ReFo: Cowboys @ Saints, Week 10
In one of the bigger beat downs the NFL has seen in recent years, the New Orleans Saints dominated the Dallas Cowboys from start to finish Sunday night on their way to a 49-17 victory. Dallas’ best defensive players were either out for the game, playing hurt, or injured during the game, and they simply looked short-handed. The Saints manhandled them up front creating creases in the running game while keeping quarterback Drew Brees relatively clean. Offensively, top weapon, wide receiver Dez Bryant, was kept in check by the Saints defense and QB Tony Romo was unable to find a sufficient replacement. While primetime dominant performances are not foreign territory for the Saints, this was a much-needed bounce-back game after losing two of their last three. They remain one game head of the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South.
For the Cowboys, the game represents a continuation of their recent defensive woes, though to an even greater extent. They had no answers for the Saints running the ball right at them which certainly has to be a concern going forward. Lucky for them, the NFC East’s parity will buy them some time to figure it out, but they’re not trending in the right direction.
Here’s an attempt to pick out the best and worst performances from the game (narrowing them down was difficult).
Dallas– Three Performances of Note
The Worst of the Defense
With nearly the entire defense grading in the red, it’s not easy picking out the worst of the lot, but a few performances stood out. Starting at the linebacker level where Bruce Carter (-5.4) and Ernie Sims (-4.7) struggled in all aspects of the game, but especially against the run. Carter might be having nightmares that he’s glued to full back Jed Collins as he was moved out of the hole on several occasions. The offensive linemen had their way with Carter as well as he was kept away from the point of the attack for much of the game despite getting in on 12 tackles. For Sims, it was less about getting blocked and more about his inability to find the football. Whether over-pursuing or dropping into coverage on a goal line run right at him, there were a number of mistakes that led to Sims’ -3.1 grade against the run.
In addition to the linebackers, strong safety Jeff Heath had the worst game of his young career, grading at -5.2. He missed four tackles while surrendering five receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns on six targets in coverage. He whiffed on WR Marques Colston on his 22-yard touchdown late in the first quarter and it was more of the same as RB Pierre Thomas shrugged him off in the open field with 5:15 to go in the second. To cap it all off, Heath was unable to adjust to Brees’ deep ball to WR Kenny Stills leading to a 52-yard touchdown at the 12:51 mark of the fourth quarter. It was a disastrous day for the Dallas defense with Carter, Sims and Heath leading the way.
DLine Pushed Around
Eight different defensive linemen played at least 10 snaps Sunday, but not one graded in the green. While a lack of pass rushing pressure is certainly a concern, it was more about the way the entire line was pushed around in the running game that was particularly alarming. Whether it was defensive tackle Nick Hayden getting moved right out of the middle with 13:12 to go in the first or later in the quarter when DE Everette Brown was guided inside by right tackle Zach Strief, there were gaping holes throughout the game for Dallas. DT Jarius Wynn was the worst of the group against the run. He was moved off his spot a number of times, particularly when facing double teams. His inability to hold the point made it difficult on the linebackers, particularly when he was being pushed downfield into their laps. While Wynn had his struggles, it was a team effort that led to more than 600 yards of offense for the Saints.
Bernadeau Moving People
One of the few bright spots for the Cowboys, RG Mackenzy Bernadeau, showed well in the running game. He did his best work in space, particularly when trying to find targets at the second level. He took out LB Will Herring on back to back plays at the end of the first, starting at the 1:54 mark. Bernadeau then thew in some fine work at the point of attack on the first play of the second quarter as he got the reach on DT John Jenkins. In addition to run blocking, Bernadeau also did a nice job getting out in front on a screen in the third quarter. As a pass blocker, he only surrendered one hit on his 29 attempts to grade at +0.7. When you add it all up, Bernadeau posted a +5.0 overall grade in the losing effort.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Efficient Passing Game
It was obvious that Brees was on his game from the get-go, finishing at +4.8 overall. He completed 34 of his 39 aimed passes with one of those being a drop. He was extremely efficient in the short and intermediate passing game, consistently finding the open man and moving the chains. His main target early in the game was Colston who finished at +3.8 overall on his way to seven catches for 107 yards and the touchdown. RB Darren Sproles did his usual work in the passing game as well, catching all seven of his targets for 76 yards including a 28-yard touchdown on a screen. Finally WR Kenny Stills continued his big play ways with the 52-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. He’s now averaging 23.0 yards per reception on his 19 catches this season. With Brees only being pressured on seven of his 42 drop-backs, it was easy pickings as he completed 30-of-35 for 364 yards and three touchdowns on the unpressured snaps.
Dominant Running Attack
As expected, given the struggles of the Cowboys’ defensive line, the Saints’ offensive line was equally impressive with all five starters grading in the green, led by Strief’s +5.3. But the running backs were impressive in their own right as Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas graded at +1.3 and +2.6 respectively. Ingram forced seven missed tackles on his way to 145 yards on 14 carries, including a touchdown while Thomas picked up 87 yards of his own on his 17 carries. The running game was responsible for 15 of the Saints’ NFL record 40 first downs as the ground attack provided an element of balance that has rarely been seen in New Orleans in recent years. If the Saints can build on this game, the added dimension on the ground makes them an even more dangerous team as we head into the second half of the season.
Jordan Bounces Back
After a torrid start, DE Cameron Jordan had cooled in recent weeks, but he was back to his disruptive ways again on Sunday. He graded at +3.8 overall including +3.2 as a pass rusher. He picked up a hit and three hurries on just 23 rushes in addition to another hit that was negated by a penalty. He got the best of RT Doug Free, beating him to his outside shoulder on all three of his hurries. While he didn’t pick up a sack, his rush against Free at the 11:44 mark of the third quarter flushed Romo right into DE Glenn Foster’s waiting arms. Perhaps Jordan’s most impressive play of the day came on the negated hit with 1:34 to go in the third. He bullrushed Free to the ground before doing the same with Romo but an offsides penalty by CB Keenan Lewis kept the play off the stat sheet. While the offense stole the show, Jordan reclaimed his place as the best player on the New Orleans defense.
– Brees completed 8-of-10 passes for 153 yards at the intermediate (10-20 yard) level.
– The Cowboys missed 15 tackles on defense while the Saints only missed two.
– Cowboys WR Dez Bryant was only targeted twice, catching one pass for 44 yards.
PFF Game Ball
The game ball could go to nearly every player on the Saints offense, but Brees led the charge playing one of his best games of the season at +4.8.
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