NEW ORLEANS – Who knew the bye week actually started on Sunday? I kinda thought it was supposed to begin after the final seconds ticked off Sunday night in New Orleans, or at least when the team landed back in Dallas early Monday morning.
Turns out the Cowboys were already in bye-mode long before that. Or at least that's just the way this one seemed.
The Cowboys were simply no match for the Saints on this night. And it wasn't just one side of the ball either. Sure, the defense will get blasted – and should – for its dreadful performance against Drew Brees and that high-powered attack. But the offense was just as woeful, if not worse.
The Cowboys have had a few team wins this year. This one was undoubtedly a team loss.
You name it, and the Cowboys weren't as good as the Saints. They obviously had no answer for Brees, who spread the ball around to everyone with ease. Brees threw 27 combined passes to Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham and Pierre Thomas. He completed 26 of them.
No wonder why they call it the "Big Easy" down here. It was that and more when it comes to the Saints' passing game.
To me, a sign of a really good football team is one that can get other teams to play out of character.
Say what you want about this defense, but one thing they've been rather good at this year is tackling. Sure, all teams have some open-filed whiffs now and then. But for the most part, they've been solid in bringing players to the ground. For one, rookie safety Jeff Heath is a surefire tackler. Those who have seen him in training camp and the preseason, and even these last few games, have been able to notice that.
But with the world watching Sunday night, the overall perception of Heath is that he can't tackle, he can't find the ball and plain and simple – he's not ready to be a starting safety. And you really can't argue with those perceptions after this game.
Heath struggled from start to finish. He missed tackles in the open field, he couldn't get off blocks and had trouble finding the ball in the air. At the end of the game, the Saints ran a quick video package on their jumbo-tron of the Saints' touchdowns and big plays and Heath was on the wrong end of about six of them.
But I can't put it all on him. Personally, I think things went completely south for the defense the minute Sean Lee went out with a hamstring injury. While DeMarcus Ware might be the best player when he's healthy (and tonight didn't really look like one of those nights), the heart and soul of the defense is Sean Lee. When he went out, things changed dramatically.
In fact, the Cowboys lost this game on defense straight down the middle. Jason Hatcher was sorely missed in the middle of the line. Sean Lee is crucial to the defensive success and even J.J. Wilcox showed us how much he has been missed at the safety position. From front to back, the guys in the middle made a huge difference.
What was most alarming was the way the Saints just ran the ball at will on the Cowboys. Even at the end of the game when the Saints were just trying to run out the clock and Dallas had eight men stacking the box, they still couldn't get the Saints off the field. Darren Sproles for 9, Pierre Thomas for 12, Mark Ingram for 8 … and so on and so on.
You know the Saints are going to pick you apart by throwing but if they can gash you with the run like that, you've got no shot.
But honestly, I think the defense was just half of the problem. I don't put this one all on them, in fact, the offense was the side that really shocked us.
We knew this patched-up defense would have its problems with Brees. But we also thought the offense could do a little something against the Saints.
Other than a nice drive at the end of the first quarter and early second quarter, thanks in large part to DeMarco Murray's solid running, the offense was stagnant.
It amazes me how Dez Bryant can't get the football. After the game, Tony Romo and Jason Garrett tell us that he gets doubled just about every play. Ok, I don't dispute that. But every star receiver in the NFL gets doubled like that. Calvin Johnson gets that. Brandon Marshall gets it. Larry Fitzgerald, too.
And yeah, there are some times in which those guys have low numbers. But you'd like to think someone on the other side is making them pay. But that's where this thing has major issues.
You shouldn't be able to stop Dez, stop Jason Witten and not get beat in other ways. I have to think some of this is on Dez and Witten. These guys have to get open better. It's not just about coverage all the time.
And let's not forget about the line. To beat double-coverage and zones, you have to be a little more patient. You have to wait a half-second more sometimes and we've seen all too often this team doesn't have that much time for that.
They didn't in this game, either. Romo had to get rid of the ball way sooner than he wanted too many times. [embedded_ad]
Let's face it, Rob Ryan got the revenge he was probably looking for. He came up with a great scheme and called a great game. He found a way to shut down Dez and limit Witten, and didn't let the other guys beat him.
The Cowboys might have been able to keep running, had they been able to force a few more stops on defense and get the ball back with the score more manageable.
So it does come full circle with the Cowboys. Their offense wasn't efficient enough to sustain drives and garner points, while the defense couldn't get off the field enough.
On this night, the offense went hand in hand. And the end result was they just got it *handed *to them in every way.