The Cowboys 2016 season officially kicked off on Sunday afternoon, when Dallas welcomed their arch-rival New York Giants to AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys, who would be forced to start the season with rookies starting at both quarterback and running back, had the odds stacked in against them coming into the game. Unfortunately for Dallas, Eli and the Giants had just enough to edge them in a close matchup, 20-19.
"I think there are a lot of good things you can take from this game,'' coach Jason Garrett said on Monday. "There's no question about that."
What did we learn? CHQ with a largely chronological “20 Takes’’ …
1. On the very first drive of the game, the Cowboys featured both rookies heavily. Dak Prescott made some very impressive “controlled’’ throws, and looked comfortable leading the offense as it drove down the field. The Cowboys were ultimately stopped inside the Giants 10-yard line, but all things considered it was a very positive start for Prescott, and the Cowboys took an early 3-0 lead.
2. Ezekiel Elliott’s first meaningful NFL rushing attempts weren’t as successful, as Elliott was held just 21 yards on his first seven carries. But with seven carries on just one drive, it is apparent that Elliott will indeed dominate the touches for the this running game, so there will be plenty of chances for him to succeed. (Or at least that was the intention. Alfred Morris’ success might say otherwise.)
3. The Cowboys defense was up to the task on the Giants first offensive drive, forcing New York to punt after just six plays and 15 yards. Considering the suspensions that the Cowboys have on that side of the ball, it was encouraging to see them come out and stymie the Giants attack. The run defense looked stout, and Eli Manning looked uncomfortable in the pocket as well. Overall, a good showing from the D on drive one.
4. The Giants run defense seems to have improve pretty significantly with the addition of DT Damon Harrison, who they signed this offseason. The pass defense however, continued to let Prescott have his way during his second drive of the game. Prescott would end the first quarter 9/10 for 82 yards, while Zeke contributed 10 carries for 28 yards. But “splash plays’’? That’s part of what football is about; the Giants D won in this department.
5. The Giants would end up making the stop on this possession, too, but Cowboys’ kicker Dan Bailey was able to knock through his second field goal of the game, even after a Jason Witten holding call that pushed the kick back an extra 10 yards. The 56-yard kick equaled Bailey’s career long, and gave the Cowboys a 6-0 lead late in the second quarter.
6. The most impressive thing about the Cowboys' first two drives was their ability to hold onto the football. The two combined drives 30 plays for 122 yards, and lasted 16 minutes and 23 seconds. A big part of the Cowboys plan going into this game was to control the clock, and they were able to do that early in the game.
And yes, we know “TDs matter more than TOP.’’ But everything matters. Dallas had a piece of the puzzle going for it here.
7. After a long pass to Odell Beckham Jr. kick started the Giants' next drive, the Giants were able to get on the board quickly and take a 7-0 lead on a drive that took just 1:33 off the clock. Eli Manning hit Larry Donnell on the 15-yard touchdown (Cowboys linebackers not named “Sean Lee’’ aren’t very good) but the highlight of the drive was most certainly Beckham’s 45-yard catch down the sideline. Orlando Scandrick, who lost last season due to surgery, looked a bit slow in his coverage on the play, and came up lame. (He left but would return.) But then again, Beckham can make just about anybody look slow.
8. The Cowboys were able to move the ball pretty well yet again on drive number three, but were ultimately held to another field goal after Dez Bryant’s almost-touchdown was deemed incomplete following a review. Dallas looked sharp in between the 20’s but had a hard time moving the ball when they started to get deep in Giants territory. To this point in the game, Zeke had 15 carries for just 31 yards, which is just not good enough.
9. The Cowboys offensive line protected Dak well in the first half, but failed to get significant push up front to allow Zeke any room to run the football. Alfred Morris had a little bit more success on his two carries, but the running game was just not productive enough in the first half. You have to admire Garrett’s commitment to the run. though, I guess, but Fish has suggested that Collins, Free and Witten all had poor blocking games. So, it didn’t work.
Dak, though? Here's Jason Garrett's Monday review:
“I thought he handled himself really well. I thought he played well throughout the ballgame in everything that we’re asking him to do. For the most part he was a very good decision-maker. He made a lot of good throws from the pocket, he had a lot of good throws on the move. He made throws within the system, made spontaneous plays when things broke down. He played with great poise. He played through the successes, played through the adversities, gave us a chance to win the ballgame at the end."
10. As much as I hate to see the Giants succeed at anything, it’s nice to see Victor Cruz have some success on the football field. He hasn’t played in an NFL game in almost two years due to injury, and he’s had a really tough road to travel to get back to playing. Football and rivalries aside, it’s a great story.
11. The Giants answered the Cowboys' scoring drive with a score of their own, when Manning hit rookie Sterling Shepard out of Oklahoma on a nine-yard touchdown. Anthony Brown, who took Scandrick’s place on the field, was the defensive back in coverage on the play. Brown couldn’t have played the thrown any better, but Shepard just made a great play on the ball and came down with the catch, giving the Giants a 13-9 lead. Luckily for the Cowboys, Giants kicker Randy Bullock missed the PAT, keeping the Giants lead at just four points heading into the locker room.
12. The Giants opened up the second half on offense, and quickly gave the ball to the Cowboys on an Eli Manning interception. The pressure on manning forced a poor throw to Shepard, and Brandon Carr took advantage, allowing the Cowboys to take over deep inside Giants territory.
A pick from the Dallas defense? It’s a start.
"It's been a while,'' Carr said. "I had to drop to my knees to catch it, to make sure I caught it this time."
13. Following the turnover, Dallas was finally able to get the ball in the end zone on an eight-yard run by Zeke Elliott. It was the first touchdown of Elliott’s young career, and hopefully the first of many.
14. The majority of the drive featured Prescott and Cole Beasley, however, with the two combining for three catches for 20 yards. You can love the potential of the connection between Dak and Beasley. Beasley has the ability in the slot to get open quickly, giving Prescott a nice security blanket in the middle of the field. But Beas let an early potential TD catch clang off his hands, and too often, Dak’s throws were high to the diminutive receiver.
15. The Cowboys defense was up to the challenge on the following Giants offensive possession, forcing the Giants to punt after allowing just -1 yards on the drive. Dallas was able to get substantial pressure on Manning, as well as solid penetration on run plays. It was a much better showing for the D-line following an inconsistent first half of play. Tyrone Crawford told us he thought his D-line was “bad,’’ but Benson Mayowa getting a sack counts for something.
Late Monday, the Cowboys got an update of sorts in this department: Randy Gregory has apparently been taken off the team’s Reserve/Did Not Report list on Monday, and while he remains on the Reserve/Suspended list for a four-game suspension, and while the suspension could end up being 10 games .... Gregory is permitted to be at the team facility this week. He's apparently out of rehab and maybe he'll be available to help ... Maybe.
More immediately, Dallas is releasing Dax Swanson, maybe with the intention of bringing a D-lineman up from the practice squad.
16. The next possession for New York was equally as frustrating for the Giants, as the pressure on Eli continued to build throughout the drive. The Giants would ultimately punt to the Cowboys yet again, after a short six-play, 20-yard possession.
17. The Cowboys moved the ball fairly well behind Alfred Morris in the run game on their next drive, leading to another Dan Bailey long-distance field goal, and giving the Cowboys a 19-13 lead early in the fourth quarter. If Morris can continue this kind of success behind the Cowboys offensive line, the Cowboys rushing attack could end up being more dangerous than ever before under Garrett. Being able to spell bell cow Zeke Elliott, and still have success on the ground, can be a huge advantage for Dallas.
But for this day? "I think I was average,'' Zeke said. "That's not why I was brought here to be average, so we've got a lot of work to get done."
18. Tyron Smith left the game early in the fourth quarter with an apparent neck injury. After missing most of the preseason with as stinger, this is troubling news for the ‘Boys O-line. Chaz Green, Smith’s replacement, struggled in the preseason to adequately protect the blindside, so any significant time lost for Smith, would have been an issue for Dallas moving forward. Luckily for the ‘Boys, Smith was able to return to action later in the quarter. We will monitor his situation, and Beasley’s, too, as he has the same sort of injury, and we're able to do so with Garrett's Monday report:
Garrett indicated Smith, Scandrick and Beasley will be fine this week. Of course, the Cowboys often say such things. So we will continue to monitor.
Sidebar issue, speaking of being "blinded'':
Fish asked coach Jason Garrett about the AT&T Stadium sun that makes it challenging for pass-catchers in late-afternoon games. “The sun's been there for five billion years, and it will be there for five billion more,” Garrett said. “We've all played in games where sun or weather was a factor. My experience has been that it's a factor for both teams and everybody who's out there.”
Fish suggested that Garrett was treating the issue as if it's a non-issue, or a silly issue, or a funny issue.
“It's not a funny issue, it's just a reality,” Garrett said. “When you play in certain environments everyone has to deal with the conditions of the game and you have to deal with them as best you can.”
The conversation continued during the off-air walk-through, during which the coach eventually conceded that it is a "controllable'' factor worthy of further examination.
19. The Cowboys failed to get anything going on their ensuing drive, after a holding call threw them off schedule. They were forced to punt, leading to a decent return by former Cowboy Dwayne Harris, that gave the Giants the ball in good field position at midfield. The bulk of the drive was put together behind Shane Vereen, who killed the Cowboys with three carries and one reception for 41 total yards. The defense for Dallas seemed to be wearing down, and the Giants took full advantage.
20. And then the final gut punch …
The Cowboys were able to stop the Giants following a punt, giving Dak and the offense the ball with just over a minute to play in the game, with no timeouts, and 80 yards to go. Prescott led a desperate drive, but Terrance Williams failed to get out of bounds on the final play (and Lance Dunbar did the same just before) causing the clock to run out on the Cowboys’ chances, and the Giants winning the game 20-19.
It was a boneheaded play by Williams, who has to know to get out of bounds there. (Read our Mark Lane game coverage here and Matthew Postins’ Cowboys Premium column “Ain’t No Sunshine’’ here).
"It was a bang,-bang moment,'' Williams said. "I should've gone out of bounds. Looking back, I'll never do that again.''
The Cowboys will now look ahead to our nation’s capital next Sunday, where the Redskins will be waiting for the young Cowboys offense and the undermanned Dallas D.
"You're not going to find anybody hanging their heads,'' said Sean Lee of this loss, and that's important if 0-1 Dallas wishes to move to 1-1.