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After further review: The Cowboys defense showed up and made plays against the Saints

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It wasn’t all bad for the Cowboys on Sunday night.

Dallas Cowboys v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys came up short on Sunday night losing to the New Orleans Saints by a score of 12-10. It was a tough game to sit through, especially if you were expecting another 30+ explosion from the Cowboys offense. Those big plays were few and far between for the Cowboys as the Saints defense had their number. It just wasn’t their day.

But the same cannot be said for the Cowboys defense. Sure, there were times where the Saints offense found ways to grind up some clock as they just waited them out, but when you take a close look at the tape, you’re going to see a lot of good things happening for this Cowboys defense. After keeping the Saints out of the end zone, the defense is currently ranked third in points allowed. And despite coming in a losing effort, they had their best game of the year on Sunday night.

The Saints had them on their heels early

It was no secret that Alvin Kamara was going to be the focus of the Cowboys defense. With Drew Brees unavailable, the Saints All-Pro running back was their strongest weapon. On paper, the Cowboys held him in check. He had 69 yards rushing and only 20 additional yards receiving. Besides a couple decent leg-churning runs, “big-play Kamara” was not present. His longest play of the day was just 13 yards.

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a factor as just his presence alone had the defense over-pursuing in the wrong direction. Between run/pass options, misdirections, and a few creative screen passes, the Kamara effect caused the defense to guess wrong too many times early in the game.

The defense became more disciplined as the game went on

While it’s awful tempting to lunge after Kamara on every play, the team started to show a lot more discipline as the game went on. Linebackers stayed home a tad second longer, allowing them to see the play progress. They also showed a lot of faith in their teammates to man their gaps rather than put themselves out of position and go after the play.

The defensive line did a lot better job obstructing running lanes. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were everywhere as they combined for 20 tackles. Even Anthony Brown was flying from sideline to sideline attacking the ball carrier.

The defense was put in a precarious situation in the first half when the offense lost fumbles on back-to-back possessions creating a short field for the Saints, but the defense didn’t waver. They continued to keep New Orleans out of the end zone. As efficient as they were only allowing nine points in the first half, they were even better later as they only allowed three points in the second half.

Making plays when they counted

Undoubtedly, it was frustrating to see the Saints move the ball at times. The Cowboys committed some penalties that gave the Saints new life, and you have to tip your cap to all the contested catches Michael Thomas made in that game. Catching all nine of his targets, Thomas sure made it easy on his quarterback as so many of his catches were thrown into coverage. It didn’t matter though as Thomas had the wherewithal to turn around at the last second to haul in the catch.

Despite the Saints getting some key first downs in the game, the Cowboys were able to get off the field and give their offense plenty of chances. Of the nine possessions the Saints had in the game, five of them were for 18 yards or less. And when it looked like the Saints were going to just run out the clock at the end, the Cowboys defense wouldn’t allow it.

Robert Quinn is simply sensational

After a great debut against the Miami Dolphins a week ago, the veteran pass rusher was at it again, making play after play against the Saints. Robert Quinn was knocking down passes and sacking the quarterback whether they counted or not. He was all over the field.

Despite playing in just half the games as everyone else, he’s already become the team’s leader in sacks with three over the last two games. He’s on a per game pace that would equate to 24 sacks over a 16-game span. While that rate is not likely sustainable, Quinn is looking a lot more like the 19-sack player he was in 2013 during his All-Pro season with the St. Louis Rams.

What a great move by the Cowboys front office to snag him.