The challenges remain the same for the New Orleans Saints (0-3) when they host the Dallas Cowboys (2-1) on Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome - reduce turnovers, force more turnovers and score more points.
The two went hand-in-hand in a 27-22 loss at the Carolina Panthers last week as the Saints showed promise on Sunday with Luke McCown filling in for an injured Drew Brees at quarterback, but a lost fumble and an interception proved costly, while the defense failed to force a turnover.
In his first start with the Saints, McCown completed 13 of 14 passes in the first quarter alone as he helped New Orleans jump to an early 10-0 lead, scoring on its first two possessions. He finished completing 31 of 38 passes for 310 yards and one interception. The 27 total first downs by New Orleans was a season-high. McCown distributed the ball to nine receivers with Brandin Cooks leading the team with seven grabs for 79 yards.
The Saints finished with 380 yards of total offense, but after falling behind 27-16 early in the fourth quarter, were forced to concentrate on their passing game. New Orleans rushed for 70 yards with Mark Ingram leading the way with 14 rushes for 50 yards and one touchdown, while also adding five receptions for 49 yards.
New Orleans surrendered 431 total net yards on defense and will face one of their biggest challenges to date on that side of the ball when the Cowboys come into the Superdome. Despite losing WR Dez Bryant and QB Tony Romo, the Cowboys are ranked eighth In the NFL in total offense and 12th in scoring.
CB Brandon Browner, rookie LB Hau'oli Kikaha and S Kenny Vaccaro tied for the team lead with nine tackles last Sunday. Kikaha added a sack for the second consecutive week and has two quarterback takedowns and two forced fumbles on the season.
The return game on special teams was another bright spot and an area that has made a big improvement for New Orleans in 2015. Rookie RB/RS Marcus Murphy had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the third quarter to put New Orleans temporarily ahead 16-10.
"We have to find a way to get our first win," Coach Sean Payton said. "So as coaches we have to pay close attention to the details. We have to look at all the specifics that win and lose games and we have to do a better job and be as demanding as ever and point out the things as we watch tape. There are a handful of things that are encouraging and then there are some things that have to be improved upon, but there is no time to dwell right now, it is really more a time of urgency to go out and improve."