Now that's how it's supposed to be done.
The now 7-2 New Orleans Saints destroyed the Dallas Cowboys (5-5) 49-17 on Sunday Night Football. The destruction of the Cowboys was a necessity after the Saints dropped two of their last three games.
What started out as a competitive contest ended up being a laugher at best. The Cowboys had very little to offer the Saints on offense or defense. The Saints piled up 634 yards to Dallas' 193.
The Saints production was evenly distributed, as 242 yards were gained on the ground, as opposed to the 392 achieved by air.
When the Saints execute a balanced game plan, they are virtually unbeatable. Up next for the Saints is a pivotal contest, at home, against the 6-3 San Francisco 49ers. In this playoff race, there's no rest for the weary.
Here are my takeaways from the Saints' victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.
Make no mistake about it—to compete in the playoffs you must be able to execute multiple game plans at the drop of a dime. For a high-powered passing attack like the one the Saints possess, the ability to run the ball may be almost as important as the downfield scheme come January.
There will come a point when your fastball is not is not working as it usually is. If you can throw a slider just as effectively, it can only be of benefit to your offense.
In this game, the Saints showed they could sustain long drives, as well as go for explosive touchdowns. In turn, the ability to control the clock put Dallas' offense on ice, thus never allowing them to get into any type of a rhythm.
If you can't establish a rhythm, it makes it difficult to have any semblance of a balanced attack of your own.
Teams with a one-dimensional attack stand little chance against the Saints...unless that dimension is running the ball.
New Orleans did itself a favor by by controlling the clock and rendering the Cowboys offense one-dimensional. If that didn't happen, the Cowboys were about to destroy them on the ground.
The Saints struggle to stop the run even when fully healthy, but you have to imagine the absence of safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper has an even greater effect on the run defense.
Harper in particular usually acts as a fourth or fifth linebacker, depending on the alignment. He's a complete liability in pass coverage, but his run defense is one of the best at the position. His return can't come soon enough.
A week after giving up 198 yards on the ground to the New York Jets, Dallas was held to 89 yards...on only 16 carries (5.6 average)!
If Dallas hadn't gotten behind so big, the Saints were on their way to another poor showing.
In fact, the Saints are now last in the NFL in average yards per attempt (5.0). Giving up five yards per tote will get you embarrassed in the playoffs.
The Saints need to make this a major point of emphasis from here on out.
To say running back Mark Ingram is a bit of a pariah may be an understatement. Fans and pundits alike have questioned his talent, heart and wherewithal over his three seasons in New Orleans.
After his performance on Sunday Night Football, the critics were quiet as a church on Tuesdays.
The Saints may have solved the conundrum that is the run game, or at the very least they have found a formula that could go a long way in improving that aspect of the offense. New Orleans, mostly when Ingram was in the backfield, went with mostly "21 personnel," allowing him the opportunity to work off of fullback Jed Collins.
Instead of treating Ingram like his fellow backs Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles or Chris Ivory (former Saints), the Saints tailored both their scheme and play-calling to fit the personnel.
Ingram runs best behind a fullback between the tackles. Having a lead blocker means the onus isn't placed on him to find the proper holes and cutback lanes. Ingram simply lacks vision but makes up for it with tenacity, agility and power.
Thomas has great vision and works best without a lead blocker—although he is versatile enough to run behind one effectively as well. Sproles doesn't require a lead blocker, it only slows him down.
When Ingram is on his game, he's as special as they come. He can ignite a crowd with his post-run antics and can most certainly spark an offense.
Ingram finished with 145 yards, on only 14 carries, his first 100-yard game of his pro career. Here's hoping for many more.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant is one of the best (if not the best) players at his position. His blend of size (6'2", 222 pounds), speed, strength, agility and versatility is almost unparalleled in a league full of athletic monsters.
For the Cowboys to go anywhere, it will be on the strength of Bryant's muscular frame. The Saints obviously knew that, as they tailored their entire defensive plan around erasing Bryant from the stats sheet.
With only one catch—although it went for 44 yards—the Saints were virtually able to do just that. Saints' defensive coordinator Rob Ryan took a page out of Bill Belichick's (New England Patriots head coach) game plan, which usually involves forcing someone other than your star player to beat them.
With double and sometimes triple coverage, Bryant was essentially placed on a proverbial milk carton. Displaying just how much they respect Bryant, the Saints went as far as double-vice coverage (where two defenders jam a receiver at the line).
Corner Keenan Lewis did a great job of jamming Bryant at the line while a dedicated safety bracketed him over the top.
The Cowboys have the least imaginative offensive coaches we've seen in a while. It took quarterback Tony Romo moving Bryant to the slot to get him away from double coverage for one play, which allowed his aforementioned reception.
They could've sent him in motion, ran a reverse or played him exclusively in the slot—to allow him the chance for single coverage. But that would require using their brains.
The Saints have shown a penchant for executing multiple game plans and schemes on both offense and defense.
Now that's scary.
Romo and Saints quarterback Drew Brees are two of the very best in the NFL. Brees is more celebrated due to his postseason success (something Romo has yet to really accomplish). But Romo is the fourth-highest rated passer in history of the NFL, and can light up any defense when he is on his game.
Sunday wasn't one of those nights.
Romo played one of the worst games of his career as he was held in check for the majority of it. His 10-of-24, 128-yard performance left a lot to be desired. He did manage a 21-yard touchdown to receiver Terrance Williams off a beautiful double-move, but was pretty much ineffective outside of that highlight.
Conversely, Brees had his best game of the season (or one of them). His 34-of-41, 392-yard performance was filled with highlights. His four touchdowns all went to different players. He spread the ball around to nine different players, and was only sacked once.
In this game the comparison wasn't even close. Brees was truly the better player on this night—as he generally has been for most of his career.
Receiver Marques Colston is off to one of the worst starts to a season in his entire career. As the perennial pulse of the Saints' air attack, Colston has seen his star dim seemingly overnight. But just as soon as that light dims, it can turn into high beams, as witnessed by Colston's performance against Dallas.
His seven-catch, 107-yard performance (one TD), was vintage Colston. He dominated the intermediate game while breaking tackles and making clutch catches. You have to wonder if injuries were slowing him down prior to him receiving the week off against the Jets.
Whatever the case may be, the pass game is simply better when Colston is on his game. He opens things up for everyone across the board, as he requires extra attention from defenses.
Welcome back, Mr. Colston.