, as New Orleans assumed the beta role without much argument.
After a week of strong criticism from both media and fans, the Saints will try to right the ship against the 5-4 Cowboys, who enter the contest having won three of their last four games.
Following last week's highly publicized matchup with brother (Jets head coach) Rex Ryan, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (and his hair) will be front and center again this weekend, as he takes on his former team in the Superdome. Ryan ran the Dallas defense in 2011 and 2012, and it isn't much of a stretch to suggest he'll be pulling out all the stops on Sunday night.
As for more far-reaching prognostications, following are five bold predictions for this Sunday's Saints-Cowboys matchup.
Mark Ingram could play a key role against Dallas.
Saints head coach Sean Payton admitted this week that he needs to run the football more, and he probably wasn't referring to more hand-offs to tight end Josh Hill.
In Mark Ingram's second game back from a lingering toe injury, the Saints will attempt to get him off and running as early as possible.
On the heels of an awful performance at New York, the New Orleans offensive line will be looking to make a statement. The group bore the brunt of the criticism this week, and amends are certainly in order.
The Saints, for all their offensive success in recent years, simply aren't known as a team that can line up and smash opposing defenses with a physical running game. New Orleans drafted Ingram in 2011 with the intentions of improving on this important offensive dimension.
The former Heisman Trophy winner hasn't been able to produce consistently, however, and Sunday presents an opportune time to start.
Saints fans are heavily critical of Ingram, and this is understandable given his draft position. But with improved play from his offensive line, along with a sufficient amount of carries to help him get into a rhythm, this could very well be the game that quells the Mark Ingram criticism in New Orleans.
Drew Brees makes his checks against the Bills.
This prediction goes hand-in-hand with the first.
For Brees, 300-yard passing days are commonplace. Payton's comments this week, however, suggest that the coach will be making a genuine effort to achieve a better pass-run balance.
Against the Jets, the Saints ran 53 pass plays, while running the ball just 13 times. This simply won't get it done on Sunday, as every Saints 3-and-out will place the high-flying Dallas offense back on the field.
Granted, the Saints' difficulties with their ground game won't be resolved simply by calling more running plays. Payton knows this better than anyone, and he won't stand for wasted plays from his offense.
Although the New Orleans offensive line played poorly last Sunday, that doesn't mean it can't improve. In addition to proper technique, effective run-blocking involves intensity and momentum.
Sunday night would be the ideal time for this maligned unit to get angry, line up and fire out on the Dallas Cowboys' defensive front. A formidable running game would not only eat clock and help control the time of possession, but it would also keep the potent Dallas offense on the sidelines.
As for Drew Brees, he'd like nothing better.
Dez Bryant had a career high 224 yards receiving against the Saints last season.
Having worked closely with Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett last season, Rob Ryan is quite familiar with what Dallas will attempt to do offensively. This entails getting the ball to Bryant early and often.
New Orleans' best cornerback is Keenan Lewis, but you won't see him trailing Bryant from one side of the field to the other in blanket man-to-man coverage. Instead, Ryan will most likely utilize a variety of coverages against Bryant, including occasional double-teams.
Bryant will get some touches, but Ryan won't allow him to run unchecked through the New Orleans secondary like he did in last season's Saints-Cowboys contest.
Of course, we are talking Dez Bryant, and these are bold predictions.
Tony Romo pulled out a win against Minnesota last week.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo puts up prolific numbers, and he's done so for the bulk of his career. The one aspect of his game that doesn't stack up against the NFL's elite signal-callers, however, is his ability to close out games at the finish line.
Romo has a reputation for coming up short when the going gets tough. Not only that, but he continually displays an almost comical tendency to single-handedly transform a realistic chance at victory into sudden calamity.
He has a long list of inexplicable last-minute gaffes attached to his name.
Last week's performance, however, suggests that there may be light at the end of the tunnel in regards to Romo's fourth-quarter woes.
He played exceptionally well in the waning moments of last Sunday's 27-23 win over Minnesota and tossed the game-winning touchdown pass with 35 seconds left. With his late-game heroics, Romo may have thrown a huge monkey off his back.
This is certainly not a prediction for a Cowboys' victory against the Saints, but if the game's outcome rests on his throwing arm, look for Romo to further distance himself from his well-earned stigma as a choke artist.
Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton had a subpar game against the Jets.
Dallas only averages 76 yards per game on the ground, so this prediction doesn't appear to be too bold at first glance. When considering the fact that the Jets gashed the Saints for nearly 200 rushing yards last week, though, 70 yards doesn’t seem out of reach for Cowboy running backs DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle.
The Saints' defensive front is capable of much better play, however, than what was demonstrated last week.
Akiem Hicks stood out on the defensive line, but Brodrick Bunkley and Cameron Jordan had uncharacteristically quiet games.
Also, Jets running back Chris Ivory ran through Curtis Lofton's arm tackles on several occasions, which undoubtedly left a sour taste in the Saint linebacker's mouth.
Look for Ryan’s entire unit to raise its level of play, feed off the raucous Superdome crowd, and shut down the Dallas rushing attack.
These five bold predictions probably won't make for wise wagers from a betting standpoint, but several of them could easily come to pass when the Saints and Cowboys hook up in New Orleans.
Either way, Sunday night's clash between these two NFC contenders should make for a hard-hitting, entertaining contest.