In the Cowboys’ opening season victory, neither offense seemed to get going. Dak looked off for much of the first half, and the Giants’ did a decent job closing running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott managed to find his groove and finished the game with 268 yards passing a touchdown to Jason Witten. Zeke broke 100 yards and wore down New York’s defense in the second half.
However, the defense stole the show.
The story Sunday was the Cowboys defense, a group that was questioned before they even played a game.
The Giants did not have wide receiver Odell Beckham because of an ankle injury, but the defense allowed just two first downs in the first half, sacked Eli Manning three times and picked him off once. Anthony Brown, filling in for an injured Orlando Scandrick, stepped in front of a Manning throw with 7:48 left in the fourth quarter.
DeMarcus Lawrence, who had one sack last season, matched his 2016 season total on the first drive of the season. Charles Tapper, who did not play last season because of a back injury, had a critical third-quarter sack with New York at the Dallas 4 that forced the Giants to settle for a field goal.
The Cowboys were able to get into the backfield and put pressure on the quarterback! Albeit it was against the Giants’ putrid offensive line, but it was still awesome to see nonetheless. DeMarcus Lawrence had himself a game.
Rookie first round Taco Charlton is the defensive end the Cowboys are hoping develops into a reliable pass rusher, but their best one right now is DeMarcus “Tank” Lawrence.
He lost 10 pounds, at least in the off-season after playing nearly all of 2016 injured. Tank had eight sacks two years ago on a bad team, and some of his production was credited to the presence of Greg Hardy playing on the other side.
On Sunday night, Tank was dominant. He finished with two sacks, three tackles for losses, and was in Eli Manning’s face a few other times. Tank is in a contract season. Funny how that works. If he is this good, the Cowboys will have answered their biggest problem.
Our own Tom Ryle reiterates just how important the Cowboys’ defensive performance was on Sunday night.
And, oh, that defense. They not only held the Giants off the scoreboard in the first half, they were getting sacks. They only had one in the first half, by DeMarcus Lawrence, but it is not easy to get more than that when the opposing offense is only on the field for less than 20 plays. They would add two more, a second by Lawrence and that initial one by Tapper, in the Giant’s first drive of the second half. And they got robbed of a fourth one by Benson Mayowa when the referees missed that Eli Manning’s knee hit the ground before he released the ball late in the game. The pass rush was supported by generally good coverage in the secondary. It certainly didn’t hurt that Beckham missed the contest due to his injury, but Dallas still outplayed the Giants on both sides of the ball. For much of the game, they just frustrated Manning and the Giants. And after a fumble was blown dead prematurely by the referees in the first half to rob Dallas of a turnover, Anthony Brown finally broke through with a remarkable interception where he got the ball and then had to wrestle it away from Roger Lewis in a reversal of roles. It was a crucial moment, coming with under eight minutes to go in the game and Dallas protecting a 13 point lead. That allowed last year’s dynamic duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to burn up the clock and just drain away any chance New York had of coming back. It would let the lead the Cowboys built up in the first half stand up for the win.
Sturm explains what made the Cowboys successful on the defensive side of the ball against the Giants.
1) How on earth did the Cowboys defense look so good, even after losing Orlando Scandrick?
I think we saw really special performances from that defensive front. DeMarcus Lawrence, in particular, was really impressive coming from that left defensive end spot and then Maliek Collins was working well in tandem with him and helping collapse the pocket. This defensive line stays active and works in concert, so when they are all buzzing like they were tonight, they can really make things easier on the defensive backs. Now, if they can add to that the superb linebacker play that we saw from Sean Lee and then Jaylon Smith, it becomes a very fast and energetic defense.
The Giants have some real strategic issues with their lack of a running game and some less than fantastic pass protectors put a lot on of pressure on their offense. Take away Odell Beckham and they can't do enough to push you too hard. They have not scored 20 points in seven consecutive games now. They just don't scare you offensively at the moment. It is a good time to play that offense.
Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News gives his five thoughts following the big victory over the Giants.
1. The defense
It remains to be seen if the New York Giants offense is just horrible without Odell Beckham Jr. or the Cowboys defense is much improved. There were plenty of reasons to think the latter.
DeMarcus Lawrence looked as healthy and as disruptive as we've seen since 2015 when he finished with a team-high eight sacks. Lawrence had two sacks and three tackles for loss. It's been a while since they had that type of production from an edge rusher.
Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith looked like they could be a very good combo, especially considering Smith seems to continue to look better every time he plays.
And to complete a well-rounded effort from the defense, Anthony Brown intercepted a pass. If you've followed the Cowboys the last couple of years you know that doesn't happen every game. I don't think Rod Marinelli could have asked for a better way to start the season.
Machota was also impressed with Terrance Williams’ performance. T-Will came to play.
3. Terrance Williams
Terrance Williams could've left Dallas in free agency and made more money elsewhere. But he wanted to stay with this group. The Cowboys have to be thrilled that he did. The often criticized former third round pick was very good Sunday night. If not for Jason Witten, Williams would've been the clear offensive MVP of the first half. He caught all six passes thrown his way for 68 yards through the first two quarters. With Witten, Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley it's easy to forget about Williams. The Giants did a few times Sunday and he made them pay.
Ryan Clark discusses his thoughts on Ezekiel Elliott setting the tone on Sunday evening.
Clarence Hill writes on the Cowboys’ week one win.
The Giants played without their best player, receiver Odell Beckham Jr, who remained sidelined with a preseason ankle injury, but this was also a story of a Cowboys team ready to embark on a mission they hope finally ends with a super conclusion.
This was a Giants team that beat the 13-3 Cowboys twice last season and had won three consecutive games in the series.
But it’s the Cowboys who open the season 1-0.
The Cowboys got started on the victory Friday when the found out they would have Elliott on the field Sunday and likely all season.
Elliott had 24 carries for 104 and five catches for 36 yards.
He had seven 100-yard games a year ago when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards.
Quarterback Dak Prescott wasn’t perfect, but he played mistake-free, completing 24 of 39 for 268 yards and a touchdown to tight end Jason Witten.
Dak started off cool on Sunday, but he heated up as the game went on. Prescott threw for 268 yards and completed 62% of his passes — both career highs versus the Giants. He also threw a touchdown pass to Gold Jack Witt and continued to take care of the football. Moore wrote on Dak’s performance and how the sophomore is more confident than ever against this defense.
But make no mistake. This opening victory was orchestrated by Prescott.
The quarterback equaled the number of completions and had more yards in the first half of Sunday's game than he had in his second game against the Giants last season. He finished by completing 24-of-39 passes for 268 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Statistically, it wasn't spectacular. But Prescott displayed a command that wasn't evident against the rugged Giants defense one short year ago.
The proof: Prescott completed only two passes of 21 or more yards in being swept by the Giants last season. He was frequently confused by the looks New York threw his way and settled time and time again to dump the ball underneath to his second or third option.
On this night Prescott had a 35-yard completion to Dez Bryant and a pair of 30-yard completions to Brice Butler and Elliott. He threw in a 23-yard completion to Terrance Williams for good measure and picked up a 21-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Janoris Jenkins with another deep ball to Bryant.
The Cowboys didn’t get out of the game without losing a key player, though. Orlando Scandrick entered the 2017 season at full health, an awesome sign for a team that has a revamped secondary. Unfortunately, the veteran defensive back looks to be out for a while.
Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick was playing his first game as a team captain when he led with his shoulder on a second-quarter tackle and hurt his hand.
Scandrick pushed second-year Giants receiver Sterling Shepard out of bounds after a 12-yard completion on a wheel route from Eli Manning.
The veteran cornerback left the game for X-rays and will not return. Rookie CB Chidobe Awuzie, whom the Cowboys drafted out of Colorado in the second round this year, replaced Scandrick after he went down.
However, Jon Machota says Jerry Jones believes there is a chance the team captain can play through his injury.
Jerry Jones said it's a fracture in Orlando Scandrick's hand. Thinks he might be able to play with it— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 11, 2017
Todd Archer provides another update on Scandrick and also notes how the defense may shift if Scandrick misses an extended amount of time.
This past offseason was Scandrick's most productive since 2014. He missed the 2015 season with torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee and then missed four games last season with hamstring strains.
Scandrick will undergo more tests on Monday.
With Scandrick out, the Cowboys moved Anthony Brown into his role in the base and nickel defenses. Rookie Chidobe Awuzie, who had limited work in the preseason because of a hamstring strain, moved to an outside cornerback role in the nickel defense.
The SportsDay staff has a gallery of photos from the Cowboys’ win, including Cole Beasely’s insane catch and Witten’s touchdown on his record-breaking night.
Speaking of that insane Beasley catch...