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Saints struggling in all phases of the game

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The Dallas Cowboys jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead and held on for a 38-17 thrashing of the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night. Our takeaways:

1. The Cowboys have changed their philosophy, successfully relying on a dominant offensive line, the NFL's leading rusher and a surprisingly stingy defense. They have won the last three games by running more than they have thrown. DeMarco Murray now has 156 more rushing yards than the next closest NFL tailback.

2. With good reason, Sean Payton is widely regarded as one the NFL's best game-planners and play-callers. That said, his game management left a lot to be desired on Sunday. Coaches who refuse to go for it on fourth-and-short in the other team's territory are often forced to attempt fourth-and-longs in the fourth quarter. Payton lacked aggressiveness in the first few quarters and opted for a head-scratching fake punt instead of leaving the ball in Drew Brees' hands just when it appeared that the Saints had a chance to get back in the game.

3. We expected the Saints to have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Instead, they have shown a noticeable lack of big-play ability. Marques Colston has been one of the least effective receivers in the NFL. The offense misses Mark Ingram, who is leading all NFL starters with 6.0 yards per carry.

4. Rob Ryan's defense has hemorrhaged big plays, has failed to put heat on opposing passers and has taken some peculiar angles on tackle attempts. Ryan needs better play out of safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd, who were billed as New Orleans' answer to Seattle's dynamic duo.

5. The handwringing over Tony Romo's struggles in the first two games has proven to be for naught. For the second consecutive week, he has generated his highest passer rating since the career-high 506-yard performance in last year's shootout with the Broncos. His 69.5 completion rate is right in line with the best season of his career and his mobility seems to have been fully restored.

6. The Saints have one quality cornerback in Keenan Lewis. He was shadowing Dez Bryant all night.

7. The plucky but depleted Cowboys defense lost two more players in linebacker Bruce Carter (quadriceps) and embattled cornerback Morris Claiborne (knee). Carter seemed to be finally making good on his immense talent prior to the injury.

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