The Cowboys looked as if they were going to give the Saints a tough game until they gave up 21 points in the last five minutes of the first half.
There were a number of things that stuck out for the Cowboys during the game, both good and bad. Here are the five biggest takeaways from their performance against the Saints.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray had a fantastic first half, but he was unable to maintain his performance in the second half due to the large deficit Dallas was facing.
Murray had 80 yards on the ground and one touchdown on just 11 carries in the first half, which was good enough for 7.27 yards per carry. He had just five carries for nine yards in the second half.
Of the nine first downs the Cowboys were able to gain during the game, four of them were on the ground.
When Murray is healthy and the Cowboys aren’t facing a large deficit, their offense is very dangerous. Although they have had a few health issues on the offensive line, they looked dominant on the ground against the Saints’ front seven.
Having the ability to gain yardage both on the ground and through the air is going to be key for the Cowboys as they continue to look to win the NFC East crown.
The second takeaway from the game is that the Cowboys need to get Dez Bryant more involved in the offense.
Against the Saints, Bryant was targeted just twice, bringing in one reception for 44 yards. It didn’t help that in the red zone, the Saints were double-teaming him before the snap, bringing a safety down with their cornerback to jam Bryant at the line of scrimmage. Due to the disappearing act of Miles Austin this season and the Cowboys’ inability to develop a consistent second threat beside Bryant, this allowed the Saints secondary to key in on him to hold him to one of his most unproductive games of the season.
Bryant has played well all season, catching 52 of the 90 passes he has been targeted on for 749 yards and eight touchdowns.
Although this hasn’t been a trend all season, the Cowboys need to develop consistency with rookie receiver Terrance Williams. Williams has 498 receiving yards and five touchdowns, which are all good marks for a rookie, but he has had a very limited impact in his last three games. Williams has five receptions, despite being targeted 22 times, for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
If Williams can start to make secondaries more aware of his abilities, this will ease a lot of pressure on Bryant. Defenses will no longer be able to double-team Bryant without being burned by someone else downfield, which will allow Bryant to make a larger impact.
Last night, Sean Lee exited the game in the first half due to a hamstring injury. After Lee left the game, the Saints took over and scored 42 of their 49 points.
Although the loss of Lee isn’t the only reason the Cowboys surrendered 49 points Sunday night, it certainly made a huge impact.
Lee has burst onto the scene this year as a difference-maker for Dallas. Through nine complete games, Lee has accumulated 93 total tackles (team high) and six pass deflections to go along with his four interceptions, which are also a team high.
The absence of Lee opened up holes in the Cowboys defense, and Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints were able to shred it for 625 total yards. The Saints also set an NFL record with 40 first-down conversions, including nine of their 12 third-down attempts.
The Cowboys' inability to get the Saints off the field might have been the biggest factor in the loss.
Hopefully Lee’s hamstring injury isn’t serious and he is able to make his next start for the Cowboys’ upcoming game following a Week 11 bye against the New York Giants.
One of the things that not only haunted the Cowboys in their game against the Saints, but also throughout the last few seasons, has been their pass defense.
The Cowboys allowed Drew Brees to pass for 392 yards and four touchdowns, and he also maintained an 83 percent pass-completion rate. Allowing those types of numbers won’t get you very far in the NFL.
On the season, the Cowboys are allowing 313 passing yards per game, according to NFL.com, which is ranked last in the league. They have also allowed 20 passing touchdowns, which has them ranked 30th in the league in that category.
Obviously, fixing these issues is something that takes an ample amount of time. With Dallas still in prime position to win its division, it needs to iron out these issues before the playoffs start. Brandon Carr has played well, but former top-10 draft pick Morris Claiborne has underachieved during his first two seasons. Claiborne didn’t play against the Saints due to a hamstring injury, but he is expected to return in Week 12 when the Cowboys face off against the division-rival New York Giants.
Claiborne needs to get healthy quickly or the Cowboys might have to rely on Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb in coverage while he is out.
Former seventh-round pick George Selvie has developed into a solid contributor on the Cowboys’ defensive line. Selvie, the defensive end who plays opposite All-Pro DeMarcus Ware, had previous stops in St. Louis, Carolina and Jacksonville before finally finding his place in Dallas.
Selvie didn’t register a sack against the Saints, but he did have two solo tackles. He also appeared to be putting pressure on Drew Brees throughout the game, despite accumulating only a single sack for the game.
Selvie is having a career year through 10 games in 2013. He has a career high in total tackles (20), and he also has a career-high six sacks.
If Selvie can maintain this performance for the rest of the season, it will go a long way in decreasing the pressure on the Cowboys secondary. The combination of Ware and Selvie off the edges could be a strong point for Dallas moving forward.