The New Orleans Saints may be without the injured Drew Brees, but they are still in first place in the NFC South following a 12-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday's showdown at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans is 3-1 and a game ahead of the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the division thanks in large part to Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas doing just enough on offense and a dominant defensive performance.
As for the Cowboys, Sunday ended their dream of an undefeated regular season. They are still 3-1, though, and sit atop the NFC East through four weeks.
Notable Fantasy Stats
- Teddy Bridgewater: 23-of-30 passing for 193 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception
- Alvin Kamara: 17 carries for 69 yards and zero touchdowns; three catches for 20 yards and zero touchdowns
- Michael Thomas: nine catches for 95 yards and zero touchdowns
- Dak Prescott: 22-of-33 passing for 223 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception
- Ezekiel Elliott: 18 carries for 35 yards and one touchdown; six catches for 30 yards and zero touchdowns
- Amari Cooper: five catches for 48 yards and zero touchdowns
- Jason Witten: four catches for 50 yards and zero touchdowns
Saints Find the Formula to Succeed Without Brees
The Saints' season appeared in jeopardy when Brees underwent surgery on his thumb that would keep him out for a significant amount of time, but that was anything but the case against the Cowboys.
Teddy Bridgewater isn't going to light up the scoreboard with the vertical passing attack, but New Orleans instituted a number of safe shorter throws in the early going, the occasional gadget play with direct snaps to Taysom Hill and an emphasis on the two best playmakers on the field.
Despite facing loaded boxes and a physical front seven with Leighton Vander Esch and Robert Quinn, Kamara picked up tough yards between the tackles, made defenders miss in space and worked in the aerial attack to soften up the defense.
Thomas was there to take advantage of those openings with a handful of crossing routes and the ability to come down with contested catches.
While Thomas and Kamara made enough plays to keep a struggling offense afloat, the story of the evening was New Orleans' defense. Marshon Lattimore smothered Amari Cooper, the front seven bottled Ezekiel Elliott throughout the game and Vonn Bell forced a crucial fumble on a 4th-and-1 play to set up a field goal to end the first half.
New Orleans has to clean up its red-zone offense (four field goals and zero touchdowns), but a stifling defense and simply getting the ball to Kamara and Thomas however possible with slants, pitch plays and screens appears to be enough to keep the Saints in position until Brees returns.
Cowboys Offense Comes Up Short Against First True Test
Dallas was undefeated and hitting on all cylinders entering Sunday's contest.
Elliott had over 100 yards in each of the last two games, Dak Prescott was playing some of the best football of his career and the defense was coming off a win in which it allowed a mere six points.
That defense showed up again in New Orleans, holding the Saints to field goals whenever they were in scoring position and keeping the visitors within striking distance until the final Hail Mary was intercepted. If there was a silver lining for Cowboys fans, it was the fact that the defense looks ready to compete for an NFC crown well into December and January.
The offense missed the memo.
Elliott struggled to break free from a crowded line of scrimmage nearly every time he got the ball, and Prescott couldn't find any openings against Lattimore and Co. The lack of depth at the receiver position also reared its ugly head when Prescott threw a ball to Cooper when he was covered by four Saints on the final possession.
It is fair to wonder if the Cowboys are a product of their early schedule considering the New York Giants, Washington and Miami Dolphins have a combined two wins. The offense did nothing to answer those fears, failing to deliver in a hostile environment it may have to visit during the postseason.
The defense was impressive, but that alone isn't enough to compete with the NFC's best teams.
Both teams are home in Week 5, where the Cowboys will face the Green Bay Packers and the Saints will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.