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Saints Passing Attack vs. Cowboys Pass Defense

Can Taysom Hill spark what's been an offensive New Orleans passing game into a much-needed victory against Dallas?

Week 13 of the NFL season kicks off tonight when the 5-6 New Orleans Saints host the 7-4 Dallas Cowboys. Both teams are slumping, with the Saints on a four-game losing streak and the Cowboys losing two straight and three of their last four games.

Much of the Saints struggles have been because of injuries and ineffectiveness on the offensive side. New Orleans ranks just 27th in total offense, averaging 309 yards/game. The Saints have had some effectiveness running the ball, but that’s been tough in recent weeks because of a struggling passing attack and large second half deficits.

Making matters worse, New Orleans will be without injured RB Alvin Kamara, RT Ryan Ramczyk, and LT Terron Armstead this evening. Kamara has missed the last four contests, Ramczyk the last three, and Armstead three of the last four. QB Jameis Winston and LG Andrus Peat had already been lost for the season and All-Pro WR Michael Thomas has not played a down this year.

Taysom Hill will replace Trevor Siemian as the starting quarterback against Dallas. Siemian was 0-4 as a starter after replacing Winston. Hill went 3-1 when replacing an injured Drew Brees in 2020 an brings a rushing threat to the position.

The shorthanded New Orleans offense takes on a Cowboys defense that ranks 26th in the NFL. Dallas has allowed nearly 370 yards/game and 22.7 points per outing. They rank 13th against the run, where the Saints hope to have most of their success.

New Orleans must also find ways to make plays through the air to match a high-octane Dallas offense.

SAINTS PASSING ATTACK VS. COWBOYS PASS DEFENSE

New Orleans Passing Game

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) passes against the Philadelphia Eagles. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) passes against the Philadelphia Eagles. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have averaged a meager 198 yards/game through the air, ranking 27th in the league. It’s by far the worst passing production in Sean Payton's 16 years as head coach.

New Orleans is the only NFL team without either a 300-yard passing game and without a wide receiver to have at least 90 yards receiving in a game.

Taysom Hill showed some nice pocket poise in four starts last season. However, he’s extremely raw as a passer and doesn't read coverages efficiently. He completed 71.9% of his attempts in those four starts, averaging 208.5 passing yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

Hill's strength is his running ability. He's a bulldozer between the tackles with great open field speed and rushed for 209 yards and four scores as the starting quarterback in 2020. However, Hill is also dealing with a foot injury that relegated him to back-up duty the last two weeks and could affect his mobility.

When Hill does throw, the Saints may have issues in pass protection. New Orleans quarterbacks have been sacked 19 times this season, but heavily pressured in several games. They'll also be without the league's best pair of tackles, Ramczyk and Armstead, for the third time in four games.

Veteran James Hurst will take over one tackle spot. Hurst is an adequate replacement, but has trouble with speed rushers and is better suited at guard. Eight-year journeyman Jordan Mills or former Buccaneer Caleb Benenoch will line up at the other edge.

Versatile LG Calvin Throckmorton has played well and C Erik McCoy has had an outstanding year. Second-year RG Cesar Ruiz has struggled and has been one of the team’s most disappointing starters this season.

If Hill is given time to throw, he’ll be without Kamara, the team's leading receiver and NFL's most versatile weapon. Veteran RB Mark Ingram is valuable on screens and wheel routes, but isn't as explosive as Kamara.

Without Kamara and Michael Thomas, the Saints have been exposed for having no other top-tier pass catchers. Their tight ends have a combined 39 receptions for 410 yards and five touchdowns. Nineteen tight ends through the league have individually equalled or bettered those numbers.

Disappointing second-year TE Adam Trautman is on injured reserve. Most of the reps will now go to veteran TE Nick Vannett or converted wideout Juwan Johnson. The Saints will mainly use them as extra, blockers, pass protectors, or check-down options.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Deonte Harris (11). Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Deonte Harris (11). Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Third-year WR Deonte Harris is the league's best kick returner and most precise route runner. Harris has a team-high 427 yards on 27 receptions, scoring twice. Second-year WR Marquez Callaway has caught 27 passes for 396 yards and a team-best 6 touchdowns.

Tre'Quan Smith is the Saints most experienced wideout. After missing the first portion of the year, Smith has 20 receptions for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Smith Harris, and Callaway have shown that they aren't top quality wideouts, but receivers Kenny Stills, Ty Montgomery and Lil'Jordan Humphrey have had zero production behind them.

Dallas Pass Defense

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (7) celebrates making an interception against the Atlanta Falcons. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (7) celebrates making an interception against the Atlanta Falcons. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys have allowed 262.3 yards/game through the air, ranking 26th in the league. They gave up 300-yard passers in each of their first four contests this season. Only the Raiders Derek Carr, who did it last week, surpassed that barrier in the last seven games.

Opposing passers have completed 63% of their attempts against Dallas coverage, who have allowed nine receivers to have 90 yards or more against them. However, the Cowboys rank third in the league with 15 interceptions.

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Second-year CB Trevon Diggs has a league-high 8 of those interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. Diggs is an athletic corner who has allowed just 53.7% completion rate when targeted and has broken up 13 passes.

Anthony Brown mans the other corner spot and has 3 interceptions. Brown is an aggressive defensive back prone to penalties, he had four last week, but allows only 58.6% completion percentage when targeted. Former starter Jourdan Lewis gives the Cowboys a quality trio of corners.

S Jayron Kearse is the team’s leading tackler and capable of providing solid slot coverage. Former Falcon Damontae Kazee mans the free safety spot, with veteran Malik Hooker supplies strong depth.

Starting MLB Keanu Neal is a converted safety most effective in space. OLB Leighton Vander Esch is a good athlete and effective pass rusher, but doesn't have great change-of-direction skills in coverage.

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11). Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11). Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie OLB Micah Parsons is a budding star and leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Parsons is an incredible athlete who leads the Cowboys with 9 sacks, 31 pressures, and 15 tackles for loss. He’ll be used mostly in a pass rushing role, but also has the agility to drop into coverage.

The Cowboys have 24 sacks and 73 QB hits. Parsons and fellow rookie DT Osa Odighizuwa have given Dallas a tandem of disruptive young defenders. Odighizuwa is a terrific interior athlete with a non-stop motor and has 2 sacks and 11 pressures.

Outside of Parsons, Vander Esch, and Odighizuwa, the Cowboys have had trouble generating consistent pressure with a banged up defensive line.

DE DeMarcus Lawrence had been on injured reserve since the season opener, but was activated this week. He’ll probably see limited action in obvious passing situations. DE Randy Gregory and DT Neville Gallimore remain on injured reserve, while DT Trysten Hill is suspended this week.

Ends Tarell Basham, Dorance Armstrong, and Azur Kamara are big-bodied defenders but aren't dynamic pass rushers. Tackles Carlos Watkins and Justin Hamilton are better run defenders who tie up blockers.

What to Watch

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to Taysom Hill (7) against the Atlanta Falcons. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to Taysom Hill (7) against the Atlanta Falcons. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

If the Saints are to win this game, they'll have to do it old-school style with Ingram and Hill rushing the ball. Hill’s foot injury further complicates matters for an offense that’ll be without Pro Bowlers Kamara, Armstead, and Ramczyk.

New Orleans must still find a way to move the ball through the air and put points on the board against the explosive Dallas offense. The first issue they’ll have to deal with is finding a way to contain Parsons on the edge without their top tackles.

Hill needs to make fast reads and get the ball out his hands quickly. He’ll certainly need to be aware of the playmaking Diggs, and would probably be most effective if he decisively took off and ran if his initial reads aren't there.

Harris, Smith, and Callaway need to make life easier on their quarterback by getting open quickly and making plays, something the entire unit has failed to do most of the year. If the Saints have some rushing success but still have struggles through the air, don't be surprised if Sean Payton inserts Siemian for a few series to run a no-huddle attack.

Taysom Hill will get the start tonight to infuse life into a New Orleans offense that’s especially struggled early in games. It’s now up to Hill, and what’s left of the supporting cast, to pull off the upset to allow the Saints to cling to fading playoff hopes.

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