Granted, without Odell Beckham, Jr. the New York Giants are not the team that they are when he is on the field. It would have taken more than his presence to change the storyline on opening night in Dallas. That is unless he suddenly learns to block defensive linemen the way he catches a football.
On Sunday night DeMarcus Lawrence spent so much time making plays in the Giants backfield you almost had to wonder if he was lining up on that side of the ball. After playing injured for most of 2016, Lawrence shed a few pounds and it looks to have made a tremendous difference in his play. With two sacks of Eli Manning he looked to be back in the form that allowed him to tally eight passers hauled to the turf in 2015.
Lawrence was also within bad breath distance of Manning on several other occasions.
Tank was not the only Cowboys lineman to get to the New York QB. After missing his rookie season due to a back injury, former Oklahoma Sooners defensive end Charles Tapper wasted little time in recording his first professional sack.
It could not have came at a better time. New York had the ball on the Dallas four-yard line and was threatening to punch the ball in for a touchdown that could have swung momentum the Giants way. His sack of Manning helped to force the visiting team to settle for a field goal. That would prove to be the only time they dented the scoreboard.
The backside of the Dallas defense also contributed to the Cowboys efforts. Anthony Brown proved ready to continue the performance that he displayed in 2016. Filling in for Orlando Scandrick, who left the game with a hand injury, Brown picked off Eli Manning midway through the game’s final stanza for the Cowboys first interception of the season.
The middle delivered as well. Sean Lee led the way with eight tackles, but fellow linebacker Jaylon Smith was hot on his heels with seven stops. The night provided some early answers about how well Smith would bounce back from the knee injury that threatened his career before it even started. His presence was definitely felt by the Giants, especially Sterling Sheppard. His collision with Smith forced a fumble although the Giants were able to maintain possession.
By the time the clock read zero the defense had put up some impressive totals. Eli Manning had 220 yards through the air but the combined loss of yardage on three sacks pushed that back under 200. His QBR on the night was 78.6. That is not too shabby for a defense not expected to get much pressure up front and one with so much youth in the secondary.
New York’s runners did not fare well either. Dallas gave up a paltry 35 yards to the Giants backs with the longest carry of the night being 12 yards.
The season is still young and likely there will be hiccups along the way, but there will also significant growth. If the Cowboys can use use this game as a baseline to build from the future for this group of athletes looks pretty good.