ARLINGTON, Texas — On paper, it might not have looked pretty as the Saints defense allowed 446 total yards in Sunday’s 34-31 win at Dallas. But take a closer look, and it quickly becomes clear how the New Orleans defense performed on the road against the Cowboys.
For starters, the Saints held Dallas to 40 yards rushing, which is impressive considering the Cowboys were averaging around 80 yards on the ground through their first 14 games.
New Orleans held Dallas running back DeMarco Murray in check, with 40 yards on 11 carries.
Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton also delivered one of the game’s biggest defensive plays, stripping the ball from Murray and recovering the fumble at the Dallas 5-yard line with 4:25 left in the third quarter. Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense made the Cowboys pay three plays later as Brees hit Pierre Thomas from 5 yards out to make it 24-17.
Lofton finished with five tackles, but there was little doubt what his biggest play was.
“Curtis has had a great year,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. “Curtis has been a great acquisition for us. You talk about a huge play. When opposition’s backed up and you’re able to give our offense possession on the 5-yard line, huge.”
As for how he got the ball at Murray’s expense, he chalked it up to following some simple advice from defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“DeMarco Murray, he’s a great running back,” Lofton said. “Coach Spags has been emphasizing all week that first guy in, make the tackles, and the second guys come in to strip the ball. I saw the opportunity, and I was lucky enough to make the play.”
Not only did New Orleans stifle the Dallas ground game, but the Saints also forced the Cowboys offense to repeatedly misfire on third down.
Dallas finished just 2-of-10 (20 percent) on third-down conversions after converting 44 percent of the time on third down before Sunday.
“Going into this game, we had to win the turnover battle,” Vitt said. “That was the No. 1 key. The No. 2 key was the run game and third downs. If we took care of those two things and protected the ball, we felt like we would have a real good chance to compete and win this football game, and the guys did that. They responded.”
But the greatest quality the Saints defense displayed in the Lone Star State might have been resiliency. That’s because after the Cowboys found the end zone on each of their final two possessions of regulation, including a 15-yard pass from Tony Romo to Miles Austin with 15 seconds left to tie it at 31-31 and force overtime, the defense regrouped and limited the Dallas offense to just four plays in overtime, setting the stage for Garrett Hartley’s game-winner with 10:37 left in overtime.
Despite the Saints coming away with a big road win and sitting at 7-8, players and coaches agree there are still some teachable moments from Sunday’s game that they can use going forward.
“I think overall, we’re satisfied, but we feel like we left a little something out there. To give up those quick scores, that’s something that we don’t want to do,” Lofton said. “We don’t want to give up 14 points, especially in the fourth quarter. We’ve got to tighten up on our two-minute and no-huddle defense.”