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Saints at Cowboys: Five things to watch

Saints face the Cowboys in primetime on NBC's Sunday Night Football

Photos of the New Orleans Saints vs Dallas Cowboys game on Sunday, November 10, 2013. Photos taken by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)

  1. Defensively, the New Orleans Saints held Minnesota to 247 yards, 13 first downs and three field igoals. Dallas, however, has considerably more offensive weapons, so that'll be a tough task to match. However, it was an extremely encouraging jump for New Orleans defensively, one aided in part because, safety Kenny Vaccaro said, the Saints simplified a little bit, which enabled them to play faster and have better communication. If simplification works against Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray, then the Saints will leave Dallas as a .500 team. Beware Murray, though. He already has run for 385 yards and three touchdowns on 75 carries, leading a ground game that averages 156.7 yards per game. Dallas is more balanced than it has been in years.
  1. New Orleans actually has an outstanding regular-seasonroad record (33-25 and counting) under Coach Sean Payton. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that dating back to last season, the Saints are 3-7 in their last 10 road games, including five straight regular-season losses. True, the situation is a little better than that – the Saints won the first road playoff game in franchise history last season, and went 1-1 on the road in the playoffs. But the only way to change the conversation about winning on the road during the regular season is to win on the road during the regular season. Of the seven most recent regular-season road losses, five have been by six points or less. That means the Saints have been in position, but haven't finished. They have to put themselves in position again against the Cowboys, and hope to change their fortunes.
  1. Speaking of finishing, the Saints accomplished something against Minnesota that sounds more incredible the more it's repeated: New Orleans put the Vikings away by maintaining possession for the final 6:58 of the game. Payton said he wanted to see the team perform better in the four-minute offense. He must have been beyond pleased to see it handle Minnesota in a seven-minute drill. Maintaining possession against Dallas on the road will be huge; it'll allow the defense to remain fresh, the offense to build momentum and the crowd on hand for the nationally televised, Sunday night game will sound a lot more friendly (Saints fans always travel well, particularly to Dallas). The running game, with Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, again will have to be productive.
  1. Tim Lelito was the Saints' starting center for the majority of the offseason. That familiarity should be a source of comfort Sunday night against the Cowboys, if Jonathan Goodwin (ankle) is out. Goody missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but made it back to the field Friday. The two battled for the starting position throughout training camp and the veteran Goodwin nudged ahead at the end. However, right tackle Zach Strief said the Saints essentially had the equivalent of two starting centers. Lelito may get a chance to prove that against a Dallas defense that likely will want to apply pressure up the middle, to make Lelito prove he's up to the task. This could be his third NFL start, but his first at center (he started twice at right guard last year). However, he does get the benefit of playing alongside two Pro Bowl guards, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs.
  1. The Saints' offense wasn't quite its normal, efficient self against the Vikings. The yards (396), first downs (27) and third-down conversion rate (9 for 13) were there, but the points (20) weren't. Dallas' defense isn't exactly formidable (360 yards allowed per game) and opposing quarterbacks are averaging 254 yards per game, and have thrown six touchdowns. This could be a big game for quarterback Drew Brees and the offense. Brees, 4-1 against the Cowboys as a Saint, has had some monster games against Dallas. Overall, in the five games, he's 149 for 216 (69 percent) for 1,872 yards (374.4 per game) and 14 touchdowns, with two interceptions. If he approaches his average, the Saints have to like their chances.
  1. Defensively, the New Orleans Saints held Minnesota to 247 yards, 13 first downs and three field igoals. Dallas, however, has considerably more offensive weapons, so that'll be a tough task to match. However, it was an extremely encouraging jump for New Orleans defensively, one aided in part because, safety Kenny Vaccaro said, the Saints simplified a little bit, which enabled them to play faster and have better communication. If simplification works against Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant and 
    running back DeMarco Murray, then the Saints will leave Dallas as a .500 team. Beware Murray, though. He already has run for 385 yards and three touchdowns on 75 carries, leading a ground game that averages 156.7 yards per game. Dallas is more balanced than it has been in years.

    2. New Orleans actually has an outstanding regular-season road record (33-25 and counting) under Coach Sean Payton. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that dating back to last season, the Saints are 3-7 in their last 10 road games, including five straight regular-season losses. True, the situation is a little better than that – the Saints won the first road playoff game in franchise history last season, and went 1-1 on the road in the playoffs. But the only way to change the conversation about winning on the road during the 
    regular season is to win on the road during the regular season. Of the seven most recent regular-season road losses, five have been by six points or less. That means the Saints have been in position, but haven't finished. They have to put themselves in position again against the Cowboys, and hope to change their fortunes.

    3. Speaking of finishing, the Saints accomplished something against Minnesota that sounds more incredible the more it's repeated: New Orleans put the Vikings away by maintaining possession for the final 6:58 of the game. Payton said he wanted to see the team perform better in the four-minute offense. He must have been beyond pleased to see it handle Minnesota in a seven-minute drill. Maintaining possession against Dallas on the road will be huge; it'll allow the defense to remain fresh, the offense to build momentum and the crowd on hand for the nationally televised, Sunday night game will sound a lot more friendly (Saints fans always travel well, particularly to Dallas). The running game, with Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, again will have to be productive.

    4. Tim Lelito was the Saints' starting center for the majority of the offseason. That familiarity should be a source of comfort Sunday night against the Cowboys, if Jonathan Goodwin (ankle) is out. Goody missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but made it back to the field Friday. The two battled for the starting position throughout training camp and the veteran Goodwin nudged ahead at the end. However, right tackle 
    Zach Strief said the Saints essentially had the equivalent of two starting centers. Lelito may get a chance to prove that against a Dallas defense that likely will want to apply pressure up the middle, to make Lelito prove he's up to the task. This could be his third NFL start, but his first at center (he started twice at right guard last year). However, he does get the benefit of playing alongside two Pro Bowl guards, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs.

    5. The Saints' offense wasn't quite its normal, efficient self against the Vikings. The yards (396), first downs (27) and third-down conversion rate (9 for 13) were there, but the points (20) weren't. Dallas' defense isn't exactly formidable (360 yards allowed per game) and opposing quarterbacks are averaging 254 yards per game, and have thrown six touchdowns. This could be a big game for quarterback Drew Brees and the offense. Brees, 4-1 against the Cowboys as a Saint, has had some monster games against Dallas. Overall, in the five games, he's 149 for 216 (69 percent) for 1,872 yards (374.4 per game) and 14 touchdowns, with two interceptions. If he approaches his average, the Saints have to like their chances.1. Defensively, the New Orleans Saints held Minnesota to 247 yards, 13 first downs and three field igoals. Dallas, however, has considerably more offensive weapons, so that'll be a tough task to match. However, it was an extremely encouraging jump for New Orleans defensively, one aided in part because, safety Kenny Vaccaro said, the Saints simplified a little bit, which enabled them to play faster and have better communication. If simplification works against Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant and 
    running back DeMarco Murray, then the Saints will leave Dallas as a .500 team. Beware Murray, though. He already has run for 385 yards and three touchdowns on 75 carries, leading a ground game that averages 156.7 yards per game. Dallas is more balanced than it has been in years.

    2. New Orleans actually has an outstanding regular-season road record (33-25 and counting) under Coach Sean Payton. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that dating back to last season, the Saints are 3-7 in their last 10 road games, including five straight regular-season losses. True, the situation is a little better than that – the Saints won the first road playoff game in franchise history last season, and went 1-1 on the road in the playoffs. But the only way to change the conversation about winning on the road during the 
    regular season is to win on the road during the regular season. Of the seven most recent regular-season road losses, five have been by six points or less. That means the Saints have been in position, but haven't finished. They have to put themselves in position again against the Cowboys, and hope to change their fortunes.

    3. Speaking of finishing, the Saints accomplished something against Minnesota that sounds more incredible the more it's repeated: New Orleans put the Vikings away by maintaining possession for the final 6:58 of the game. Payton said he wanted to see the team perform better in the four-minute offense. He must have been beyond pleased to see it handle Minnesota in a seven-minute drill. Maintaining possession against Dallas on the road will be huge; it'll allow the defense to remain fresh, the offense to build momentum and the crowd on hand for the nationally televised, Sunday night game will sound a lot more friendly (Saints fans always travel well, particularly to Dallas). The running game, with Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, again will have to be productive.

    4. Tim Lelito was the Saints' starting center for the majority of the offseason. That familiarity should be a source of comfort Sunday night against the Cowboys, if Jonathan Goodwin (ankle) is out. Goody missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but made it back to the field Friday. The two battled for the starting position throughout training camp and the veteran Goodwin nudged ahead at the end. However, right tackle 
    Zach Strief said the Saints essentially had the equivalent of two starting centers. Lelito may get a chance to prove that against a Dallas defense that likely will want to apply pressure up the middle, to make Lelito prove he's up to the task. This could be his third NFL start, but his first at center (he started twice at right guard last year). However, he does get the benefit of playing alongside two Pro Bowl guards, Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs.

    5. The Saints' offense wasn't quite its normal, efficient self against the Vikings. The yards (396), first downs (27) and third-down conversion rate (9 for 13) were there, but the points (20) weren't. Dallas' defense isn't exactly formidable (360 yards allowed per game) and opposing quarterbacks are averaging 254 yards per game, and have thrown six touchdowns. This could be a big game for quarterback Drew Brees and the offense. Brees, 4-1 against the Cowboys as a Saint, has had some monster games against Dallas. Overall, in the five games, he's 149 for 216 (69 percent) for 1,872 yards (374.4 per game) and 14 touchdowns, with two interceptions. If he approaches his average, the Saints have to like their chances.
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