With the Cowboys latest victory over the Giants, they have now won 5 straight against their division foes - matching the 3rd longest winning-streak over the Giants in franchise history. Here are my 10 Thoughts and Observations from the thrilling Sunday Night divisional game. ... and what comes next for the 1-0 Cowboys, sitting alone atop the NFC East:
1. You wouldn't be able to tell judging off the final 27-26 score (deeply analyzed here by our KD Drummond), but the Cowboys defense - which is currently the 8th ranked unit in the NFL - was extremely impressive. They allowed less than 200 passing yards, less than 100 rushing yards and held previous Cowboys-killer and Madden cover guy Odell Beckham to less than 50 receiving yards - ending his streak of 9 consecutive games with 90+ receiving yards. The defense gave up just one offensive touchdown all night. If you take away New York's fumble return for a TD and their 2 interceptions, the Giants would've scored just 9 points. This defense was put in a tough spot from the offense making mistakes early on but they were able to step up and get off the field.
Physical play against OBJ was part of this win.
2. A big reason for the defense's success is the defensive line generating consistent pressure. They didn't put up big numbers but they made life uncomfortable for Eli in the pocket. Tyrone Crawford showed why the Cowboys paid him the big bucks over the weekend, recording 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QB hit and 2 QB hurries. Randy Gregory had 1 QB hit, 3 QB hurries and had PFF's highest pass rushing grade among 4-3 DE's. Demarcus Lawrence had 3 tackles, 1 QB hurry and 1 QB hit.
This week? No Gregory. So more Tank. Maybe on both sides. Jack Crawford moves one slot up in the rotation. And there will be a challenge to stay fresh against fast-moving Philly.
3. The defensive backs were impressive as well. After giving up 6 passing touchdowns in the last 2 games vs the Giants, this group held Manning to 0 TD passes on Sunday. Carr was especially impressive, giving up just 3 catches on 6 targets for just 13 yards. Claiborne and Patmon gave up 6 catches on 11 targets. At one point Wilcox - PFF's 3rd ranked safety - hit Beckham so hard that he broke his own nose. He said that Beckham told him it was the hardest that he's ever been hit. See that clip above for proof.
4. Sean Lee looked like his old self. He was all over the field and led the team with 9 tackles, including 7 solo and one tackle for a loss. Anthony Hitchens was impressive as well, recording 8 tackles and was PFF's 4th ranked 4-3 OLB. Kyle Wilber also showed some flashes, recording a big tackle for a loss in the 4th quarter as well as a couple of key stops on special teams. Oh, and by the way...
5. So much for those special teams problems that had fans concerned during the preseason.. All of Bailey's kickoffs were touchbacks and the Cowboys allowed just 3 yards on punt returns all night. Dwayne Harris definitely didn't have a fun homecoming. Meanwhile, Dunbar averaged 23 yards on 3 kick returns with a long of 32.
6. Tony Romo had one of the most memorable games of his career. His first INT was on him, throwing behind Witten, but his 2nd was all Street. Other than that one play, Romo was nearly flawless all night. In fact, here are some of the records/milestones he reached on Sunday night:
- Romo has now thrown 2+ TD passes in 7 straight games (including the playoffs) - making this the longest streak of his career.
- Romo has now had a 100+ passer rating in 7 straight games (including the playoffs) - tying the longest streak of his career.
- Romo has had a 60+ completion % in 20 straight games (including the playoffs) - tying him with Drew Brees for the longest streak in NFL history.
- Romo recorded his 46th game with 300+ passing yards - moving him ahead of Joe Montana for 9th most in NFL history.
- Romo became the 5th player in NFL history to post a completion % of 80 with 45+ passing attempts in a single game.
- Romo is now tied with Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger for the 12th most 4th quarter comebacks in NFL history (25). To make it even more impressive, those 2 QB's have started a combined 7 more seasons than Tony Romo. He's also tied with Jim Kelly and Johnny Unitas for the 16th most game winning drives in NFL history (29).
7. Cowboys OL didn't give up a single sack and gave up just 1 QB hit. Tyron Smith was PFF's top ranked OT, Zack Martin was PFF's 5th ranked OG and Travis Frederick was PFF's 4th ranked OC. Granted, the Giants didn't have JPP, but it's still encouraging to see #9 get so much time in the pocket that he could bake a batch of crownies. Romo had all the time in the world. Bernadeau also did a nice job filling in for the injured Leary - giving up just 1 QB hurry in 17 pass blocking snaps.
This week? Maybe no Leary. Berny gets first crack at stepping up at LG.
8. The Cowboys running backs finished the game with 81 yards on 22 carries - an average of just 3.7 yards. However, they had a total of 209 yards on the ground and through the air and they were able to keep the defense honest. Randle, in particular, was able to pick up some "dirty yards" and tough first downs - which is something that some fans questioned whether or not he could do.
While Randle may have been the starter, Dunbar was the most productive RB Sunday night - even though he didn't get a single carry. Fans have been telling me all offseason that the Cowboys should let Dunbar go. However, I kept telling them that he would be extremely valuable to this offense in 2015 - especially in the passing game - and he proved me right. Dunbar led the team in passing yards and catches with 8 for 70 - including 2 huge catch and runs on the Cowboys game-winning drive. Dunbar was PFF's 5th ranked RB and their 2nd highest receiving grade among RB's.
Christine Michael? Fish reports that he was blowing up last week on the scout team. If he gets snaps with the real offense starting tommorow? We'll cover what that means at that time.
9. Cowboys tight ends (yet again) killed the Giants. All 3 of Romo's TD's went to TE's - 2 to Witten and 1 to Escobar. In fact, 11 of the Cowboys last 15 passing touchdowns vs NY have gone to TE's, 7 of which went to Witten.
(Fun fact: Witten has 5 multi TD games in his career - all of which have been against division opponents with 3 coming against the Giants.)
Escobar thinks there might be even more fun to be had this weekend at Philly.
"I think they're going to be more confused (without Dez),'' Gavin said of the Eagles D, "because they really don't know what we're going to do.''
10. Losing Dez really hurts, but keep in mind that not many teams have a WR of his caliber to begin with. The Cowboys still have several weapons on offense including Romo's security blanket in Witten, Terrance Williams - who got extensive playing time as the #1 WR this offseason - and Cole Beasley, who is one of Romo's most trusted targets. I also expect to see a lot of Gavin Escobar during Dez's absence. Don't get me wrong, he won't be able to replace Dez but he gives the team a big RZ target and creates matchup problems for the defense. (And of course, Brice Butler doesn't "replace'' Dez, either. Here's Fish breaking the story of the trade.)
As long as #9 is under center, the Cowboys have a chance any given Sunday. This defense just needs to continue performing at a high level to help out. If the team can figure out a way to go 2-2 in these next 4 games, they'll be 3-2 heading into the Bye week and would be getting Dez Bryant, Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory back all within a couple weeks of each other.
Said Garrett: “Fight. Relentlessness. Mental toughness. Demeanor. I thought it showed up (against the Giants)’'
And now it must show up again.