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Drew Brees, Sean Payton say Saints offense didn’t find rhythm, struggled in run game

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 29: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints walks off the field during play against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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The New Orleans Saints have been seemingly unstoppable offensively throughout most of the 2018 season.

That is, until the Cowboys defense essentially brought the juggernaut to a halt on Thursday night in Dallas.

The Saints were:

  • Held to 10 points or less for the first time since Nov. 2015 (at Houston)
  • Held scoreless in the first half of a game for the first time since Sept. 2014 (at Dallas)
  • Held to under 200 yards of total offense for the first time since Dec. 2013 (at Seattle)
  • Held to under 180 yards of total offense for the first time since Jan. 2002 (vs. San Francisco)

“I felt like we didn’t really find our rhythm pretty much the whole game,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We may have had one decent drive for the most part. I felt like we didn’t find a great rhythm on what we were doing. So credit to them.”

The Saints went three-and-out on each of their first two possessions and punted on each of their first three drives. Their longest first half drive lasted seven plays and gained 38 yards. It ended on a turnover on downs at the goal line as the Saints were stopped for no gain on a handoff to Alvin Kamara from the 1-yard line.

“A little bit of it was execution on my part,” Brees said. “We got some opportunities to capitalize on some plays early and we didn’t. First drive I knew we got a couple of things going. So, starting off the game with two – three and outs, that’s not how you want to start out the game. On the other side they were able to put together some decent drives as an offense. We are thinking complimentary football. Let’s put together another drive, let’s keep our defense off the field. Let’s control the game, the clock, the ball. It just felt like we never did that as an offense like we’ve done this year.”

Even the successful drives the Saints had weren’t all self-made. A 10-play, 60-yard drive leading to a Will Lutz field goal consisted of 15 yards in penalties by Dallas. A 10-play, 88-yard touchdown drive had 41 yards come via penalty with the most important being a roughing the kicker call on Randy Gregory on a punt that allowed the Saints to retain possession.

Saints head coach Sean Payton credited the Cowboys defense for causing problems and forcing them to play in longer yardage situations.

“They played with great energy. They were on the edge,” Payton said. “Their front, it was a tough front to handle. You saw that all season. If you really watched a lot of tape, you’d see it. Nonetheless, though, they did a fantastic job.”

Kamara and Mark Ingram combined to gain just 63 yards on 18 carries. The lack of ability to get some successful runs forced them to convert longer third down chances, where the Saints were just 3 for 11 against Dallas.

“We weren’t really good on the early downs,” Payton said. “We didn’t have the balance that we’ve had in prior games. We struggled running the ball with any consistency. And then we didn’t want to get into a one-dimensional game. I think the common thread without seeing any of the game tape would be that we were behind the chains a lot,” Payton said. “We were in seven-or-more, eight-or-more. We didn’t make enough happen on the first and second downs in the game. Some games you play where you don’t have a lot of third downs because you’re operating efficiently but that wasn’t the case, certainly in this game.”