What a great way to start the 2017 season. Right out of the gate the Cowboys defeat their division rival after being swept by the New York Giants twice last season. Take that! Not only did fans get to enjoy victory Monday earlier this year, but we all can take a little breath knowing the Cowboys defense looked pretty good. Anytime they hold the opposing team to just three points, that’s impressive. That’s hard to do in the NFL.
There was a lot to talk about after this win, but what is all the buzz in Cowboys Nation? Here are some of the intriguing story lines from this week’s action.
Why was McFadden inactive?
Before the game even started, fans were surprised to hear that the coaches had decided to activate Alfred Morris over Darren McFadden. With DMC getting the second-team work in training camp, it caught many of us off guard. Jason Garrett explains:
"We just felt like as we went through training camp and the preseason that Alfred deserved this opportunity first," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "That's no slight on Darren McFadden. We have a tremendous amount of confidence in him. But we just felt like if we're going to have three running backs up, we wanted Alfred Morris to be one of them. He handles himself well. He's a good football player."
Morris didn’t have much room to run and only gained one yard on four carries. His role was exclusively designed to give Ezekiel Elliott a breather and didn’t last long as the offense would lean on Zeke heavily throughout the night.
Based on how close these two back up running backs are when it comes to what they bring to the team, don’t be surprised if they flip-flop who’s inactive and we see McFadden soon as they sort out what is best for the offense.
And as running backs around the league start getting hurt (David Johnson), I wonder if teams will come calling for one of the Cowboys veteran RBs?
Has Dez Bryant has fallen off as an elite receiver?
The Cowboys dominated the Giants Sunday night so naturally ESPN’s First Take uses that as an opportunity to focus on the important stuff - like criticizing the play of Dez Bryant (video).
Max Kellerman compared Dez Bryant to the Jay Z diss of Nas from Takeover "top 4 to not mentioned at all" #FirstTake— Kung Fu Ryan (@TheChewDefense) September 11, 2017
Bryant had two catches for 43 yards and in the stat book, it looks like another win for Janoris Jenkins. And make no mistake about it, Jenkins coverage on Dez has been fantastic. When the Giants signed Jenkins to a five-year, $62.5 million deal last season, it seemed like a ridiculous price to pay for his collective body of work. But he’s excelled in the Giants defense and does a great job using his body (and very sneaky with those hands) to make it hard for Bryant to catch the ball.
Hmmm @DezBryant pic.twitter.com/LC5uuHjZkT— ✭ DCBlueStar ✭ (@DCBlueStar) September 12, 2017
But as good as Jenkins is, Dez won some battles on Sunday night. Jenkins whiffed on a tackle when Bryant ran a slant route, which resulted in 20 more yards. Dez also had Jenkins beat in the end zone on the Cowboys first drive of the game, but the pass sailed way high over Bryant’s head. There was also another play in the end zone that was close to be a touchdown catch by Dez, but he wasn’t able to get both feet down and the ball moved late. That’s how close it was to being a two-touchdown night for the Cowboys star receiver. Bryant would praise Jenkins’ play, but said that he caught some breaks in that game.
"I'm not trying to look too far ahead, but I'm looking forward to playing him again," Bryant said. "I felt like he got lucky tonight. He caught some big breaks and that's how it goes."
People can roll with the narrative that Bryant isn’t getting separation, but it was just a back and forth battle between two really good football players. And these guys have been going at even back when Jenkins was with the Rams. Jenkins would jump a route for a pick six on one play, and then Dez would pull a double-move that left Jenkins in the dust on another play.
What gives with the Cowboys play-calling at the goal line?
We were all waiving our arms in disbelief when the Cowboys came up empty after attempting three straight passes from the three yard line. The beautiful catch from Brice Butler had been squandered. Fans want answers, but they weren’t going to get any from Cowboys coach, Jason Garrett.
Asked about the thought process in that situation, Garrett said: “Don’t really think that much about what people’s reactions are outside of our building. Obviously we had a plan there and ultimately it didn’t work out. So you evaluate that situation like you would any other. You want to come away with a touchdown in that situation. In that particular case it didn’t work out. We’ll try to get better from it.”
The Giants defense loaded up to stop the run and they have such a powerful defensive line, was running the ball the high percentage play there? Keep in mind that Damon “Snacks” Harrison overpowered Travis Frederick twice in the game that resulted in five-yard losses. Elliott ended up over 100 yards, but he had to work for every bit of it.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 104 yards on 24 attempts, gaining 77 of those yards AFTER contact and forcing six missed tackles. (per @PFF)— Patrik Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) September 11, 2017
Maybe power football was the right move there, but the Cowboys chose to find the one-on-one matchup they liked and if Dak had made a better throw to Dez on the slant, nobody would be thinking much about it.
Will the Cowboys rue the day they drafted Taco instead of T.J. Watt?
First off, I haven’t rued in so long, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. It would probably be wise to stretch first.
I get it, the Steelers T.J. Watt had himself a great debut on Sunday with two sacks. He even had a great interception when he dropped into coverage. And as what has become the norm every time Watt does something good, people are digging their heels in and trying to remind people the Cowboys made a mistake.
There's a legitimate chance that TJ Watt made more splash plays today than Taco makes all year... don't @ me tho— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) September 10, 2017
Joey’s a smart guy and knows more about X’s and O’s than I ever will, but we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. And he, as well as many other Watt lovers, could be spot on in their proclamation that T.J. is the better pass rusher and should’ve been the choice when the Cowboys picked late in the first round. But he also could be wrong.
Watt having a good game doesn’t mean he was the right choice. It’s going to take some time before this one gets answer, so can we just put a pin in it for now? I think Patrick Walker has the right idea, but then K.D. found a work around.
*mutes the words "TJ Watt"*— Patrik Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) September 11, 2017
*starts tweeting about TW Jatt and his superhuman sack abilities* https://t.co/3p4giK5RqJ— K.D. Drummond (@KDDrummondNFL) September 11, 2017
T.W. Jatt? Now there’s an under-the-radar guy nobody was talking about.
Since everyone loves comparing rookies, how did all the cornerbacks fair in Week 1?
Per PFF #Cowboys rookie CB Chidobe Awuzie had a good game. Check this out #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys #NFL pic.twitter.com/z2ZnU97T5F— CowboyNews (@CowboyNews) September 11, 2017
It was surprising to see Chidobe Awuzie out there getting so many reps, but I wasn’t aware at the time that Orlando Scandrick had suffered an injury. The young secondary did a great job and didn’t miss a beat when their wily veteran left the game.
Speaking of Scandrick, he’s not expected to miss much time.
CB Orlando Scandrick will have plate inserted in left hand. Return for Denver not ruled out yet, but back for Week 3 vs. Arizona more likely— David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) September 11, 2017
Does Ben McAdoo know who the Cowboys corners are now?
The Cowboys have completely remodeled their secondary and Giants coach Ben McAdoo was quick to remind people that he’s unsure of who his receivers will be facing.
Ben McAdoo quips that the Cowboys' secondary looks different in 2017. "If you know who's playing corner for them, you can let me know."— David Helman (@HelmanDC) September 6, 2017
Was he fishing for coaching advice? No. Was he throwing shade at the lack of talent at the cornerback position? (shrugs shoulders) All we know is that the players the Cowboys have at the corner spot aren’t very memorable to him.
With Scandrick out of the game, the Cowboys three cornerbacks were all players who weren’t on the team a couple years ago - Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, and Awuzie. We never heard much about Carroll in the game, which is always a positive sign, but as far as the young ones go, they played outstanding. And it wasn’t just Chido who wasn’t giving way to any receivers. The Cowboys second-year CB, Anthony Brown, was smothering in coverage.
Anthony Brown!! RT @PFF: These CBs shut down the receivers they were covering pic.twitter.com/iObPuFjyMU— Elroy Jetson (@Co_Chisejr) September 11, 2017
Of course, his biggest play was when he deeked Eli into thinking he was rolling to the outside to cover Sterling Shepard, but then busted back to make the interception. Manning did a good job keeping the ball away from the Cowboys zone coverage, but he got fooled on that one.
Great pressure or bad blocking?
The Giants offensive line is not very good. We all know that. But either they’ve gotten worse or the Cowboys defensive line has improved. The pressure was there all night.
Eli Manning got sacked before his offensive line could even introduce themselves #NYGvsDAL pic.twitter.com/eTAjC3pBIE— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) September 11, 2017
Not having Odell Beckham Jr. certainly hinders the Giants offense, but would he have been enough of a difference maker had he been healthy? Our own Dawn Macelli doesn’t think so.
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.
The Cowboys defense was good and the pass rush was a big part of it. Was this just an outlier performance or could this be a sign of good things to come?
What do you think was the biggest storyline that came out of this game?