The Dallas Cowboys tried out a new look in their season opener against the New York Giants. Frontrunner.
The Cowboys led just 22 percent of the time in 16 games last season. On Sunday night the Cowboys led 13-10 at halftime and didn’t give up the lead, something Dallas had a problem with last year, too.
In reality, the 36-31 Cowboys victory looked a little closer than it actually was. The new-look defense, at times, looked dominant. The offense, at times, looked efficient. And like any season opener, there were inconsistencies that kept the Cowboys from putting more distance between themselves and the Giants.
But the Cowboys and their fans will take it. Of course, Dallas beat the Giants to open last season and followed it up with a loss against Seattle on the road. Dallas travels to Kansas City next week to face the Chiefs, coached by their old nemesis Andy Reid. So nothing is a given.
THIS is Monte Kiffin Defense
Six turnovers. Do you know how long it took the Cowboys defense to generate six turnovers last season? Seven games. Kiffin, the new coordinator who brought the 4-3 Cover 2 with him, has a reputation built around defenses that swarm the football and create miscues. Dallas did that from the start, as DeMarcus Ware picked off Eli Manning on the game’s first play from scrimmage. The defense was kind enough to turn two of the turnovers into points on their own – Barry Church’s fumble recovery and Brandon Carr’s interception, the latter of which iced the game.
For one game at least, Jerry Jones’ move to make Kiffin the defensive coordinator paid off.
This won’t happen every week, of course. But the front seven for Dallas played well across the board, generating three sacks, plenty of pressure around Manning and limiting the Giants running game to just 50 yards. Church, Bruce Carter and Carr all had big nights, while fill-in defensive end George Selvie and defensive tackle Nick Hayden produced as well.
Jason Hatcher’s sack of Eli Manning late in the game might have been one of the biggest plays of the game. It induced a punt with five minutes remaining and gave the Cowboys a chance to milk the clock. It’s not Hatcher’s fault the Cowboys offense went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
Romo takes what he’s given
The Giants obviously watched preseason tape on the Cowboys and determined that they had to do everything possible to shut down Dez Bryant. So they did. Bryant caught just four passes on the game for 22 yards. In a show of maturation on Bryant’s part, he didn’t seem to complain. In a show of maturation on quarterback Tony Romo’s part, he didn’t try to force the ball to Bryant. Instead he took the receivers in single coverage and the offense flourished. Miles Austin, Jason Witten – who caught two touchdown passes – and DeMarco Murray caught 26 of Romo’s 36 completions.
Romo took a vicious hit in the second quarter, one that made everyone in AT&T Stadium gasp. It looked like the football equivalent of the magic trick where you try to saw someone in half. Two Giants clocked Romo in the ribs, but he marched on and played the whole game. Romo’s play, generally, was flawless on Sunday night.
Murray had a great game under-the-radar, as he touched the ball 28 times for 125 yards. He had 20 carries, the bulk of the workload in the run game, as the Cowboys gained 87 rushing yards. The running game wasn’t popping on all cylinders, but it showed promise. And, unlike last year, the Cowboys didn’t stop running the ball at halftime.
The High Points
Tyron Smith: Granted, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul wasn’t 100 percent. But the third-year left tackle basically neutralized the Pro Bowl pass rusher for most of the game. We may be witnessing the ascent of Smith’s star among the NFL’s offensive linemen, if he can play at that level consistently.
Miles Austin: Witten had the touchdowns, but Austin worked the underneath to catch 10 passes. No one benefited from Bryant’s double-coverage more than Austin.
Monte Kiffin: For one game at least, Jerry Jones’ move to make Kiffin the defensive coordinator paid off.
Nick Hayden: The guy responsible for holding down the fort inside until Jay Ratliff returns from injury (if he returns) had a great game, forcing the fumble that led to Church’s touchdown return.
The Low Points
Mackenzy Bernadeau: It was hard to escape the sieve that was the right interior of the Cowboys offensive line. Bernadeau might have looked worse Sunday night than he had at any point last season. The Brian Waters era may begin as early as next week. Bernadeau isn’t long for that job.
Safety play: Will Allen may have picked off a pass and Church may have returned a fumble for a touchdown, but the Giants exploited the Cowboys in the deep middle all night. Had the Cowboys shored up that part of their defense, Manning would have had about 300 yards passing and Cruz would have had just one touchdown reception.
Converting turnovers: The fact that the Cowboys turned the Giants’ first three turnovers of the game – on consecutive possessions – into just three points shows just how far the Cowboys have to go in terms of capitalizing on mistakes.