Some thoughts from Saints 34 – 31 victory over the Cowboys:
• Going into this matchup with the Saints, my theme of the week was offensive ball control and stealing possessions. The Cowboys didn't do a good enough job offensively of handling either one of these areas.
The Saints were able to control the clock by running the ball well enough, but more importantly, by converting on 58 percent of their third-down attempts. New Orleans, defensively, are the worst team in the NFL when it comes to the majority of statistical categories, but the Cowboys failed to take advantage of any of that.
Sure, Tony Romo's numbers were outstanding throwing the ball, but when you only rush for 40 yards and you are 2-of-10 on third downs, you are probably going to lose the game. The Saints ran 91 plays to the Cowboys' 56. If the Cowboys were going to have a chance in this game, this number would have to be flipped.
Head coach Jason Garrett knew going in that his defense would have to play a perfect game to get some stops with its current state of health, but when the offense struggled to sustain drives, in addition to turning the ball over inside their own 5, their margin for victory became very slim.
The rally was nice and it was something that I have expected from this team all season. It's just what they do. But when you don't take advantage of the situations you have against a defense that is really struggling, then you only have yourself to blame.
• After the game, I listened to Garrett talk about how his offense didn't get many opportunities to run plays in the first half. He is right. The Saints did an outstanding job of controlling the ball, but the fact that DeMarco Murray only had 40 yards rushing for the game was killer for this Dallas offense.
There was no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys would be able to run the football and run it well if they stuck to it. But Garrett was never able to get the balance or the mix that he needed.
On Friday, I wrote that Garrett needed to not be greedy with his play-calling. If you take a look at his first drive of the game, I thought he got greedy. Garrett runs Murray one time for 8 yards, but doesn't give him the ball the rest of the drive because, on third-and-3, he tries to pass. With Romo facing inside pressure, he gets sacked, ending the possession.
The series before the half, Garrett throws three straight passes, the last one coming on third-and-3 when he could have tried again to use Murray. But he didn't and he is forced to punt. I just felt like Garrett could have tried to run the ball there and make the Saints use their timeouts or allow Murray to try and pick up the first down on the ground.
Later in the game, the defense actually got a nice stop to force a Saints punt with 8:00 left in the third quarter. Garrett opts to throw on first down, which is incomplete, then on second down he tries a run that only gains 2 yards. Garrett, now behind the chains, is forced to pass, which is incomplete, forcing a punt.
Where we might have seen Garrett try and run the ball was when he was coming off the goal line, but Murray's fumble ended that drive as well.
• Will be very interested to see after I leave here tonight and study the game tape how the Saints played against Bryant defensively after his two touchdown catches. Romo was asked if there was anything different they were doing to him as the game wore on, but off the top of his head he didn't believe there was. I noticed early in the fourth that the safety was shaded to Bryant's side a little more, but the tape will be able to tell me a lot more.
I have always believed that Bryant was a feel player, and what I mean by that is when he gets into a game, he feels the emotion and the energy, which carries him through. Where Bryant has done a much better job is in controlling those emotions, and you now see him doing a much better job with his route running and finding ways to get open. Even when coverage rolls his way, you see him continue to work, whereas before that wasn't always the case.
I was not one bit surprised that Romo went to Bryant on that third down in overtime. Give Patrick Peterson some credit for driving on the ball. It was a nice play on his part, although a missed opportunity for the offense. I am sure as I work through this tape, there will be more plays where the ball should have gone Bryant's direction because, as we have learned, that is never a bad thing.
• I knew this game would come down to defensive stops, and whose unit did you trust the most? It was very clear early on that the Cowboys were going to struggle with New Orleans offense from the first drive. Where the Saints get you is that they create so many problems matchup-wise that it's difficult to find ways to get them off the field. Teams that have had success against them have made them turn the ball over.
Drew Brees did not have an interception and on the one opportunity for Dallas to recover a fumble, New Orleans was able to make the play to get the ball back. In this contest, Brees was flawless in the way he attacked the Cowboys defense, but he had a ton of help. Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles did a wonderful job of getting open.
There were too many plays where receivers were running in space without defenders there to make contested catches. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's plan was to try and match his cover players with the Saints skill guys. Cornerback Sterling Moore went with Sproles and Michael Coe had Graham, but later gave way to safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who was better than Coe.
Eric Frampton started at safety for Danny McCray, who has received much of the blame for some of the poor play in the secondary the last two weeks. Charlie Peprah was back in the lineup, but as I have said many times before on our show Talkin' Cowboys, there is nothing that I really like with his coverage or tackling when he is in the game.
I knew that it was going to be difficult for this Cowboys front seven to get pressure on Brees. There were some good rushes from defensive end Jason Hatcher and linebacker Anthony Spencer, but not near enough. DeMarcus Ware left the game with a shoulder strain, so just add that to the list of problems that he is physically dealing with.
I am not one bit surprised that the Cowboys defense struggled today because of what the Saints can do to you matchup-wise. Even with all their players in the mix it would have been a tough task for the Dallas defense.