Film study: Reviewing Saints defense

Some observations on the New Orleans Saints’ defense after reviewing the tape of the team’s 49-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10:

Lewis jams Bryant: Click here for my extended look at Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis’ standout performance against dangerous Dallas receiver Dez Bryant – one of the biggest keys to New Orleans’ success.

Amoeba stands tall: The Saints had great success when they rolled out the “amoeba” defensive front that coordinator Rob Ryan likes to use from time to time – with all 11 defenders standing up before the snap. On the two snaps where all 11 men were standing up, the Saints were able to create pressure with just a four-man rush. The first time, outside linebacker Junior Galette and end Glenn Foster pressured Tony Romo into a throwaway on third-and-8. The second time, Foster broke through the line to bat away a pass on first-and-10.

Later, the Saints used a similar formation on two more snaps, with just one player with his hand in the ground. The first time, ends Cameron Jordan and Tom Johnson forced an intentional-grounding penalty on second-and-10. The second time, Romo threw an incomplete check-down pass, though he wasn’t under heavy pressure, on third-and-21.

More heat: Foster, Johnson and outside linebacker Parys Haralson all had sacks in the second half – all of them coming on four-man rushes (the Saints didn't blitz often Sunday). Johnson’s was the most impressive individual achievement. He used a spin move to get around right tackle Doug Free on second-and-8. Haralson and end Keyunta Dawson both collapsed the pocket on the very next play for Haralson’s sack on third-and-18. Foster also got an assist on his sack from Jordan, who flushed Romo out of the pocket on a third-and-9.

In the first quarter, Jordan also forced a holding penalty in the red zone on third-and-6 that was declined after Romo threw incomplete.

‘Signature’ coverage: There were plenty of third-down stops in this game, since the Cowboys went 0-for-9 on third down. Another one came in the third quarter, on third-and-5 when cornerback Jabari Greer nearly intercepted a pass intended for Jason Witten. Greer started on the outside but snuck over to jump the route, and Romo never saw him coming. NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth described the play as “signature Rob Ryan coverage.”

Humber, White stand out: I was repeatedly impressed by linebacker Ramon Humber, who played more than usual with starter David Hawthorne limited by injury. Humber made two big-time stops on the Cowboys’ first two plays – stopping running back DeMarco Murray for a 1-yard loss and sticking tight end James Hanna in the open field. He later stopped Hanna for a 1-yard loss on a screen pass. And he was part of a wall that stopped Murray for a 1-yard loss, along with defensive linemen Brodrick Bunkley and Akiem Hicks.

Cornerback Corey White also had a nice game. He batted away passes on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. And the Saints trusted him to fill in on coverage against Bryant when Lewis was out for a series in the third quarter.

Big mistakes: It wasn’t a perfect day for the Saints’ defense. They gave up three explosive plays that allowed Dallas to score twice.

Early in the game, the Cowboys burned the Saints with the run, including a 35-yard run, a 12-yard run and a 7-yard touchdown run by Murray on the same drive. The 35-yard run was mostly due to great blocking by tight ends Hanna and Witten on the left side. They chipped Jordan and Humber off the line, and then finished with strong blocks against Humber and safety Kenny Vaccaro.

The touchdown run (a draw play out of a passing formation) was also well blocked – including a lunging block by Free to stop linebacker Curtis Lofton from making a tackle in the backfield. Then linebacker Will Herring missed a chance at a tackle after Murray turned the corner. The good news on those runs is that safety Rafael Bush made open-field stops on the first two – an improvement after he took some poor angles on Chris Ivory’s long runs for the New York Jets the previous week.

The other two explosive plays were back-to-back passes of 44 and 21 yards in the third quarter. On the first one, Bryant beat Lewis for his only catch of the day by pushing away from Lewis’ attempted jam at the line of scrimmage. On the second one, receiver Terrance Williams badly burned Greer on a double move to get wide open in the end zone.

Not special: The Saints had two miscues on special teams. First, linebacker Kevin Reddick got away with a shove against Dwayne Harris as he was running out of bounds on a kick return that easily could have been called a penalty (it was close, but not worth the risk). Then in the third quarter, the Cowboys recovered a surprise onside kick. Saints safety Isa Abdul-Quddus was the first player to the ball, but he overran it. Reddick got clobbered by a block, and Herring tried to pounce on the loose ball but couldn’t hang on.