Dallas Cowboys (7-4, 4-7 ATS) at New Orleans Saints (5-6, 4-7), 8:20 p.m., TNF
Brolley’s Cowboys Stats and Trends
The Cowboys have covered in six straight games against NFC opponents.
Dallas is 4-1 ATS in its last five road games.
The Cowboys are 4-1 toward unders in their last five games, but they’ve played over the total in four straight Thursday contests.
Ezekiel Elliott has been battling through a knee injury since he showed up on Dallas’ injury report with the issue before Week 10, and the issue came to a head in Week 12. Zeke still came through for fantasy with 9/25/1 rushing and 6/24 receiving on eight targets and a 64% snap share against the Raiders, but he’s averaging just 3.1 YPC on 32 carries and 5.0 YPR on 15 catches over his last three games. Meanwhile, Tony Pollard sparked the Cowboys with a kick-return TD in Week 12, and he’s averaging 4.6 YPC on 28 carries and 9.0 YPR on 12 catches over the same three-week span. Pollard has objectively been the more dynamic playmaker for this offense for all of 2021. The Saints are giving up the second-fewest rushing yards per game (66.0) and just 3.2 YPC to RBs this season.
Dak Prescott bounced back from his worst performance of the season against the Chiefs in Week 11 (5.6 FP) by completing 32/47 passes for 375 yards (8.0 YPA) and two TDs without his top two WRs. He’s now reached 39+ pass attempts in four of his last five games after finishing at 32 attempts or fewer in four straight games before that in Week 2-5. The Saints have given up 28+ FP to QBs in four of their last five games (Allen, Hurts, Ryan, Brady).
CeeDee Lamb is expected to return to the lineup this week after missing the last six quarters with a concussion. He ran 70% of his routes from the slot in Week 10 with Dallas’ full cast at WR after running 20% of his routes from inside in Weeks 2-9 with Michael Gallup out of the lineup. Both Amari Cooper (COVID) and Cedrick Wilson (ankle) are trending toward missing this week, which would likely keep Lamb inside with Noah Brown being elevated to the #3 WR role on the perimeter. Cole Beasley (5/46 receiving), Russell Gage (7/64), and Chris Godwin (8/140/1) have had success in this matchup in recent weeks.
Amari Cooper is eligible to return this week after a two-week absence with COVID, but he could miss this week or he could be on a snap count since he’s still dealing with symptoms. Coop caught all four of his targets for 51 yards against the Chiefs the last time he played in Week 10, which was the first game since the season opener with all three of Dallas’ top three receivers on the field. He posted 5/48 receiving on eight targets in his last matchup against Marson Lattimore and the Saints back in 2019.
Michael Gallup has seen a combined 18 targets the last two weeks with Lamb and Cooper out of the lineup, catching five passes in each game for a combined 150 yards. He managed 3/42 receiving on five targets in his lone game with a full cast at WR since his return from a calf injury, but he played just 53% of the snaps in that contest after an eight-week layoff. The Saints are giving up a generous 13.8 YPR to WRs.
Dalton Schultz had his best fantasy showing since Week 4 with 15.6 FP on 3/46/1 receiving on seven targets while adding a two-point conversion against the Raiders. He’s seen 15 targets the last two weeks with the Cowboys undermanned at WR after seeing a combined seven targets in Weeks 9-10. Dawson Knox went for 3/32/2 receiving in this matchup last week.
Brolley’s Saints Stats and Trends
New Orleans is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games against teams with a winning record.
The Saints are 4-1 toward overs in their last five games, but they’re 9-1-1 toward unders in their last 11 Thursday games.
The Saints have lost all four games since they replaced Jameis Winston (ACL, IR) with Trevor Siemian at quarterback. HC Sean Payton has finally seen enough by elevating Taysom Hill to the starting role. Hill showed last season that he has top-12 potential when he served as the team’s starter for four games. The Saints posted a 3-1 record in Hill’s starts and he averaged 7.3 YPA and he completed 72% of his passes. He also added 209/4 rushing and his production on the ground propelled him to a QB7 finish in Weeks 11-14 with 22.3 FPG. The Cowboys haven’t allowed QB to throw for 2+ TDs since Mac Jones did it in Week 6, but Derek Carr posted for 373/1 passing last week
The Saints’ offense desperately needs Alvin Kamara back on the field on Thursday night against the Cowboys. New Orleans looked completely hopeless in a 31-6 defeat to the Bills, with the offense averaging just 3.3 yards per play and a pathetic 1.8 YPC with Kamara and Mark Ingram both out with knee injuries. Kamara managed just 10/51 receiving on 15 targets in four games with Hill last season, but Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were in the mix at that point. Hill and Kamara split the six carries inside the five-yard line in that same four-game span last season. Josh Jacobs posted 22/87/1 rushing and 2/25 receiving in this matchup last week.
Tre’Quan Smith had posted 11+ FP in three of his last four games before managing just 4/31 receiving on five targets against the Bills. Marquez Callaway has scored six TDs this season but he had a three-game TD streak snapped in Week 12, with just 2/24 receiving on four targets against Buffalo. Smith, as the #3 WR, posted 7/118/1 receiving on 12 targets in the four games Hill started last season. The Cowboys have been whipped for 14.7 YPR by WRs this season after DeSean Jackson ripped them for 3/102/1 receiving last week.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 24.6 (1st)
Plays per game: 69.3 (4th)
Pass: 63.7% (8th) | Run: 36.3% (25th)
Pace: 25.4 (2nd)
Plays per game: 63.4 (13rd)
Pass: 60.7% (17th) | Run: 39.3% (16th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
We have a potentially really fun game on tap on TNF between the usually fast-paced, high-volume Cowboys and the newly fast-paced Saints. You’re reading that right: New Orleans is the second-fastest offense in seconds per play over the last eight weeks, continuing their trend of playing significantly faster as the season has gone on. My theory is that HC Sean Payton has emphasized playing faster for two main reasons: 1) their ball control offense clearly isn’t working and 2) their defense has regressed. The switch to Taysom Hill will assuredly lead to more emphasis on the run game, but the Saints could quickly turn a corner if they keep playing fast and Hill provides a much-needed spark.
Dallas likely throwing even more than usual here also helps the shootout potential in this game. Especially with Ezekiel Elliott beat up, OC Kellen Moore will likely want to come out and get the passing game rolling against this Saints secondary that has allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game over their last five games. Overall, this is the No. 1 game for Week 13 in the pace / plays model by a considerable margin.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
This matchup between Dallas and New Orleans is one of the most promising Thursday night showdowns from a fantasy potential viewpoint all season. It’s perhaps only eclipsed by the Cowboys at Buccaneers opening week shootout.
If Dak Prescott had the services of CeeDee Lamb (concussion) and Amari Cooper (COVID) against the Raiders last week, the result would have been quite different. Both receivers are in line to return to the field this week. Dallas has the sixth-highest chance to reach the playoffs after playing the 11th-most difficult schedule — currently ranked fourth in my power rankings
It’s tough to project many QBs with a higher weekly floor than Prescott’s. But Taysom Hill should quickly ascend to the elite weekly-floor grouping Prescott populates with a small handful of other QBs. During Hill’s four games as the starting QB last season, Hill averaged 21.1 FPG. And 53% of that number was manufactured with his legs. In the right matchups, his arm also comes into play.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
You wonder if Taysom Hill’s health was the only thing holding the Saints back from starting him earlier. He’s been dealing, apparently, with plantar fasciitis, which is painful for anyone but especially a QB for whom running is such a massive part of his game. Well, after a few weeks of barely playing, he’s going to start over Trevor Siemian this week.
Taysom could have a healthier offense around him in Week 13, with RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, both coming off knee injuries, have a chance to play on Thursday. Of course, we know that Kamara’s typically high-volume receiving game is potentially capped with Hill at QB, not even counting the presence of Ingram in the offense. Kamara caught just 10 passes on 16 targets in Hill’s four starts for an injured Drew Brees a season ago.
He scored 22.4 fantasy points on a 22.0 point expectation last week, playing on 71% of the snaps, earning 11 carries and 11 targets. In Taysom Hill’s other 3 starts, Kamara averaged 9.9 XFP, 11.5 FPG, 13.0 carries, and 2.0 targets on 55% of the snaps.— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) December 16, 2020
Given the state of the RB position right now, with so many top-end options unavailable this week, just having the ability to start Kamara is a privilege. But Taysom and Ingram might limit his upside, and give him a lower floor than we’re used to. And it does appear he is truly questionable.
The question the Saints have to answer is do you push it with Kamara and risk it after his setback or do you take the cautious approach, get 10 more days of recovery by keeping him out of this one and ensure that he is 100% for the stretch.— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) December 1, 2021
Meanwhile, for Dallas, a team that has lost three out of its last four games, COVID-19 continues to be a major problem. The latest news was coach Mike McCarthy — who is vaccinated — testing positive, which will cause him to miss Thursday’s game.
But WR Amari Cooper — who is unvaccinated — has already missed two games because of the protocols for unvaccinated players. There was a possibility he could miss a third as well, though that seems unlikely now.
Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (COVID-19) is back in building but "still not feeling the best," coach Mike McCarthy said. Still has a cough. "To be determined" whether he'll practice today. "My gut would be if he doesn't practice tomorrow, I don't see him going to the game."— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) November 30, 2021
The fact that Cooper is in the building must mean he has tested negative for the virus, which is why he’s expected to play, but lingering side effects and conditioning could be big issues going up against the Saints.
Source: #Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper is expected to travel with the team to New Orleans today and play against the #Saints tomorrow night. Cooper, who is unvaccinated, tested positive for Covid and has missed last two games, both Cowboys losses.— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) December 1, 2021
At least the Cowboys should expect to have CeeDee Lamb (concussion) back. Cooper will be a projections downgrade if he’s able to play. Still, just one of the two returning, let alone both, would be a big boost to QB Dak Prescott.
Draw a contrast from McCarthy’s comments to those of ever-optimist Jerry Jones, who not only expects Cooper to play on Thursday, but also the dinged-up Ezekiel Elliott (knee, ankle) to go with a big role.
Jerry on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Ezekiel Elliott: “The facts are we’re expecting him to have a serious load against New Orleans.” https://t.co/p2PUBIKQVh— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) November 30, 2021
The fact of the matter is that the Cowboys’ usage of Elliott directly counters Jones’ comments. Elliott is coming off of fewer than 10 carries in each of his last two games, the first such two-game streak of his career. In fact…
Games with fewer than 10 carries for Ezekiel Elliott, counting playoffs:— Joe Dolan (@FG_Dolan) November 30, 2021
Career Games 1-83: 1
Career Games 84 and 85: 2
That’s right. Elliott had just one game in his career with fewer than 10 carries before the last two games. His streak of touching the ball fewer than 20 times has also extended to a career-long four games, and the fact is the Cowboys have an effective rotational back in Tony Pollard relegates him to RB2 status in my mind.