PHOTO — Dez Bryant wasn’t the Dallas Cowboys’ primary target. Entering the fourth quarter, he only had two catches for 26 yards.
But he delivered the final blow with less than four minutes remaining, catching an 18-yard touchdown on third-and-6.
“Whenever you get the opportunity, you got to take advantage of it,” Bryant said. “That’s exactly what happened. I put the dagger. Boom.”
Bryant was so pleased with Dallas’ 38-17 victory over New Orleans that he ran to the Cowboys locker room yelling, “We Dat!” Bryant was taking a shot at Saints fans and their popular cheer, “Who Dat?”
GAME RECAP – Dallas Cowboys rout Rob Ryan’s Saints, 38-17
For a double-digit blowout win, that sure had its nerve-racking moments, didn’t it?
Yes, the Cowboys came away with an impressive 38-17 victory over the Saints in front of 91,176 fans and a national prime time television audience, but with epic collapses still fresh in the memory – anyone care to relive Green Bay or Detroit? – many began to wonder if perhaps an even greater debacle was in store.
The Cowboys went into the fourth quarter with what seemed an insurmountable 31-3 lead, only to watch the Saints fire back with 14 unanswered points early in the final frame. Needless to say, hands were wringing among the Dallas faithful.
Fortunately, however, in the end the Cowboys were able to stop the bleeding, the team again relying on their offense and special teams to secure the much-needed win.
And about that offense … whew! Romo and Co. was firing on all cylinders for most of the night, racking up 447 yards, including 24 first downs, while also winning the time of possession, 32:52 to 25:15.
Running back DeMarco Murray was a workhorse, a virtual man among boys against the New Orleans defense. Time and time again he juked his way around would-be tacklers or simply carried them along for a few extra yards. After racking up 85 yards in the first half, he tacked on 64 more in the second for his fourth 100-yard effort in as many games. He now has 534 rushing yards for the season, easily the NFL’s best.
And whatever rust Romo was accused of needing to shake off at the beginning of the season, seems to be long gone. The quarterback scrambled in the pocket, broke loose on a 21-yard run and picked apart a Saints defense that simply had no answer for most of the game. He finished with 262 yards passing, hitting his target on 22 of his 29 attempts, a stellar .759 completion percentage.
The beneficiary of most of Romo’s handiwork was second-year wide receiver Terrance Williams, suddenly a rising star. With all-worldly Dez Bryant occupying most of the Saints’ attention, Williams had a field day, catching six passes for team-high 77 yards and two touchdowns.
He wasn’t alone, though. Eight different players recorded a catch in the game for the Cowboys with Jason Witten catching five balls for 61 yards and Bryant adding three grabs for 44, including a nail-in-the-coffin fourth quarter touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, well, the Dallas defense held up as about as well as can be expected against Drew Breese and the high-powered Saints offense. In fact, through those first three quarters the Cowboys D was downright impressive. Only in the fourth quarter did things get a bit out of hand, as New Orleans finished with 438 yards of offense.
But, even more important than whatever yards were surrendered, Dallas won the turnover battle, posting one interception and two fumble recoveries while the Cowboys offense didn’t let loose of the ball once.
The first half was all Cowboys as Romo and his offense took the opening possession at their own 20 and covered the distance in a clock-eating 7:57. Romo mixed in passes to five different receivers with Murray balancing out the series with five carries.
In a play that was vintage Romo, the quarterback scrambled around a collapsing pocket on third-and-3 at his own 43, twice escaping a potential sack, before finding Witten across the middle for a big 16-yard gain. That eventually led to Romo connecting with Williams in the back of the end zone from 6 yards out for an early 7-0 lead.
All in all, the Cowboys dominated the first quarter, with Romo a perfect 9-for-9 on his pass attempts for 86 yards. Meanwhile, Murray totaled 41 yards on 8 carries, a 5.1-yard average, as Dallas totaled a 10:53 time of possession to just 4:07 for the visitors.
After the Cowboys were reminded again just what a weapon Dan Bailey is – the kicker splitting the uprights from 51 yards after his counterpart with the Saints, Shayne Graham, missed from 41 – the Dallas defense stepped up with a key turnover. When Brees attempted to thread a pass into receiver Robert Meachem, linebacker Bruce Carter made an athletic dive to tip the ball before fellow ’backer Justin Durant came down with the prize.
Set up with great field position at the New Orleans 39, the Cowboys offense then needed only two plays to reach paydirt. Romo first hit Lance Dunbar on a perfectly executed screen pass for 24 yards, which was followed by Murray bolting around the right end for the final 15 yards to give Dallas a 17-0 advantage.
Once again, the defense did its job, holding the Saints to a three-and-out,
which gave the Cowboys plenty of time before the half to light up the scoreboard again. With 2:34 showing on the clock, the tone was immediately set when Murray slammed his way up the middle, breaking what seemed sure tackles for a beautiful 22-yard gain. Romo then took over, hitting Bryant for 9, Cole Beasley for 10 and Witten for 11 to get Dallas down to the New Orleans 23.
That was immediately followed by the quarterback connecting again with Williams, this time on the left sideline, the receiver grinding his way into the end zone to give the Cowboys a seemingly commanding 24-0 lead at the break.
Taking first possession as the third quarter got underway, New Orleans made a little noise when they quickly worked their way down the field, moving 68 yards in 10 plays. But the Dallas defense stalled the momentum by keeping the Saints out of the end zone, surrendering just a 30-yard field goal for the visitor’s first three points of the game.
And the Cowboys offense had an answer. After Dwayne Harris brought the ball out to the Dallas 34, another special teams weapon for the home side, Romo led his team back the other way. Murray again produced a honey of a run to finish off the series, going off left guard and faking out the safety to rumble into the end zone for the score, the Cowboys lead up to 31-3, where it remained heading into the fourth quarter.
But that’s when things got interesting. The Saints offense could suddenly do no wrong while the Cowboys offense found themselves suddenly doing no right.
Less than two minutes into the final frame, New Orleans got into the end zone for a quick touchdown, and then when Dallas went three-and-out, the Saints came right back and tacked on another seven points, the score a now uncomfortable 31-17 with still nearly 10 minutes left in the game.
Making matters worse, linebacker Bruce Carter pulled up while trying to chase down Saints running back Khiry Robinson on a big 62-yard gain and had to leave
with what looked like a serious quadriceps injury.
But, the tide finally turned for good when the Saints attempted a fake punt on their next possession. The Cowboys special teams unit played their positions perfectly, leaving Thomas Morstead no open receivers to throw to, the punter eventually brought down for a 2-yard loss.
Now set up at the New Orleans 39, Romo tossed a 16-yard pass to Witten on third-and-9 to push the chains, then hit Bryant along the left sideline on third-and-6 from the 18 for the final score, the Cowboys dousing any hopes of a comeback.
With the win, the Cowboys improved to 3-1, their best mark after four games since the 2008 season, and are now tied atop the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost earlier in the day in San Francisco.
Dallas will next take on its downstate rivals from Houston next Sunday at home, the Texans coming in with an identical 3-1 record.
SCOUTS GAMEDAY AFTERTHOUGHTS: Tony Romo in control, Williams shines
There was never a point in time during this game that Tony Romo wasn’t in total control. Even when the Saints cut the margin to two scores, there still was that calmness in the way that he was able to direct this offense. Mentally he had all the answers for what Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was throwing at him. Physically he was able to execute Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s game plan to the letter. What was most impressive about Romo’s night was his ability to take a page out of Drew Brees’ book and work the ball to 10 different teammates in the game. As long as he continues that approach, this offense will be difficult to contain.
The Cowboys dressed four cornerbacks for this game against the Saints. Understand the desire to get an extra defensive linemen or linebacker on the 46. When Morris Claiborne went out very early in the game with a knee injury, I was concerned about how Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Sterling Moore were going to hold up in this game with all the multiple wide receiver packages the Saints run. You have to be impressed that even down a man, these three corners were able to handle their responsibilities against one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
If the Cowboys were going to win this game, I felt like Terrance Williams was going to have to an outstanding performance on the outside. Ryan was going to take Dez Bryant out of the game, and for the most part, he was able to limit Bryant’s opportunities. Committing coverage to deal with Bryant was going to allow Williams to work against some single coverage, and that was exactly what happened. Williams was fed the ball early and was able to make Ryan and his defense pay for that coverage. Against the Saints, we all saw the type of talent that we should be able to see each week from Williams. He will continue to get better in all areas of his game.
If Jason Witten, James Hanna and these wide receivers continue to block at the point of attack, DeMarco Murray is going to knock off a bunch of 100-yard rushing games. Give Murray credit for the way that he is running the ball and finishing those runs, but for him to get into the second level there has to be lanes for him to get through because of his lack of a burst. These skill guys are doing an outstanding job of getting him in space, and that is why he is having the success that he is.
The proudest man in the way that Anthony Spencer played against the Saints has to be associate athlete trainer Britt Brown. It was five months ago that Spencer and Brown began their journey together in hopes that Spencer would once again return to the field. Through a tremendous amount of dedication, both Spencer and Brown can share a moment when at one time no one believed that this was even possible. Together they proved us all wrong.
I understand how each week Jason Garrett tells us about players that have position flexibility and how important that is to the overall depth of the squad. With Spencer now back in the rotation, if I were these defensive coaches I would leave Tyrone Crawford inside at defensive tackle instead of still playing him at defensive end. He is a much better player the closer that you put him to the ball, and he can take advantage of his quickness and power when attacking guards. Crawford had two tackles, a hurry on Brees and batted down a pass in the game – all numbers that he most likely would not have had at end.
I was not surprised that Sean Payton tried to fake that punt late in the ball game. I had a feeling all week that he was going to try and show the NBC audience what a brilliant coach he was by running trick plays. Give credit to Cowboys special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia and his unit for being in perfect position to make the stop.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had 11 targets, which resulted in eight receptions but only for 86 yards and one touchdown. For most tight ends that is an outstanding night at the office. Graham is one of those players that no matter how guys try and cover him, he is going to find ways to make plays. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s plan to play him with different bodies was outstanding. Where the Cowboys had success against Graham was how physical they were with him in coverage. Even when he made catches there was a defender there to contest the ball or bring him down quickly. For Marinelli and his defense, it was a huge win for the way that they were able to defend one of the best mismatch players in the league.
Brandin Cooks caught five balls for 31 yards and had two punt returns for 15 yards. If you asked me before the game what Saints skill player I was most worried about it was Cooks. This Dallas Cowboys defense held him in check.
It is unfortunate the injury suffered by Bruce Carter that has been outstanding at then Sam linebacker and will be a huge loss for this defense for likely an extended period of time. I believe this defense will work around it by putting Justin Durant on the strong side and once again use rookie standout Anthony Hitchens on the weak side. We could also see Kyle Wilber and Corey Toomer in the mix. Hitchens has proved that he deserves an opportunity to get back on that field until Carter returns. The kid has a nose for the ball and he is a solid tackler.
I can’t remember a game where the Cowboys defense tackled as well as they did against the Saints. Maybe the Eagles game that was played in Philadelphia in 2013 but this defense tackled well at all levels. Defensive line, linebackers and secondary it didn’t matter. They managed to get bodies to the ball and when they got into position those Saints ball carriers were being brought to the ground. When you face a big play offense you can’t afford to be a poor tackling team because they will make you pay within those misses. It was outstanding technique and effort across the board in that area.
Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Pro Football Analyst/Former NFL Scout
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