That wound up going rather well.
After a slightly shaky start, the Dallas Cowboys asserted themselves to notch a 35-17 opening weekend victory over the visiting New York Giants. It was a game where a rookie offensive coordinator looked like a genius, and a quarterback that is doubted by many was statistically perfect, posting a 158.3 passer rating while throwing for 405 yards and four touchdowns. It was so dominant a performance that Cooper Rush came on in relief in the fourth quarter, and the newly-rich running back also got to sit out the final minutes of the game.
It is only one game, admittedly, but several questions we had coming into the season, particularly on offense, may have been answered - by halftime. After getting stopped on their first possession, the Cowboys would not punt again before the fourth quarter. More importantly, they capped the following five drives with touchdowns.
The big factor seemed to be the much-anticipated play calling and pre-snap motion from new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Anticipate no more, because he delivered. First down passes, people moving all over the place (with some obvious confusion from the Giants’ defense), and pretty much treating the running game as an afterthought - all played a part in getting the team to a 21-7 lead at the break. If this is a foretaste of what we have to look forward to, then this could be an incredibly exciting year in Dallas. Heck, Moore even dialed up a deep shot to Jamize Olawale, and even though it was incomplete on an underthrown pass, it still put something on video that other teams will have to consider.
The best example is the second touchdown play for Dallas. With a first and goal from the 4 yard line, Moore got everyone moving to the left and rolled Dak Prescott to the right. Jason Witten went with his QB, and was so wide open, Prescott was fully into his touchdown celebration as soon as the ball left his hand. Yes, Witten still has something left in the tank, having already kept the first scoring drive alive with a third down catch to move the chains.
It is going to be fun to see the analysis of Moore’s offense this week. It certainly looked like all we were hoping for. We still have to see if the rest of the league will adjust to him, but for now, he seems to have a command of the offense that is totally our of proportion with his experience. And many likely share this take from during the game:
SO WE'RE THE PASSING TEAM NOW— Cowboys Stats & Graphics (@CowboysStats) September 8, 2019
But the real star on the field was Dak Prescott, who completed 20 of 26 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns just in the first half, while adding 14 yards with his legs. He was 5 of 6 on third down passes. He repeatedly went deep, completing a 36 yard pass to Michael Gallup, a 28 yard score to Blake Jarwin, and a 21 yard TD to Amari Cooper. For what it’s worth, that came out to a 145.7 rating for the half. And by the end of the third quarter, he had pumped that up to the perfect rating mentioned above.
Oh, and if you didn’t pick up on it, the top three receivers were all getting it done on the field, with Randall Cobb having a long of 18 yards that was all after the catch, and also just muscling a defender out of the way to fight for first down yardage. And they would pick it up on their first play after the half, as Prescott found Cooper for a 45 yard gainer right down the middle of the field. It was not a perfect ball, because if he had led it a bit more, it would have gone for a touchdown. That didn’t matter much, because two plays later, Cobb got in on the scoring with a 25 yard trip to paydirt.
Gallup would be the top receiver of the game, with seven catches for 158 yards. Cooper also eclipsed the century mark with 106.
Ezekiel Elliott garnered most of the headlines over the past week as his holdout was resolved, and he got paid, but in the early going, he was little more than an afterthought. He only had 26 yards on 7 carries in the first half, and frankly, Saquon Barkley was by far the most effective running back on the field. He gashed the Cowboys in the Giants first drive, including a 59 yard run, which led to a touchdown and a 7-0 lead for the visitors. Had the Giants been able to rely on him more, this might have gone rather differently, because this was a day we saw much more good Eli Manning than bad. He was generally on target, made some excellent deep throws, managed to evade the grasp of DeMarcus Lawrence to complete a long throw on third down, and even ran for a six yard gain. The pass rush was not getting to him, although he was under some pressure at times. But the last real chance to get back into the game ended on a fourth and one from the Cowboys’ 7 yard line. Lawrence (and come friends) not only got to Manning for the sack, he took the ball away and got credit for the strip sack and recovery.
While the running game was not very impressive, the pass protection was. Dak was not sacked at all during the game, and often had the proverbial “all day” to find a target. Which he almost always did.
Tony Pollard did not have any standout plays, but saw extensive work to allow Elliott to work his way back into game shape. And he did not look like things were too big for him, especially in pass protection. Heck, Tavon Austin got a catch.
And Prescott just continued to impress. Deep in his own end of the field, and after Elliott had only gained a couple of yards on two carries, he was facing third and eight. All he did was find Michael Gallup on a deep ball, which wound up totaling 62 yards with the run on the end. It got the team into the red zone, and Elliott started to get on track. He had back-to-back runs, and then capped the drive with a powerful 10 yard TD.
You always have to try to put things into context. This was certainly not the most intimidating defense that Dallas will face this season. There was little pressure on Prescott, and the secondary was out of place on most of those big pass plays. But this was an offensive clinic by the soon-to-be-paid quarterback and his new OC. Consider that they went from the first quarter until four minutes were gone in the fourth without failing to convert a third down. They look to be able to take on whatever they face down the road.
The defense was more of a mixed bag, something that was probably a bit of a surprise to many. They gave up too many long plays, but were very solid on third (and fourth) downs. They weren’t getting many sacks and takeaways, but when your offense is doing so well, you can survive that.
The most important factor for the defense was that the relentless scoring of their offense in the middle two quarters forced the Giants to be one-dimensional, which greatly simplifies things. Certainly the defense was more than good enough in this game, and had a second fumble recovery in garbage time to put a cap on it all.
Overall, though, there were almost all good things for the Cowboys. Now to see if they can keep it up in Washington.