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New Orleans Saints defense preparing for one of league's best offenses in Dallas

"Whatever it takes to win, right?"


Statistically, it has the look of movable object versus unstoppable force.

A force that, for the New Orleans Saints' sake, has to be stopped – or, at least, slowed to an acceptable degree – Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, when the Saints (2-1) play the Dallas Cowboys (3-0).

The "unstoppable force," so far this season, has been Dallas' offense. The Cowboys average 32.3 points (fourth), 481.3 yards (third), 179 rushing yards (third) and 302.3 passing yards (fourth) per game entering Sunday, with a hot-handed quarterback (Dak Prescott), a punishing runner (Ezekiel Elliott) and an ankle-breaking receiver (Amari Cooper) leading the way.

Prescott (70-for-94 passing for 920 yards and nine touchdowns, with two interceptions), Elliott (55 carries for 289 yards and two touchdowns) and Cooper (16 catches for 238 yards and four touchdowns) aren't Dallas' new triplets. The other trio (quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith, receiver Michael Irvin) each has his bust in Canton, Ohio.

But they've proven to be plenty good enough this season to fan Dallas' Super Bowl aspirations.

"They're a really good team," linebacker Demario Davis said. "Great quarterback, great running back and a really good offensive line, some explosive receivers. They're playing really good football right now."

Prescott, particularly, has been impressive.

"Like any quarterback, you just see a little bit more growth, decision-making," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "He has beaten teams in the pocket. Obviously, he can escape. I think he's very effective when he's outside the pocket on the move. He's run for touchdowns. I think you also see a calmness and a really good leader."

Said Davis: "Really smart football player, knows where to go with the football, really good arm. Of course, he poses a threat with his legs too, keeping plays alive. I think he's doing a good job of doing what they ask him to do, keeping his team on track, protecting the football. They give you so many different looks and have so many weapons, they're doing a good job of getting the ball around."

The prevention of that brings into play the "movable object" portion of the equation, though that description might be a touch misleading and a little circumstantial.

The fact is, the Saints are allowing 436 yards (28th) and 27.3 points (26th) in the league. Underneath the pile is this: They held the Rams to six points in the first half and to 13 midway through the third quarter before a couple of late scores in the 27-9 loss. And they held Seattle to seven points through three quarters, and scored a defensive touchdown, before a 27-7 lead became a 33-27 decision.

Seattle's Russell Wilson threw for 211 of his 406 passing yards in the fourth quarter during the comeback attempt.

"Whatever it takes to win, right?" said cornerback Eli Apple, who caused a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by safety Vonn Bell against the Seahawks. "Sometimes if you're ahead and they've got to pass the ball and you've got to stop them through the air, you might have to give up a couple of yards.

"But the thing is, we don't want to give up that big play, that explosive play. We'd rather let them dink and dunk and corral to that, instead of giving up 15-, 20-plus yard catches. Chunk plays."

Much of that may come down to how well the Saints slow down the run. After allowing 180 rushing yards in the season opener against Houston, New Orleans has chipped it to 115 against the Rams and 109 against Seattle.

"Zeke has proven to be, one of the top – if not the top – running backs in the game," Davis said. "So of course, they're going to give him the ball. It's our job to try to find a way to stop him. That's just to be expected."

"It starts with 21 (Elliott)," Bell said. "We've got to stop the run and eliminate the explosive passes off of that. Dak is doing a really good job of finding guys down the field and they're making plays for him.

"So we've just got to stop the run and make everything one-dimensional, get off the field on third down and eliminate the efficiency on first and second down, so it won't be a breeze on third down. So we've just got to know the situation and eliminate."

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