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New Orleans Saints will face season's most formidable opposing offense in Dallas

Defensively, Cowboys have 15 interceptions this season

The New Orleans Saints take on the Buffalo Bills at the Caesars Superdome in Week 12 of the 2021 NFL season.

If it's not a frying pan-to-fine scenario, it's fairly close for the New Orleans Saints defense.

Two games ago, the Saints surrendered 242 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns to Philadelphia in a 40-29 loss. Last game, on Thanksgiving night, they allowed 260 passing yards and four passing scores to Buffalo in a 31-6 loss.

On Thursday night in the Caesars Superdome, New Orleans (5-6) will face an offense that, statistically, has been better and more balanced than either of the previous two opponents.

Dallas is tied with Buffalo for second in scoring (29.6 points per game) and leads the league with 419.8 yards per game. The Saints will be looking to end a four-game losing streak, while Dallas (7-4) has lost three of its last four.

"Offensively, they've got really good balance," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "When they run the ball for 100 yards or more, they're an unbeaten team this year."

Six times they've done it, to be exact. And the Cowboys, who average 127.5 rushing yards per game (fifth most in the league), have run for 173.3 in those six wins, with nine touchdowns. Before the Saints faced the Eagles, they led the NFL in run defense (73 yards per game allowed). Since surrendering a combined 355 rushing yards to the Eagles and Bills, the Saints now are No. 3 in run defense at 91.9 yards per game.

But, as Payton said, there's also the balance that the Cowboys present.

"They've got explosive players at the receiver position, they have a quarterback who's playing at an outstanding level and one of the better offensive lines we've faced," he said.

Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott has completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 2,962 yards and 22 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, in 10 games. Receivers Amari Cooper (44 catches for 583 yards and five touchdowns) and CeeDee Lamb (50-740-6) should be available Thursday after missing Dallas' 36-33, Thanksgiving Day loss to the Raiders. Cooper sat out due to Covid-19 protocol and Lamb missed due to a concussion.

"You see the leadership, you see the decision making," Payton said of Prescott's growth. "He's someone that makes all the throws. I think he also does a great job of extending plays. He's been fun to watch."

And, too, Dallas' defense has been watch-worthy.

Specifically, the Cowboys have 19 takeaways tied for fourth) and 15 interceptions (third), and are allowing almost a touchdown less (22.7 points per game) than last year (29.6).

"You see the speed on tape," Payton said. "I think they're getting a lot of takeaways defensively. I think they do a great job with their rush and coverage plans relative to who they're playing. The first impressions, when you watch them, is their talent, their coaching. Defensively, (defensive coordinator) Dan (Quinn) is doing a great job in his first year of getting that group to play fast, play hard. They really get after the passer."

Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons (nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits while also taking snaps at defensive end) has been a major influence.

"He jumps off the tape at you, more recently at the end position," Payton said. "He's impressive when he rushes, obviously when he plays at linebacker, the same way. I think when he gets on the tackles in his rush, I think he's a handful. You're seeing different games where he's playing different spots, but obviously he's fit into this system well."

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