Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  By BOB STURM  |  Last updated 11/11/13
Well, then. There are certain games that become landmark momentsbecause of the events that they contained and the way that the game shaped theseason. When people mention a year, those of us obsessed withfollowing a certain team have a few games from each season that come quickly tomind. They take that spot on the main stage becauseeither the highs were phenomenally high or the lows were incredibly low. I don't think we have to tell you which was which last nightin New Orleans as the Saints went a long way embarrassing the Cowboys and thenDallas took it from there. Games like this, that are as one-sided asAlabama against a 1-AA school in early September, require the accommodation ofboth teams - with precise and powerful execution from the victor aided byineptitude and, at times, the seeming give-up of the defeated. New Orleans was so great offensively, coming off a discouragingdefeat at the hands of the mighty Jets the week before, that the thoroughdomination is impossible to properly describe. On one hand, theSaints were so explosive that they had an absurd 9 plays of 20 yards or more,which is a number that you will almost never see above 5 or 6. Heck,the Broncos only had 5 when they put on the 51-point clinic back in Week 5.But, on the other hand, the Saints had enough small gains to sustainlong drives and move the chains at will to the tune of accumulating an equallyabsurd 40 first downs. Now, generally, first downstats are not very indicative of a team that had a big day. They arenot always a fair metric to spend too much time worrying about, because a50-yard play is more desirable than 5 10-yard plays for a number of reasons.But the Saints were so good on Sunday night, that they set the seasonhigh for explosive plays against the Cowboys with 9, and the all-time NFLrecord for first downs in a game with 40. 40. What if I told you that day back in Week 5 when PeytonManning did whatever he wanted with his high-flying Broncos offense that byNovember 11th, pretty much all statistical totals would be surpassed twice byupcoming Cowboys opponents in Detroit AND New Orleans? This time, the all-time Cowboys defensive yardage record was broken byDrew Brees and an offense that was not fully in sync when the game started, butas the night went along, they were so good that they stopped trying in the 4thQuarter. That's right, despite throwing for 392 yards, Brees did notattempt a pass after the 12:51 mark of the final quarter. And yes,that's also right, they broke the all-time Dallas Cowboys yardage record for anopponent - a record that has been standing 14 days! The Saints had just 10 possessions to do all of their damage that were notaided with a single Cowboys turnover (the one thing you can say about theCowboys' offense that is not negative) and after the 1st drive stalled with apunt, the Saints next 9 drives looked like this on the drive chart: Touchdown, Touchdown, Touchdown, Touchdown - Halftime - Missed FG,Touchdown, Touchdown, Touchdown, Kneel Down - Game Over. I am pretty sure Aledo High School has had the authorities called on themfor drive charts that look like that. Injuries havehit the Cowboys hard again, making the depth chart that left Oxnard just afaded memory. For those of us who believe that the personneldepartment has made some strides in 2011-2013, this is a stark reminder of howfar they must go to fortify the roster to withstand the annual outbreak ofhamstrings and knee issues that attrition claims. No, the Cowboys arenot alone as the NFL seems like it has more injuries every single year to apoint where roster expansion might be the only way to operate a team in thisleague anymore, but they have been hit hard again and like 2012, by the timethey get to November, the defense looks like someone's practice squad all-starteam. Sean Lee joined Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff(gone, but not fully forgotten), Jason Hatcher, Morris Claiborne, and JJ Wilcoxas starters who were unavailable as Brees was marching up and down the field.This will mark the 4th year out of 4 (and many more in college) inwhich the fantastically skilled Lee has been unable to withstand the rigors ofa season without an injury that has forced him to miss a chunk of time. Down 6 starters and watching DeMarcus Ware and Barry Churchplay hurt demonstrates how perhaps the injuries have finally taken aninsurmountable toll, and that the defense is obviously at a spot now where theyare throwing guys on the field who are not at a level that is required toperform well in the NFL. But, they are the "next man up"and you have no other choice. This makes you recall silly statementsfrom the ownergeneral manager on whether the defensive line was the strengthof this roster and whether anyone ever learns from the annual lessons about howattrition demands depth and also recommends that you avoid building your teamaround players who are old and have an extensive injury history. This also brings up the question of how Rob Ryan was fired for asimilar predicament last season and even the greater question of whether aMonte Kiffin defense can still handle the modern NFL offenses as just aboutevery opponent that has a QB is passing for 400, gaining 550-600, or both.How do you evaluate whether the scheme is able to work when for 2straight years you have bodies that are likely incapable of running anyscheme? Which brings us - albeit a little deeper inthe column than they should be positioned - to that disappointingoffense. You know, the one that again, knew what sortof mess the defense was in and who the defense was going to be trying to stop.The offense that, for the most part, has its full compliment ofweapons at its disposal and was going to be asked again to carry the lion'sshare of the responsibility if this team was going to achieve anything. The one that punted 8 times and after hearing how badly theyhave been on 3rd Down conversions in road games this season (30th in the NFL,14-49 entering last night) and everyone agreed that this simply must improve ifthey were going to compete in games like this one. Instead, the teamput on one of the worst 3rd Down nights possible as they stalled out at 0-9 andnow sit at the very bottom of the NFL in this category - 32nd, 14-58 for 24conversions. In fact, now it is so bad that in all games they areranked 30th on the "money down" above only Arizona and Jacksonvillefor overall 3rd Down conversions. They put anotherbizarre game plan together that seems incapable of mixing passes and runs, andyou almost wonder if they are trying to find comedy in the extremes that theyput out there. First, last week, it was the highest passrun ratio inNFL history with a 6:1 ratio, then this week they ran on 9 of their first 12plays and 11 of their first 15. This served as an example of runningthe ball, yes, but it also did not allow Tony Romo and the passing game toattempt passes on consecutive plays until the game was over 25 minutes old with4:19 left to go in the 1st half. Did this not allow them to find arhythm until the game was already turning into to a track meet where you eitherkeep up or get blown out? To further add to theconfusion, they seemed to be doing just the opposite of what has worked infreeing up Dez Bryant from the clutches of double teams. Forinstance, it seems that when the Cowboys roll out 4 WRs, that the defense hasto either loosen up Dez or get gashed underneath by Beasley and Williams.So, why then, did the Cowboys have 1 or 2 WRs on the field on 15 ofthe first 17 snaps in those first 4 possessions? Did they want Dezcompletely locked down? Because James Hanna is not going to changethe convictions of a defense, that is for sure. But,despite these strategic questions, at some point in these battles - especiallyon the road - Tony Romo is going to have to match wits with the guy across thefield, this week, Drew Brees. And his 2013 season has been a mixedbag of results, especially on the road. One particularly interestingtrend that is headed in the wrong direction is his ability to complete passes(which one might argue is his primary job). In the first 5 weeks ofthe season, he had completed 72 of his attempts and the offense seemed capableof competing in a game like this. But, in the 5 gamessince, Romo's completion ability has fallen substantially into the 57 rangeand 2 of his last 3 games his completion percentage has dropped into the 40s.That is very troubling with this many weapons at his disposal.Also, the yards per attempt are down substantially to 6.36 afterbeing at 8.10 in the first 5 games. Yes, this isn't merely a Romoissue, but it does fall to him to deliver the ball where it needs to be and hisprotection to give him time. And honestly, after a 10 completion gamein which the opposing team almost matched your completions with touchdowns,there are not many other places to look. Yesterdaywas a complete mess made worst by what appeared to be a complete give-up by thedefense in the 4th Quarter that reminded many of Wade Phillips last stand on aSunday Night in Green Bay back in 2010. I don't recommend you watchit again, but let's just say there sure appeared to be players in the middle ofthat defense that had decided to start their bye week about an hour before theywere allowed to do so. When a team loses the stomach to even stand upand fight, that sends very disconcerting messages to any who care about theorganization, so let's hope that is not tolerated when the film isexamined. But, who is examining it? Is JasonGarrett and his staff on thin ice as we hit the bye week? They sit at5-5 and surely a division crown is required for them to feel safe and even thatappears far more tenuous than it did a few weeks back after leavingPhiladelphia with a win. Here is a much needed weekoff to try to get some bodies back, but it looks like life without Sean Lee isa reality for the rest of November and possibly a bit longer, so they are goingto have to plan on scoring 35 because the defense doesn't look capable ofstopping teams. But, can this offense figure out its own issues? They showed no signs of that last night. 6 games to go. But all signs point to theultimate destination being a very familiar one around here.
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