When you watch a game tape, the general theory is that it's never as bad you think you are or never as good as you think you are.
That's true for 99% of the games I watch. Well Sunday, the other 1% showed up. After watching the tape, the Saints were exactly as good as I thought they were Sunday.
Here are my five takes from the tape:
I. Where the Game was won
It's hard to call it a turning point because the way the game was going the Saints would've likely dominated anyway. But the game got really out of control at the 14:05 mark of the second quarter when Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee went out.
At that point in the game, the Saints actually trailed 10-7. But by the end of the second quarter, the Cowboys were on life support.
During that time frame, the Saints offense put on what looked like a great theatrical production. They scored on three consecutive, and distinctly different, touchdown drives.
The first was a massive 15-play, 80 yard one that chewed up 8:56 off the clock. The Saints had nine passes and six runs on this drive that ended with Drew Brees finding Pierre Thomas.
The second was their '4-minute drill.' This is usually a drive where they pick up the pace but are not in a specific hurry up. The design is too not only score but be conscious of the clock as well. They executed to near perfection, when they went nine plays, 52 yards and took 2:29 off the clock.
They probably thought they wouldn't get the ball back from there, but then the defense forced a quick three-and-out. When the Saints got the ball back with :53 left, they put their foot firmly on the accelerator and added one more touchdown when they went 75 yards in six plays in a lightning-like :48.
During those three drives, the Saints held the ball for 12:13, got 15 first downs and converted 4/4 on third downs.
By the time both teams went into halftime the Saints were up 28-10. Those 21 unanswered points turned a small Cowboys lead into a primetime massacre.
II. Rob Ryan's Revenge
They downplayed it all week but after the game it was clear just how bad Rob Ryan wanted to win this game.
His knowledge of the personnel was the first thing that jumped out. He knew blitzing Tony Romo wasn't the best way to go. Instead, given their available players he sent four and dropped seven and played combo coverage on Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. It worked like a charm. Ryan only dialed up three blitzes all game and bracketed Bryant and Witten most of the game. Bryant finished with one catch; Witten finished with two. Without either guy available Romo didn't trust his reads and seemed to have a lot of hesitation in his decision-making.
Outside of the knowledge of personnel, the Saints defense played one of their most complementary games of the season. They didn't allow a single third down conversion and forced six three-and-outs. Four of those came following a Saints touchdown, which means when the offense was at their best, so was the defense.
Another crucial three-and-out came after the Cowboys surprised the Saints and recovered an onside kick. Any last hope of respectability for the Cowboys was crushed at that point.
On a night the offense could no wrong, the defense did their part by giving the ball right back to them.
III. Mark Ingram Shines, Finally
He started the game off to boo birds but finished with his best game as a pro.
So how did this happen? After watching the tape I found two reasons.
First and foremost were opportunities. That was the buzz word following the game. Ingram got 14 carries on Sunday, by far his most this season. I went back and looked at his history and found that Ingram has had 15 career double-digit carry games. In those games, his average yards per carry were 4.9 yards. Basically when Ingram is able to get the ball often, he is usually productive.
Secondly, he had massive holes to run through. Imagine that, when a running back gets good blocking, he usually gets good production. Ingram took advantage of running lanes provided mostly by the interior of the Saints offensive line and the fullback (which will we discuss later).
The question now is can he consistently keep this going?
I say he can be productive but I wouldn't expect many 145 yard performances unless the Saints are in a lot of games where they are comfortably ahead late. With the upcoming schedule that would seem unlikely.
IV. Offensive Line bounces back
I've been as hard as anyone on this unit but on Sunday night they really were impressive. To be fair, Demarcus Ware was hobbled and Jason Hatcher was out, but still this unit provided a clean pocket for Brees all game long and was blowing Cowboys defenders up at the point of attack on running plays.
In particular, Brian de la Puente and Jahri Evans played incredibly well. Evans looked like the player of old and was consistently providing big holes for the backs.
The biggest stat that jumped out to demonstrate their dominance was of the 242 yards the Saints gained on the ground, 165 of those came before the first contact. Basically, Sproles, Thomas and Ingram were at the second and third level on most of their runs before even getting touched.
V. Other Observations
- Drew Brees goes 34/41 for 392 yards with four touchdowns and I didn't give him his own take, shame on me. Brees was so masterful Sunday night that even his incompletions looked good. In all his 34 completions went to nine different receivers. It's not easy to do, he just makes it look that way time and time again. Sunday night was just another example.
- Was there ever any doubt the Saints would dominate Sunday? Sean Payton has never lost a Sunday night as head coach. The average margin of victory in those games was an astounding twenty points.
- Speaking of domination, this team is just a different animal inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome. With Payton on the sideline, the Saints haven't lost since 2010. That's 13 straight wins with an average margin of victory of 22 points. That's just plain ridiculous. And it's all the more reason why home field advantage in the playoffs is so important.
- Corey White is starting to make an impression.
- Jed Collins didn't have a single touch Sunday night but he may have played his best game as a pro. He consistently paved the way for Sproles, Ingram and Thomas and was a huge reason for their success in the ground game.
- I think we saw Sunday night why Brees struggled so much in New York without Darren Sproles and Marques Colston. Both were back healthy and both played pivotal roles. Please, stop asking me if Colston is on the downside of his career. As we saw Sunday, he is not.
- 40 1st downs! I repeat, 40 1st downs! Absolutely mind-boggling.
- There are games where stats can be deceiving. Well Sunday was not one of those games, the stat sheet was about as one-sided a stat sheet as I've ever seen. Much like the game was.