Skip to main content

Saints Rushing Attack vs. Cowboys Run Defense

Missing three offensive stars, will New Orleans be able to bully Dallas with their running game to snap a four-game losing streak?

The 5-6 New Orleans Saints host the 7-4 Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Both teams are trying to right themselves for the stretch run of the season.

New Orleans has been battered by injuries and offensive ineffectiveness while losing four straight games. The Cowboys dropped two straight and three of their last four, beating only the inept Atlanta Falcons.

Offensive starters Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Ryan Ramczyk, and Terron Armstead were all sidelined last week. The result was a hapless showing in a 31-6 home loss to Buffalo on Thanksgiving night. New Orleans ranks a lowly 27th in total offense, averaging just 309.4 yards per game.

The Saints also rank 27th in passing yardage, both rankings their lowest during Sean Payton's tenure as head coach. Failings of the passing attack has caused defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage against the run, further crippling the offense.

New Orleans squares off against a Cowboys defense that ranks 26th in the NFL. Dallas has given up an average of 370 yards and 22.7 points per contest. Most of the opposition's success has come through the air, where the Cowboys rank 27th.

The Saints are desperate for an offensive spark, especially without Kamara, Ramczyk and Armstead in the lineup again. They will start Taysom Hill at quarterback in place of Trevor Siemian, giving the team another rushing option behind center.

SAINTS RUNNING ATTACK VS. COWBOYS RUN DEFENSE

New Orleans Running Game

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram II (14). Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram II (14). Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have often had to abandon the run because of large deficits in recent weeks. As a result, they rank just 19th in the league with an average of 111 yards/game. They've averaged only 3.9 per carry, ranking 25th.

Despite missing the last three weeks with a knee injury, Alvin Kamara leads the team with 530 rushing yards. Kamara rushed for at least 80 yards in three of the first four weeks. He was less effective in the subsequent games because of defenses stacking the box against him.

Still, Kamara is the league's most dynamic offensive weapon. When healthy, the offense revolves around his elite skills. He'll miss his fourth straight game with a nagging knee injury. 

Kamara's absence further limits an already shorthanded unit, but the Saints look to be getting another weapon back at the position.

Veteran RB Mark Ingram has 205 yards rushing in four games since coming back to the team in a trade with Houston. Ingram missed last week's loss also, but looks to be a full-go for tonight.

While not the explosive playmaker Kamara is, Ingram is still a terrific runner between the tackles. He fights for extra yardage, has tremendous cutback ability, and an underrated burst to get by defenders. Both Kamara and Ingram are also vital contributors in the passing game.

Second-year RB Tony Jones was the option with the top two backs sidelined. Jones has solid vision and can be a capable runner between the tackles. RB/WR Ty Montgomery is another option out of the backfield.

New Orleans Saints Taysom Hill (7) runs the ball against the Tennessee Titans. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints Taysom Hill (7) runs the ball against the Tennessee Titans. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The insertion of offensive weapon Taysom Hill at quarterback will hopefully jump-start the entire attack. Hill isn't the passer that QB Trevor Siemian is, but adds a bruising rushing threat to the offense. Limited to just six games and 212 total yards because of a concussion and foot injury, Hill is a rare athlete if healthy.

A raw passer, Hill started four games in place of an injured Drew Brees last season. The Saints averaged over 174 yards on the ground in those starts, with Hill picking up 209 yards rushing and scoring four times.

New Orleans has also struggled to run the ball, along with everything else offensively, because of injuries along their offensive line. Starting LG Andrus Peat was already out for the year, Ryan Ramczyk has missed the last two games, and Terron Armstead two of the last three contests.

Ramczyk and Armstead are reportedly out again tonight. James Hurst, who had filled in for Peat, has done an admirable job at one tackle spot. Calvin Throckmorton has played well at both guard spots most of the year, while C Erik McCoy has been the team's most consistent lineman.

Dallas Run Defense

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) is stopped by the Dallas Cowboys defense. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) is stopped by the Dallas Cowboys defense. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Read More

The Cowboys rank 13th in defending the run, giving up an average of 107.3 yards/game. They’ve allowed two 100-yard rushers and opponents are averaging 4.4 per carry.

Dallas is a little thin at defensive tackle. Their best interior defender, DT Neville Gallimore, is out with an elbow injury and DT Trysten Hill is serving a one-game league suspension. Rookie DT Osa Odighizuwa has been a terrific addition, but is a little light and can be overwhelmed by bigger blockers.

The Cowboys have a deep crew of defensive ends who have good size. DeMarcus Lawrence was just activated from injured reserve and may not play tonight. Rookie DE Tarell Basham is a better pass rusher, but Dorance Armstrong, Azur Kamara, and Chauncey Golston do an excellent job at shutting down off-tackle runs.

Rookie LB Micah Parsons is the leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Parsons is a dynamic pass rusher, but is an underrated run defender with the strength to stuff plays at the point of attack and speed to pursue sideline-to-sideline.

Keanu Neal, a converted safety, is an undersized middle linebacker with good awareness. Fourth-year OLB Leighton Vander Esch is a big edge defender with good strength at the point of attack and explosive burst into the backfield.

Veteran SS Jayron Kearse is the best run defender in the Cowboys secondary. Kearse is the team’s leading tackler and active around the line of scrimmage. The rest of the Dallas defensive backfield are not great tacklers, but are athletic in pursuit.

What to Watch

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

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

If the Saints have any chance at upsetting the Cowboys and breaking their four-game losing streak, they’ll have to control the ball and dominate the line of scrimmage.

Expectations should be tempered regarding Taysom Hill and the passing game, especially with an under performing group of pass catchers. New Orleans will win this game in old-school style - by beating up the Cowboys at the line of scrimmage and running the ball right down their throats.

Taysom Hill is a bruising runner between the tackles and Mark Ingram is most effective on interior runs. Without the athletic Kamara and both tackles, the Saints will attack the Dallas defensive tackles and undersized MLB Keanu Neal.

An effective rushing attack would slow the Cowboys pass rush and open up quick passing opportunities for Hill and the receivers. It’s crucial that the Saints move the ball and put points on the board early, something they've failed to do most of the year.

Sean Payton put together a creative offensive game plan with Hill behind center last season. Expect more out-of-the-box thinking tonight, but New Orleans will only have a success offense if Ingram and Hill have big nights.

Cowboys-Saints Coverage From the Week