Arlington, Texas – After watching the New Orleans Saints rout several opponents during their 10-game winning streak, it was easy to get seduced into believing winning was easy.
The winning streak ended against Dallas on Thursday night, a 13-10 loss at AT&T Stadium that will give the Saints (10-2) a few things to reflect on over the long weekend. New Orleans remains a good team – a very, very good team. But the Cowboys (7-5) were more successful defensively than any team has been against the Saints this season, and that won't go over well with a prideful offensive unit.
OFFENSE: The Saints managed 176 yards and 10 points. They had 14 first downs and converted just three times in 11 third-down attempts. They were 0 for 2 in the red zone. Drew Brees threw an interception, and was sacked twice. That's about a month's worth of ineffective play for these Saints offensively, and it was enough to keep them out of the victory column against Dallas. Now, credit the Cowboys: They entered the game with the third-best scoring defense in the league (19.4 points per game) and were on a three-game winning streak of their own. They're coming on strong at the right time, and the secondary is formidable. But the Saints did their fair share of foot-shooting, and they'll obviously need to rectify that going forward.
DEFENSE: The defense keeps getting better, and better, and better. A week after forcing five fumbles (and recovering four) and posting six sacks against the Falcons, the Saints touched Dallas for seven sacks and three more fumbles forced, recovering two. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and defensive end Cam Jordan forced and recovered fumbles, Jordan had two sacks, David Onyemata had three sacks and the Saints defense did a fantastic job of keeping Dallas out of the end zone and keeping the game close. Honestly, the unit played well enough to win. It gave the offense enough opportunities and more than held its own. The Cowboys totaled 100 rushing yards – the Saints were allowing 73.2 – but averaged 3.2 yards per carry. All in all, it was a standout showing. Cornerback Eli Apple drew three penalties (two were declined) and was too grabby, but there was enough good overall by the unit to overcome the rough spots.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Thomas Morstead had an outstanding night – four punts for a 44.5-yard net average, and only one returned for eight yards. And kicker Wil Lutz made his 21st consecutive field goal, to move into second place in franchise history for consecutive makes. A breakout return would've been nice to give the Saints some momentum, and Alvin Kamara's 16-yard punt return in the fourth quarter provided a little juice. But Kamara also muffed one (it went out of bounds) to cost the Saints a few yards. The one thing this unit hasn't done is really sprung loose a return. That remains the goal.