IRVING, Texas – I got home from New Orleans a little after 3 a.m., and I got to work on the tape from this game a little after 8 a.m.
It was a grind today, working through this game – especially given the way it ended for the Cowboys in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But there's plenty we can learn from taking a longer look at the second loss of this young season.
Let's look inside and see what went wrong Sunday night, and why:
- I had a feeling that Rob Ryan was going to do his best to choke the Dallas offense and their ability to run the ball. Throughout the game, Ryan challenged this line to have to block a seven, eight and even an occasional nine-man box. Ryan made the commitment, but without the threat to the outside this offense was in a bad spot in having to deal with more defenders than blockers. Ideally you would like to run away from the extra man, and the offense was able to do that -- but what got them in trouble was that extra man was running from the backside like Bobby Richardson and Hau'oli Kikaha were able to do.
- On a day where the Dallas defense wasn't at its best – DeMarcus Lawrence was not part of the problem. Lawrence took advantage of his matchup with Zach Strief, much like I believed he would. Lawrence was on his game early and he was able to carry it throughout. He did a really nice job of keeping Strief off balance with various moves, and when Strief tried to muscle him, he displayed more power and strength. What I really liked about Lawrence's game was his ability to finish. His sack was an impressive rush where he was quickly able to capture the corner on Strief, then with his left hand reach behind Brees and drag him to the ground. It was the type of athletic move we were expecting to see from him, but he just had not been close enough to pull it off until Sunday night.
- I am not trying to beat up on Devin Street, but he has got to show more awareness when he is running his routes along the sideline. His inability to keep his left foot in bounds on third down was a significant play in this game. Street did the right thing by coming back to help Brandon Weeden, who had escaped the rush. With limited options he went the only direction he could and that was to fire the ball toward Street. What was disappointing about the play was that Street had positioned himself beyond the sticks, and making the catch where he did would have resulted in a first down to keep the drive going. Instead the offense was moved back five yards and Weeden was sacked on the next play, forcing a punt. To make matters worse – the Saints then took the ball and drive for the go-ahead touchdown.
- When it comes to point-of-attack blocking for tight ends in this league, Jason Witten is one of the best. His ability to down or reach block is often the difference in whether the play has success or not. With the offense facing a 3rd-and-1 and Christine Michael in the game, I thought Witten came off the ball well and was working to get position on defensive end Bobby Richardson. To Richardson's credit, he felt what Witten was trying to do by taking him down inside, and he spun back to the outside in an attempt to fill the hole. By executing this move, Witten was unable to maintain his contact with Richardson and he was able to take Michael to the ground for a loss of a yard.
- I initially thought that the injury to Lance Dunbar might have been the reason for 12 men on the field, but it was actually the injury to Sean Lee that put the Saints in field goal position. The Cowboys were in a punt-safe look -- which keeps the base defense on the field. The problem with this was there were two Mike linebackers on the field at the time and Andrew Gachkar was late trying to get off the field.
- The last two games we have seen defenders beat Tyron Smith for a sack. Last week, Vic Beasley was able to get his shoulder past Smith and it carried him up the field to Brandon Weeden. This week, Smith was working against Hau'oli Kikaha with some help from Joseph Randle. Sometimes when backs chip with tackles, the result can put the tackle in a bad position blocking-wise. This is what I believe happened with Smith. Randle didn't really get enough of Kikaha and Smith was expecting a little more. Kikaha never slowed down and just kept working. Smith just was never in balance and Kikaha was able to get by him to bring Weeden to the ground. It was an untimely sack for the Cowboys because the ball was sitting on the Saints 9-yard line and the result forced a field goal.
- Can't give enough praise to the job that Morris Claiborne was able to do in his snaps against the shifty Brandin Cooks. It was a smart move by these defensive coaches to go that route, considering Cooks was the most explosive player on the Saints offense and Claiborne has more than been holding his own with his technique and assignments. Sean Payton, as much as he likes to move Cooks in the formation, had a hard time buying him space up the field against Claiborne.
- Film confirmed what I observed during the game – Anthony Hitchens was outstanding. He played with physical toughness and a keen awareness of what the Saints were trying to do to his defense scheme-wise. He showed the range and closing burst that he played with last season. His lateral quickness and agility put him to the ball on several plays, but it was his ability to finish those plays that I thought was the most impressive. There had been some games earlier in the season where he was struggling to fight blocks and was not able to get to the ball. What was positive to see is that this Saints offensive line really had no answer for how to slow him down.
- It was the first real game action for Corey White in the secondary and it came against his old teammates. White had a productive training camp and there were many of us that were wondering when he would get more of an opportunity to play. In studying his game, I was confused what his responsibilities were on the 3rd-and-11 play the Saints converted to Willie Snead in the first quarter. It appeared that the secondary was in zone coverage on the play, with White and Brandon Carr taking drops. My concern was that it looked like White did not drop deep enough and by staying too flat – it allowed Snead to get behind him, making it an easy throw for Brees to make. After that particular play – I did not see much of White taking defensive snaps, only working on special teams.
- I have been pushing for Darren McFadden to get more of an opportunity for offensive snaps over Joseph Randle, but after Sunday – I have to say I was disappointed. McFadden didn't have that jump or juice to his game that I had seen before. He played tentative and ran like he was on egg shells. There were snaps where I didn't feel like he was decisive in the way that he needed to hit the hole. He had the one nice run around the right side with Zack Martin and Ronald Leary in front, where he was able to work his way up the field -- but that was really it. The blocking wasn't perfect and there were some muddy looks, but McFadden just didn't look like that difference-maker with the ball in his hands. I have seen him run better and the fact that he didn't bothers me.
- Looks like that Will McClay and the boys might have found them a guy that can give them a little something as a nose and under-tackle. I have to say that when I first studied David Irving while in Kansas City, I was thinking he was going to likely end up playing on the outside due to his length. I did think he had the ability to sink his hips and play with knee bend, which he showed against the Saints. What he also showed was an ability to play with one-gap quickness and get up the field. For the Chiefs in their 3-4 scheme, he was a two-gap player and you saw him holding at the point of attack and not rushing up the field. Irving showed the ability to get up the field on a pass rush but also he was athletic enough to be used in some line stunts. For a player that had only been here a week, he did a really nice job of filling in and playing in the rotation.
- Thanks to my man Zack in our video department who snapped the picture of the man wearing the "Broaddus" LSU Purple No. 55 jersey from the 80's in the French Quarter on Saturday – God bless you both.