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Analyzing the next steps for the Cowboys offense after defense steals the show in week 1 win

The Cowboys offense did a lot of good things against the Giants, but never felt game pressure from New York putting up any points themselves.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys have no shortage of enticing storylines heading into their week two home opener against the New York Jets. Both teams started the season in primetime, with the Cowboys leaning on their defense and special teams to blank the Giants 40-0. The Jets saw Aaron Rodgers’ much-anticipated Monday night debut against the Bills end with an Achilles injury before he ever completed a pass, but also saw their defense keep them in the contest long enough to win on an overtime punt return touchdown.

Even if the Mike McCarthy vs. Aaron Rodgers rematch headline is scratched come Sunday, these are two teams riding high with confidence instilled by their head coaches, with Robert Saleh having the Jets prepared to rally around Zach Wilson on the fly to earn an emotional home win. For McCarthy, his gameday responsibilities in 2023 have an even larger impact on the Cowboys outcomes, calling plays for Dak Prescott and the offense for the first time in his Dallas tenure.

The pressure was taken off McCarthy and the offense by the Cowboys defense in week one, but they did more than enough to cleanly get through this game in wet conditions without ever allowing the Giants back within reach. The Cowboys didn’t play many starters in the preseason, but the foundation of the Texas Coast offense they installed in the offseason and through training camp was on full display at New York.

Entering yet another game where the defense will have a favorable matchup, with the Jets allowing eight QB hits, and three sacks, and a running game that will not have Rodgers to make the Cowboys defense respect the pass, the Dallas offense is in danger of getting overshadowed again.

What were the positives they can build on, and negatives that need to be addressed, from the win against the Giants? Let’s take a closer look.

The Cowboys offense starting the season hot under Kellen Moore was never an issue, taking this risk under McCarthy that they can sustain their best level of play when it matters the most in the playoffs. The upcoming Jets game will test their ability to adjust on the fly and beat man coverage against one of the fastest defenses in the league, but getting the ball out of Prescott’s hands was the biggest positive to take from week one. Dallas is hopeful that giving Prescott more answers in the checkdown game can significantly limit his turnovers this season, putting it to the test against a Jets secondary that picked off Josh Allen three times on Monday night.

The creativity from the Cowboys offense didn’t stop with just route concepts and letting their offensive line dominate in space, but also in the backfield as Kavontae Turpin took a handoff for a late touchdown. Turpin was targeted three times in the passing game, catching two for 11 yards, as McCarthy and OC Brian Schottenheimer made good on the offseason buzz that Turpin would be more than just a return man this season.

Between Turpin, CeeDee Lamb, and Brandin Cooks, the Cowboys have the speed to stretch defenses vertically, which should open up layup throws underneath for Prescott - particularly when on the run outside the pocket. This was something the Cowboys tried to feature against the Giants with throws to tight ends Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot, but their inconsistency finishing plays left this as a clear area of improvement to watch moving forward for the offense. The Cowboys young TEs did make up for some of these drops by moving defenders in the run game to create space for Tony Pollard, but if they can regularly keep defenses honest in 12 personnel by making plays in the passing game, the Cowboys will have yet another way to keep Prescott protected and the offense ahead of the chains.

In total, this supporting cast of pass catchers was still led by Lamb as the WR1, but it was a quieter performance from Lamb with four catches for 77 yards. With the game getting out of hand so quickly, the Cowboys shifted their focus to keeping the clock moving and finishing a clean game without injuries, potentially missing out on opportunities to feature Lamb even heavier. The same route concepts that created open looks for Cooks, Turpin, Pollard, and the tight ends should be seen more from Lamb going forward, though the individual matchup doesn’t get any easier with Sauce Gardner at cornerback for the Jets.

Gardner will be looking for a bounce back performance after struggling against Stefon Diggs, who went off for 102 yards on ten catches with a touchdown. It was the rest of the Bills passing game that the Jets worked to take away from Allen, who was regularly a beat late targeting underneath options against linebackers C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams. Allen ended the game with three interceptions and a lost fumble. All three of these interceptions belonged to safety Jordan Whitehead, a player Dallas will have to ID before the snap after his great week one performance.

Buffalo Bills v New York Jets Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Bills have struggled to find any balance in their offense under Allen, who’s served as their best running threat trying to put games away with his legs and the arm, leading to a 13-3 lead evaporating in overtime.

This is yet another contrasting thing to watch for from the Cowboys offense if presented with a similar game script against the Jets, having the same confidence in Prescott to make a big throw whenever needed, but also wanting the run game to be physical enough to control games and wear defenses down before springing big plays. Quinnen Williams and Jermaine Johnson present a similar challenge to Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams with the Giants when it comes to running on the interior, and climbing to the second level is no easy task against this Jets defense either.

As far as national attention goes for the offenses on both sides of this week two game, much more will be written and said about the Jets as Zack Wilson takes over for Aaron Rodgers. The Cowboys firmly made a statement on Sunday that this team should be talked about as a playoff contender, looking to advance past the Divisional Round for the first time under McCarthy. It’s never too early to look for steady signs of progress from a team with expectations of playing in January and February, and that’s exactly where the attention will be for the Cowboys offense against a Jets defense that put up a Dallas-esque performance in willing the team to victory in week one.

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