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Saints film room: Take a closer look at what plagued offense against Cowboys

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By Nick Underhill | The Advocate

There haven’t been many opportunities to discuss poor offensive performances by the Saints.

Even when things were bad, and the team was trapped in mediocrity, Drew Brees and the offense performed above the barrier of scrutiny most weeks. There was the 2016 game at Tampa Bay, the 2015 loss to Houston, and the weird season finale against Tampa Bay to close out the 2014 season. Other than that, not much to complain about during the last five seasons until Thursday’s 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

This game will fade away. It’s an outlier. The Saints aren’t going to be outplayed and struggle to move the ball very often. Still, we have to talk about it when it happens even if it probably doesn't mean anything in regards to the bigger picture.

The most striking aspect of the performance -- and it was mentioned here immediately after the game -- was that there were some passing plays where things looked off. The Saints had what a strict grader would call five dropped passes, but on a handful of them, the placement of the passes contributed to the difficulties.

The next few paragraphs are written with the following disclaimer: Drew Brees threw passes that were technically accurate throughout the game. Those passes hit his receivers in the hands, which means they should...

Saints putting Cowboys' game in rearview mirror, looking to finish season strong

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Advocate Photo by STEPHEN LEW

By Rod Walker | The Advocate

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was referring to his own team Thursday night.

But his statement could have applied to the team in the much quieter visitors' locker room at AT&T Stadium as well.

"I really think this bunch is going to take this and really be a different team over the next four ballgames," Jones said.

Just how different the New Orleans Saints are for the final four games of the season after Thursday's 13-10 loss to the Cowboys remains to be seen.

Will they return to Super Bowl-looking form, using Thursday's setback to refocus for the final stretch of the regular season?

Or did Thursday provide the formula on how to slow down the NFL's most prolific offense? ...

Full Story - The Advocate

Saints run defense offers proof why it deserves league’s top rank after containing Cowboys' Elliott

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By Luke Johnson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

If any doubt still lingered about the New Orleans' Saints top-ranked rush defense, any concern that it might have been fool’s gold thanks to those big leads the Saints have been building up lately, all that was probably put to bed for good in a losing effort against Dallas.

New Orleans held Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s leading rusher, to 76 yards on the ground. Thirteen of Elliott’s 23 carries went for two yards or less, and he was able to break just one run longer than seven yards in the game — a 21-yarder in the fourth quarter.

“I thought team defense (was good), we populated the ball well, we tackled well," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "He’s a good runner, good player and I thought the key is you getting numbers to the ball and staying true to your gap.”

Elliott had recorded three consecutive 100-yard rushing games coming into Thursday’s (Nov. 29) game against the Saints. ...

Full Story - NOLA.com

Grading the New Orleans Saints vs. the Dallas Cowboys

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By Jeff Duncan | NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Quarterbacks

Drew Brees suffered his worst performance of the season as Dallas' physical front seven hounded him for four quarters. Brees completed just 18 of 28 passes and rarely had time to sort through his progressions or get the ball downfield. The result: an anemic and highly uncharacteristic 127-yard game that resulted in a season-low 71.6 passer efficiency rating. Brees obviously would like to have back the late, game-clinching interception to Jourdan Lewis. That's a play you rarely see from the future Hall of Famer, especially in crunch time. Tough night.

Grade: C-minus

Running backs

Dallas linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith kept the Saints' 1-2 punch of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in check for most of the game. The New Orleans duo combined for just 63 yards on 18 carries and popped only one run longer than 10 yards, a meager 13-yarder by Ingram in the second quarter. Dallas deployed Lewis in single coverage on Kamara in third-down situations, and the strategy was successful. Kamara caught a team-high eight passes, but his long reception covered just 8 yards. Kamara and Ingram ran hard, but the Cowboys defense was stifling.

Grade: C...

Full Story - NOLA.com

Saints have tougher remaining schedule than Rams, Bears

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By Christopher Dabe - NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The New Orleans Saints always were going to be in a fight for the top playoff spot in the NFC. That much was clear even after the Saints dismantled the Los Angeles Rams a few weeks back in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

But what happened Thursday — the 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys — has the Saints needing the Rams to lose again for the Saints to get back to the top of the conference standings. The Saints at 10-2 are sandwiched between the conference-leading Rams (10-1) and the surging Chicago Bears (8-3) among the top three teams in the NFC.

The Bears are especially concerning for the Saints because of their 6-1 record against NFC opponents, which would give them a tiebreaker for a higher playoff seed and a first-round bye if the teams had identical records. ...

Full Story - NOLA.com

After playing three games in an 11-day stretch, Saints will get a chance to recover

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By Luke Johnson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

In the midst of his 10th pro season, this was a first for New Orleans Saints center Max Unger: Back-to-back Thursday games, three games in 11 days.

Now, he is looking forward to the one benefit that comes from that scheduling quirk.

“That’s a tough schedule,” Unger said. "There’s no excuse because Dallas did the same thing. We just have to be able to manage unique schedules when they’re presented, but these next couple days will be good to kind of get a break, a little bit extra treatment and kind of get ready for the fourth quarter (of the season).”

The Saints will be afforded something of a mini bye week coming off their second straight Thursday game, getting a couple days off to rebound and recover from a physical loss to the Cowboys in Dallas. ...

Full Story - NOLA.com

Sean Payton didn’t regret early challenges, fourth-down attempt vs. Cowboys

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(Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

By Josh Katzenstein, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton acknowledged that he and his staff would have some regrets when breaking down Thursday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but immediately after the game, he didn’t second-guess a few of his decisions on the night.

Payton used two coaches challenges within first 19 minutes of the game, and because the first one failed, the Saints were left without a challenge for the remaining 41 minutes — technically 37 because the coaches cannot challenge in the final 2 minutes of the second or fourth quarters.

“No,” Payton said when asked if he regretted using both challenges early.

In a vacuum, it’s tough to question either challenge, especially because one play was overturned, but the Saints might have wanted to challenge a fourth-quarter catch by Dallas receiver Cole Beasley, which converted a third down even though his left knee was down 2 yards short of the line to gain. ...

Full Story - NOLA.com

Saints-Cowboys game sets Thursday-night ratings record: report

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By Mike Scott, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The Dallas Cowboys weren't the only big winners in their Thursday-night upset of the New Orleans Saints. So was Fox Sports, which saw the game become the most-watched Thursday-night NFL game in history on any network, according to Deadline.

The key late-season NFC matchup drew a reported 14.6 overnight household rating nationally. The previous Thursday-night record was set in Dec. 2016, when the Cowboys played the Minnesota Vikings on NBC. That game registered a reported household rating of 12.8.

In New Orleans, Thursday's Saints-Cowboys game drew an eye-popping 58.5 overnight rating, the highest in any market for any NFL game this season, according to Michael Mulvihill of Fox Sports. By comparison, the Saints' much-ballyhooed Thanksgiving game against the NFC South division rival Atlanta Falcons registered a 52.3 rating in New Orleans.

Full Story - NOLA.com

David Onyemata's breakout performance, including 3 sacks, bodes well for Saints' solid front

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Advocate Photo by STEPHEN LEW

By Rod Walker | The Advocate

As soon as the play was over, New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata was greeted by teammate Sheldon Rankins, who met him facemask-to-facemask while holding up three fingers.

Onyemata had just bulldozed Dallas left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo into quarterback Dak Prescott, causing Prescott to fumble and forcing the Cowboys to have to settle for a field goal at the end of the first half of Thursday's game in Arlington, Texas.

Rankins' three fingers represented Onyemata's three sacks — all in the first half — that were part of Thursday night's breakout performance for the third-year pro.

But if Onyemata could have things his way, he would trade the career night he had Thursday for a victory.

Instead, Onyemata will have to settle for the stellar stat line he posted in the Saints' 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. ...

Full Story - The Advocate

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