There were a lot of concerns heading into this season for the Cowboys defense, but after a dominant showing against the Giants, fans are feeling better.
No touchdowns for you! That’s the mantra of the Dallas Cowboys defense for Sunday night. The Cowboys have not held a team to three points since Week 7 of 2013 when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 17-3. It was a total team effort. The offense would put together long, time consuming drives – moving the ball into Giants territory on every single possession.
The special teams were outstanding. Dan Bailey was a perfect 4-4 kicking field goals and punter Chris Jones would pin the Giants back deep in their own territory. Jones punted four times on the night and there wasn’t a single instance where the Giants started their drive past the 10-yard line.
As great as the offense was and practically perfect as the kicking game was, the real surprise performance came from the Cowboys defense. Every single drive the Giants had in the first half consisted of five plays or less and they never crossed midfield. And when their offense did get things going in the second half, all they could muster was three measly points. It was majestic.
Just as the team won with a complete effort, the defense also won with strong performances from each position group. The pass rush was disruptive, the linebackers were in constant pursuit, and the secondary wouldn’t give any ground. All of the worries this offseason about the Cowboys having a vulnerable defense have at least been muted for the time being.
The Cowboys had three sacks on the night and it should have been four if the referees would have gotten the call right when Eli Manning’s knee touched the ground before he got rid of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence had one of his best games of his career, constantly getting the better of Giants right tackle, Bobby Hart. Not only did Lawrence sack Manning twice on the night, but he also had a couple near misses when all he got was a handful of jersey. He was explosive off the snap, quick in reacting to the play, and played very physical. He even tackled Giants running back, Orleans Darkwa in the backfield for a loss.
DeMarcus Lawrence was phenomenal. Look at this play. pic.twitter.com/szjYVjHrLC— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 11, 2017
Lawrence has had his struggles in season past as he’s missed time due to injuries and suspension, but he’s healthy now and it was great to see him causing trouble on the edge.
We all know that Cowboys linebacker, Jaylon Smith made his long awaited NFL debut on Sunday, but he wasn’t the only 2016 draft pick seeing his first action as a pro. Defensive end, Charles Tapper got in a few snaps after missing the entire season last year with a back injury. And he made it count. While it was encouraging to see him make a play, it came at a great time.
The Giants had second and goal from the Cowboys four yard line and were threating to score after taking the opening drive down the length of the field. Tapper exploded quickly on the inside and was able to take Manning down for a nine yard loss. The Giants would end up settling for a field goal, killing any momentum they had built up.
The Cowboys led the league last season against run, holding opponents to 83.7 yards a game. If Sunday’s game is any indication, it wasn’t a fluke. The Cowboys held the Giants to only 35 rushing yards on the night. Again, this was a collective effort. The Cowboys interior defensive line, made up of Maliek Collins and Stephen Paea did a great job absorbing the Giants blockers and not letting them get into the second level.
Can you believe the Giants only crossed into Cowboys territory twice all game and one of those times was that final drive in garbage time where they made it to the Cowboys 45 yard line. It’s hard to score when you can’t cross midfield. Of course there almost was a third time then early in the fourth quarter the Giants were moving the ball and had 1st and 10 at their own 47. Sean Lee would sniff out the run and tackle Giants running back, Orleans Darkwa for a two-yard loss. Manning would throw two straight incomplete passes and just like that, the Giants were punting again.
Fans have come to expect this type of play from Sean Lee, but on this day, he had a partner in crime roaming the field with him. Jaylon Smith played in his first ever NFL game. While it was projected he’d share time with Justin Durant and play only 20 snaps for the game, he ended up getting an extended workload. Smith would play 36 snaps.
It was a great showing for the red-shirt rookie who spent all of last season recovering from major knee surgery. He was moving around great and even knocked the ball out of the Giants receiver’s hands. It would have been a turnover had the referees not blown the whistle so quickly. People keep waiting for Smith to slip a little bit, but the kid keeps delivery.
New look secondary
Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox all left in free agency this offseason. This was cause for alarm for many fans as it meant a lot of new faces in the secondary. The team would now be relying on free agent Nolan Carroll, rookie Chidobe Awuzie, and second-year player Anthony Brown to hold down the fort. And so far, so good.
The Cowboys would only allow 198 passing yards on Sunday. Only the Denver Broncos defense allowed an average of less than 200 yards pass last season. Even more impressive is that Eli threw the ball 39 times.
Manning struggled finding open targets. He went after Anthony Brown four times, but only once did Brown allow a completion and it was only for six yards. Everyone will remember the interception he had when he faked like he was going to take the outside receiver, but then jumped back inside to snap the pass. But he had another great play earlier in the game when he went toe-for-toe with Brandon Marshall on a deep pass.
Brown finished the season strong last year and he’s had a great camp. Some have projected a breakout season for the young corner. He’s definitely off to a great start.
Do you feel better about the defense after Sunday’s performance? Share your answer with Dan on Twitter @DannyPhantom24.