The Dallas Cowboys made a statement last night.
Going into their season opener the Cowboys were facing a lot of question marks. More than you'd expect from a team which went 13-3 the year before, at least.
Offensively, we knew what the Cowboys could do. Ezekiel Elliott is one of the top three running backs in football, Dak Prescott has become one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, and the offensive line features three All-Pro players.
But, even with all of that being said, we hadn't seen the Cowboys offense dominate this defense just yet.
Defensively, however, is where most of the Cowboys questions were rooted. Six “starters” on the defense had departed, and new faces were going to be relied upon to step up in their place. Upfront, the Cowboys defensive line has faced more criticism than any group on the roster. And for the most part, that criticism has been justifiable. Even the linebackers with All-Pro Sean Lee faced some uncertainty, as injuries forced Jaylon Smith to start at MIKE before most thought he'd be ready.
Sure, the Giants were without Odell Beckham. And, of course, the Giants offensive line is a rather putrid unit. But if an offense is as bad as we expect the Giants' to be, then a good defense must beat up on them just as the Cowboys did last night.
DeMarcus Lawrence dominated all night, beating right tackle Bobby Hart with absolute ease whenever the two matched up. Maliek Collins controlled the interior of the line of scrimmage as well, and with Sean Lee patrolling behind them, the Giants couldn't get anything going on the ground.
The Cowboys pass rush looked better than anyone had realistically expected, and the secondary was incredible in coverage all night long.
The final turning point of the game came after the Cowboys offense stalled and was forced to punt. Leading 16-3 the Cowboys needed to halt the Giants one more time, and give their offense a chance to run the clock out the rest of the way. After getting a little momentum rolling, Anthony Brown jumped in front of an Eli Manning pass and came away with an interception.
For a secondary which has struggled to get their hands on the ball and create turnovers, it was incredibly encouraging to see Brown make that play.
There are 15 (and hopefully more) games remaining, and a lot can happen. The Cowboys defense is still not a great unit, but they made a statement last night. Now with rather weak offensive units in Denver and Arizona coming up next, the Cowboys defense should be able to hold up and give their prolific offense chances every week.
It wasn't always pretty last night, but it certainly should be encouraging.