The Dallas Cowboys had the most uncomfortable, comfortable win of the season in New Orleans against the Saints. With two and a half minutes left in the game, the Cowboys were up 17 points, but the game was closer than what the score board might have shown.

Dallas needed three interceptions in the last eight minutes of the game, one being a pick six, to finally pull away. Dallas had 14 drives on offense and only put up 20 points. They were absolutely atrocious on third down, only converting two out of 13 attempts, with six drives that went three-and-out. The Saints had more total plays and more rushing, passing, and total yards than the Cowboys. They topped Dallas in time of possession, also, 31:54 to 28:06.

Neither team was coming in whole, New Orleans might be the most injured team in football, having both offensive tackles, their two best weapons on offense, and a young stud edge rusher out. The Cowboys not only had big name players out, but the coaching staff was compromised by numerous members being in COVID-19 protocols.

Winning ugly allows a team to review a game like it was a loss, while still getting a win in the record column. Teams have to learn from winning ugly, and here are some things that were learned from the Saints game.

Micah Parsons continues climbing ranks of NFL top defenders

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Parsons continues to impress. He is running away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY) award and has the fans’ sights set on the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) instead. Parsons is top 10 in sacks, tied for first in tackles for a loss, second in QB hits, and sixth in pressures all while playing defensive end as his secondary position.

Parsons is doing things only matched by players who put together all-time great seasons. In the last three games he has totaled 23 pressures, a feat only matched by JJ Watt in the last five seasons. His ten sacks in his first 12 games puts him in an elite group of only 11 players that includes Reggie White, Charles Haley, Julius Peppers, and Derrick Thomas. Current stars like Von Miller and Joey Bosa made that list as well.

Myles Garrett is the leader amongst DPOY candidates currently, but Parsons is far from out of the race. He plays for a team voters will be watching every game. He has helped turn around a bottom-of-the-league defense and has league-leading edge rusher stats despite being an edge rusher only part of the time. Micah Parsons is the runaway DROY, but he will make a play for DPOY as well in his first season. An award no rookie has won since Lawrence Taylor did so in 1981.

The Cowboy run game is having issues

(AP Photo/Derick Hingle)

The stat line for the Cowboys rushing attack against the Saints not only looks okay, but even dominant. The team ran for 146 yards on only 24 carries for an average of 6.1 yards per rush and one score against a top-three run defense. In this case looks are definitely deceiving though. The Cowboys were terribly inefficient running against New Orleans, but their stats were inflated by two big plays.

One wasn’t even on a hand off, but a screen to CeeDee Lamb in which the pass went behind the line of scrimmage causing the play to be counted as a run. It went for 33 yards, and when added to Tony Pollard’s 58-yard touchdown then 91 of the 146 yards came on two plays. The other 22 carries only netted 55 yards, an underwhelming 2.5 yards per carry.

The run game issues stretch well past the Saints game. The Las Vegas Raiders held Dallas to 64 yards on 20 carries. Dallas put up only 82 on the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta stopped Ezekiel Elliott and Pollard to a combined 83 yards on 25 carries, and the Denver Broncos allowed just 78 yards rushing. Even past that, Elliott has gone seven straight games without totaling 70 yards rushing. The Cowboys will have to figure this part of their offensive attack out if they are going to be contenders in the playoffs.

The defense is a playmaking unit

(AP Photo/Brett Duke)

Going into this season the Cowboys were going only as far as their offense could drag them. The defense was coming off a terrible year. The team was bottom of the league in just about everything. Not much changed against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. Anthony Brown got cooked by Antonio Brown and the team lost its best player, Demarcus Lawrence. the next week in practice.

One positive was that the defense totaled four turnovers, recovering two fumbles and twice picking off Tom Brady. The next week the Cowboys got another two picks off defending rookie of the year Justin Herbert. One game could be a blip, two, just a good start, but when they got another multiple turnover game versus the Eagles, then the playmaking became a trend. This season so far Dallas is top five in turnovers per game at 1.9, total turnovers with 23, and seventh in turnover differential.

Against New Orleans, the Cowboys had made one big play going into the fourth quarter, an incredible sideline interception by Jayron Kearse. In the last eight minutes they intercepted Taysom Hill three times, Diggs got his league leading ninth TD and defensive lineman Carlos Watkins put the game away with a Thicc-6 touchdown.

The Cowboys’ defense has played well enough to win games lately by taking the ball away and being excellent on third downs. If that type of play stays consistent, this team will be a huge challenge for all opponents on the road to the Super Bowl.

Conclusion

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys offense once again looked sloppy. The offensive line has played poorly, setting back the running attack, and making it difficult on the passing game to keep drives going. Dallas finally got their full OL on the field, and all three of their top receivers. The more time that unit plays together they will continue to improve.

The better news for the team is that at one time they were thought to be offense only, and winning games when the offense couldn’t carry them wasn’t going to happen. What has happened through 12 weeks of football is the special teams and defense have routinely stepped up and became units the team can count on to make game winning plays. If the offense can come together and the defense continues to get healthy, this team could be back to Super Bowl contenders again very soon.

You can find Mike Crum on Twitter @cdpiglet or at Youtube on the Across the Cowboys Podcast.

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