The Dallas Cowboys lost a close and gut-wrenching game against the New York Giants in their season opener at AT&T Stadium. The game wasn’t the most exciting, especially for Cowboys fans, who watched their team only score one touchdown on the day.
The Cowboys don’t have many positive takeaways from this game, but if you want to look at the glass half full, the moral victory is that they only lost by one point in a game where their offense couldn’t get in a groove.
But we are not doing that. As Jay Z once said, “moral victories are for minor league coaches.”
The Giants entered this game with a defensive line featuring returning players Jason Pierre-Paul and Jonathan Hankins, as well as big free agent signings Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison. Although the unit’s prior year performance was terrible, as a result of these big acquisitions, expectations were high in New York.
The revamped defensive line would be tested straight out of the gate this season, as they faced the Dallas Cowboys, widely considered the best offensive line in football. Not only do the Cowboys have the best line, but they also drafted Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the draft, the highest a running back has been drafted since 2012.
So with all things considered, the Cowboys were expected to literally roll on the Giants defense.
Quite the opposite happened.
Despite possessing the ball thirteen more minutes and running 21 more plays than the Giants, the Cowboys only out-gained the Giants by 12 yards. Even with the Cowboys’ weakness clearly being their defensive line, you would never predict before the game the Giants would out-rush the Cowboys, and that’s exactly what they did.
The Cowboys got out-rushed by the Giants 113 to 101 on the day, holding highly touted rookie Ezekiel Elliott to 51 yards on 20 carries. Elliott’s longest run of the day was his eight-yard touchdown run, which was partially set up by an Eli Manning interception in Giants’ territory.
If you take away that eight-yard run, Elliott’s average per rush would be 2.2 on the day.
The Cowboys finished 10th in the NFL in rushing yards per game last season with 120.9 yards. So with the Giants’ defensive line decreasing the Cowboys’ rushing attack by 80 yards, should there be concern?
The Cowboys offensive line did not give up a sack, but rookie quarterback Dak Prescott seemed uncomfortable in his first start, only throwing for a five-yard passing completion average on the day.
The Giants’ defensive line was making tackles in the first level of the defense, as Pierre-Paul finished second on the team with six tackles, and Hankins and Harrison finishing right behind him with five.
Olivier Vernon also looked impressive, finishing with four tackles, three run stuffs, one tackle for a loss, and forcing two holding penalties.
Simply put, either the holes weren’t there for Elliott or he couldn’t find them, as he averaged just .05 yards per carry before contact.
With inexperienced players at the two positions expected to produce the most yards, it may be unfair to pin the loss on the offensive line. Prescott wasn’t sacked and when veteran running back Alfred Morris entered the game, he was able to find running room with his 35 yards on only seven carries.
The unit should be able to bounce back against a weak Redskins run defense, who just let DeAngelo Williams and the Steelers run for 147 yards against them at home. There’s no reason to panic, yet. Prescott and Elliott will get a better feel for the speed of the NFL as the season goes on.
Hats off to the Giants’ defensive line for coming to play, but #NeverAgain.
The Cowboys’ offensive line needs to put this loss behind them and focus on dominating the Redskins, and other teams, in the weeks to come.