The Dallas Cowboys held the New York Giants to three points on 233 yards over the 25:46 minutes they held the football in Sunday night's decisive 19-3 win. The Giants were of course playing without star WR Odell Beckham Jr., which helped the Cowboys execute their game plan of limiting big plays on defense and grinding things out to control the game on offense.
Among things that stood out more than expected though were the performances from Rod Marinelli's defensive line across the board, LB Jaylon Smith, and this new look offensive line with Chaz Green starting (and finishing the game) at LG with La'el Collins holding up at RT.
Here are my full thoughts on this opening win from the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. We'll be sure to expand on some of these notes throughout the week in preparation for week two with Sean's Scout.
- The Giants' offensive line may not be the greatest litmus test for any team's pass rush, but you had to come out of this game impressed with the all-around performance from this Dallas defensive line. Maliek Collins continues to show great improvements every time he takes the field, translating a strong training camp into another dominant showing at the important 3T DT position in this defense. It was Collins' ability to burst off of the football and power into the backfield with some quickness on a twist that allowed DeMarcus Lawrence to get home on the Giants' first drive for a drive ending sack. When Lawrence has struggled in past seasons, it has been because of his inability to capture the corner or bend back to the quarterback. Playing with power has rarely been his issue, and the play of these interior defensive tackles really allowed him to take advantage of some favorable match ups and disrupt Manning. Charles Tapper also made a strong debut as a rotational DE, rushing off of both the left and right edges with some fresh legs and improved closing ability.
- The first surprise of this night actually came before kickoff, when the Cowboys' inactive list included LG Jonathan Cooper. The Cowboys prefer offensive linemen that can play with some power, move guys off of the ball, and get out in space. Cooper rarely showed these traits through the preseason, losing the competition for the job to the rarely healthy Chaz Green. Fortunately, Green made it through his first meaningful game at this new position, and looked good doing so. When Chaz appeared at tackle last season, he was able to impress with his base and strength against rushers. Able to take this same ability to the interior, there were times where Green seemed to catch his man as a blocker instead of controlling him – but overall he was more than a formidable replacement for both Ronald Leary and La'el Collins, who held up just as admirably as an ever-improving right tackle.
- As always, Scott Linehan's play calling was criticized at times throughout this night by Cowboys Nation. What he did do a great job of was scheming plenty of Ezekiel Elliott's 24 touches away from DT Damon Harrison. Harrison is among the best in the NFL at stuffing the run from inside, and is the type of DT that Travis Frederick has historically struggled slightly against thanks to his elite power but active hands. Instead of consistently helping Frederick with RG Zack Martin and running into the teeth of the Giants' defense, Linehan was able to utilize both Martin and La'el Collins at their best – playing on the move to allow Elliott a chance to wear out a New York defense that was consistently a step late to the ball.
- There are just so many people in the Cowboys' organization that had to be elated the second Jaylon Smith left the locker room last night and entered his first regular season game in the NFL. His path towards becoming the player he was out of Notre Dame before his injury is still a long one, but Smith didn't show many signs of being held back by that leg – fitting this defensive scheme perfectly at MIKE linebacker. Especially with Dallas' front four generating pressure and clogging running lanes, Smith and the Cowboys linebackers were able to free themselves early and often to get to the ball and limit the Giants to 4.4 yards per play. Jaylon Smith flashed as a sideline-to-sideline player with improved burst, tackling ability, and change of direction skills. The playbook is only going to expand for Smith as his comfort level and trust from the coaching staff increase, but for now there is a need on this team for any linebackers to get on the field and play with their feet and hands together, something Smith is impressively doing.
- Getting Terrance Williams the ball on the move continues to be an incredibly reliable option for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense. Before anyone scrutinizes Prescott's performance too much in this game (he'll be the first to admit some throws he missed were unacceptable), you have to remember how talented this Giants defense is and how bad they made him look at times as a rookie. Once again quieting Dez Bryant in single coverage, the Cowboys had to rely on match up nightmare Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams in some key spots to keep drives alive. With the way NY wants to stack the box pre-snap against the run but still commit numbers in coverage, running route concepts that freed up Williams to grab the ball on the run and accelerate exposed some soft spots in the Giants' defense and kept the Cowboys #2 WR in this game mentally – even after exiting on the first drive with an injury but returning later in the quarter.
- It is impossible to ever understate just how meaningful Sean Lee is to this Dallas Cowboys team. While the Cowboys may have one of the deepest and talented rosters in the NFL, their would be some serious struggles without Lee playing with the consistency that he's found over the past seasons at WILL linebacker. As already mentioned, the Cowboys LBs as a whole did a great job of disengaging blocks, playing physical, and getting to the ball last night. To no surprise, the best example of these traits by far was Sean Lee, who finished off another excellent night of work with eight tackles.
The Cowboys are 1-0 with plenty of room for improvement and plenty to be happy about on both sides of the ball following a week one NFC East victory.
As they prepare for a tough trip to Mile High against the Broncos in week two, be sure to stay posted to Inside The Star at Cowboys Nation for more reactions on Sunday's win over the Giants and further preparation for Denver.