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Saints unreliable on road, but can fend off Cowboys

It was not a stroke of genius by coach Jason Garrett that turned around the Dallas Cowboys, a team seemingly doomed to be a dumpster fire this season. And that still could happen, as no team’s destiny is defined after three weeks.

But the Cowboys are finally mastering the obvious. The game plan each week must revolve around running back DeMarco Murray.

The defense is not tough enough and quarterback Tony Romo is not consistent enough for Dallas to rise above a .500 finish for the first time since 2009.

But the Cowboys’ massive offensive line might be the NFL’s best, and it has paved the way for Murray, a former Bishop Gorman High star, to lead the league in rushing with 385 yards.

The key is he has 75 carries, which exhibits the Cowboys’ commitment to run the ball. Finally, they are getting it by giving the ball to Murray and not putting their fate in Romo’s hands.

Murray is carrying the ball 25 times per game, picking up 5.1 yards per carry, and Dallas is 2-1. I expected the Cowboys to be 1-2 and spiraling into disarray at this point, and so far I’m wrong. Garrett is off the hot seat, at least for now.

Most of the amateur and paid experts had much higher expectations for the New Orleans Saints, who have burned the betting public by losing two of three games. Both losses, at Atlanta and Cleveland, were on a field goal on the final play of the game.

The Saints are bankroll road kill, going 1-9 against the spread in their past 10 regular-season games away from the Superdome. But there are some reasons to suspect they should pay off Sunday night in Dallas, and one reason is the game will be played indoors on turf.

The Cowboys are continuing a trend of playing their best on the road and their worst at home, where they have covered only six of their past 20 games. Their road wins this month against Tennessee and St. Louis came at the expense of below-average quarterbacks, the Titans’ Jake Locker and the Rams’ Austin Davis.

Drew Brees has completed 70.9 percent of his passes, which ranks second in the league, and you can bet the Saints will attack the Dallas defense and its weak secondary.

New Orleans is 8-1 in the teams’ past nine meetings, including a 49-17 blowout last season. If Rob Ryan’s defense can control Murray on the ground, this is a matchup Brees should win through the air, so I’ll back the Saints as 3-point favorites despite their obvious road woes.

Four more plays for Week 4 (home team in CAPS):

■ Packers (-1½) over BEARS: Chicago’s defensive backfield is decimated by injuries, so expect Aaron Rodgers to take over and try to win a shootout. Green Bay is in a good spot, motivated after an ugly loss, and the Bears are in a bad spot off two prime-time road wins. The Packers have covered four consecutive meetings at Soldier Field.

■ TEXANS (-3) over Bills: It’s probably this simple — if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick avoids turnovers, Houston will cover. Running back Arian Foster is a game-time decision with a sore hamstring, but indications are he will play for the Texans. The Bills went 1-6 as road ’dogs last year.

■ JETS (+2) over Lions: It can be argued the Jets outplayed the Bears and Packers despite losing both games. I’m trusting Rex Ryan, as the better coach, to deliver a win he needs. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford is not a quarterback to trust as a road favorite. The Lions are 6-15-1 ATS in their past 22 road games.

■ 49ERS (-5) over Eagles: Philadelphia will be without three starting offensive linemen. San Francisco’s injury report is more positive, as it appears linebacker Patrick Willis will play. The Eagles have started slowly in each game and are living on the edge. The situation sets up for the 49ers to finally play their “A” game.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season: 7-8

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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