The Dallas Cowboys fell short of making a statement five weeks ago when they fell to the Denver Broncos 51-48. They'll have a new opportunity to do so Sunday night when they play the 6-2 New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.
Dallas has been stereotypically inconsistent all season, but the Cowboys have quietly won three of their last four in rather unimpressive fashion. Now, as they try to maintain their small edge on the Philadelphia Eagles in the wide-open NFC East, a win over the Saints wouldn't only send a message but might also be necessary.
Here's our final preview of the prime-time matchup from the Cowboys' perspective, along with a prediction.
What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition
Establish the run. DeMarco Murray went for 27 yards on a first-series run last week and then got three handoffs the rest of the game. That's unacceptable. Tony Romo and the passing game can't function properly if they don't remain balanced. The New Orleans defense has been good this season, but it has given up 4.9 yards per rushing attempt.
What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition
Get natural pressure on Drew Brees. The Cowboys can't afford to blitz a lot. They'll be burned, especially with such a depleted secondary. They have to remain conservative while hoping that DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, George Selvie and Co. can get some natural pressure on Brees.
Five most important non-quarterbacks
DeMarcus Ware: They need him to be explosive in his return. It might be too much to ask, but that's why they're underdogs.
Pro Football Focus
Terrance Williams: Dez Bryant isn't 100 percent and Miles Austin hasn't been reliable. The rookie Williams could be the wild card for Romo.
DeMarco Murray: Again, they have to keep that D guessing. The Dallas offense isn't at its best unless Murray is rolling.
Injury analysis, Cowboys edition
Young but key defensive backs Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox remain out, which could make things extra difficult against a very good quarterback and receiving corps. Austin's doubtful with a hamstring injury, but Cole Beasley isn't a half-bad replacement. And Hatcher is questionable with a neck injury, which could put even more pressure on Ware in his first game back. It's not pretty.
Oh, and Bryant's having back issues but is expected to play, per Todd Archer of ESPN.
Who will win Sunday?
Injury analysis, Saints edition
Marques Colston (knee), Jahri Evans (hip), Jimmy Graham (elbow, foot), Roman Harper (knee), David Hawthorne (toe), Malcolm Jenkins (knee), Cameron Jordan (ankle) and Curtis Lofton (hamstring, ankle) are all questionable.
They're banged up on both sides of the ball, which could explain why some shine has come off after that hot start. This is a team the Cowboys can beat right now, even on the road.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Saints 37, Cowboys 31
I feel like this one's gonna be wild. Romo and the Cowboys know that Rob Ryan defense, and the Saints are coming back to earth a little. Still, the Cowboys have been inconsistent, and this is a tough prime-time road game. It could go either way, but I can't pick Dallas.