View from the Sideline: 5 to Remember from Cowboys’ 19-3 Win Over Giants
There were many heroes for the Cowboys’ in the 19-3 victory over the Giants in the regular season opener on Sunday Night Football. The Cowboys defense smothered the anemic Giants offense, allowing only 35 rushing yards and sacking Eli Manning three times. The Cowboys offense scored only 1 touchdown, but it was caught by a player who set a new team record earlier in the game.
There were many individual highlights in an impressive team effort in all three phrases of the game. From my view on the Cowboys sideline, here’s my Top 5 List.
Purple Heart Award – Terrance Williams (WR)
As the sideline reporter, you don’t want a lot of air-time because it means players are getting hurt and we’re doing injury reports.
And wouldn’t you know it, Sunday night we had an injury report after the first play from scrimmage when wide receiver Terrance Williams hobbled to the sideline after running a route. The team doctors looked at his left ankle, then sent him to the X-Ray room. Luckily the results were negative, and a few minutes later T-Will was back on the Cowboys’ bench getting his ankle re-taped. He re-entered the game at the 5:26 mark of the 1st quarter and had three receptions in that offensive series which led to Dan Bailey’s 48 yard field goal, the first points of the game.
Williams was the offensive spark of the first half. He finished with 6 catches for 68 yards and made catalytic plays in terms of big runs-after-catch including a 23-yarder.
In the postgame locker room, Williams was wearing a walking boot. He’ll have more tests on his ankle Monday, but said he hopes to be able to play this coming weekend at the Broncos, depending on test results.
Coming Out Party on National Television – DeMarcus Lawrence (DE)
It was a long night for Giants’ right tackle Bobby Hart who couldn’t contain Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence had one of the best games of his career. It wasn’t just the two sacks he recorded, it was the way he harassed Giants QB Eli Manning all night. Lawrence was quick, constantly getting into the offensive backfield, hurrying Manning. Lawrence is healthy this year following back surgery in the offseason.
The Cowboys’ pass rush was a big question mark entering the season, and the Giants’ offensive line is arguably the weakest unit on their team. But it was still an impressive showing by the Cowboys’ front four. Charles Tapper got a sack in his NFL debut. And the run defense was stout. Sean Lee was a tackling machine, Jaylon Smith made three tackles in his first NFL action. The Giants averaged a putrid 2.9 yards-per-rush, and Manning averaged a paltry 5.8 yards-per-pass-attempt. Not per-completion…per attempt! Kudos to Lawrence and all the Cowboys’ defenders for allowing only 3 points in the game. Yes, it’s true: the Giants were missing their best offensive weapon, WR Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle injury). But that’s still a good arsenal in the passing game with Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall and tight ends Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison. The Cowboys stifled the offense, due in large part to the good pass pressure from the Cowboys’ defensive line.
Because of the off-field controversy and 6-game suspension which is currently in legal limbo, running back Ezekiel Elliott has not been made available to the media since minicamp in June.
But after Sunday night’s victory in which he topped 100 rushing yards (24 carries, 104 yards) and made a big play in the pass game (30 yard screen pass in the 4th quarter), Zeke finally spoke to reporters.
“It’s definitely been a tough 14 months,” he conceded, referring to the time frame in which the NFL conducted its investigation that led to the original suspension. “Just relieved, just relieved, for the fact that I’ll finally get a fair trial. I’ll finally get a chance to prove my innocence. I’m just happy that I’ll get to be with these guys for as long as it’s permitted and just not having to miss time and not having to be away from them. I’m just really focused right now on being the running back I need to be so this team can be successful, so we can accomplish what we want to, and remaining focused and keep playing at a high level.”
On Sunday night, Zeke got to concentrate on football for 3 hours. But the Giants have a stingy defense. They were the third best run-stoppers in the NFL last year, and allowed the fewest touchdowns in the NFL. It was tough sledding in this game for Zeke and his backup, Alfred Morris. Giants defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, listed at 341 pounds, was one of the best players on the field last night. Giants middle linebacker BJ Goodson made a ton of tackles. But the Cowboys offense remained committed to the run and Zeke earned every single yard in a hard-hitting, pounding game. At right tackle, new starter La’el Collins held up well against Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. There was a lot of chippiness between those two guys, a lot of extracurricular activity – but Collins never backed-down. And new starting left guard Chaz Green helped pave the way for Zeke’s 100-yard effort.
Jason Witten, Cowboys All-Time Leader in Receiving Yards
Early in the 2nd quarter, Jason Witten caught an 11 yard pass which vaulted him past Michael Irvin to the top of the Cowboys’ record book for all-time receiving yards. Later in the 2nd quarter, Witten caught a 12-yard scoring strike from Dak Prescott. It was the lone touchdown scored by either team in the game. Witten finished the night with a team-leading 7 catches for 59 yards and the score.
Postgame, Witten spoke of surpassing Michael Irvin for the receiving yards record.
“Mike was somebody that I remember watching and admiring the way he played,” said Witten. “When I got here I found out that he set the tone in many ways in practice and the offseason and as he played in games, and it’s certainly what I’ve tried to do.”
Kicking Game / Special Teams
Not only did Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey connect on all four of his field goal attempts on Sunday night, punter Chris Jones also had an excellent night.
He punted four times, and each time he pinned the Giants inside their own 10-yard line. The punt coverage unit also had a great night.
When you have two evenly-matched teams like the Giants and Cowboys, the special teams are critically important because it will be a game of “field position”. Jones’ pinpoint punting kept the field tilted in the Cowboys favor. And Bailey was as reliable as ever, especially in a game in which every point was crucial.
Kudos also to Jaylon Smith who made his NFL regular season debut at middle linebacker and was a key part of the defensive effort that kept the Giants out of the end zone for four quarters. And cornerback Anthony Brown recorded his first interception of the season. He picked off Eli Manning in the 4th quarter, thwarting any Giants’ hope of a rally.
Cowboys cornerback and defensive co-captain Orlando Scandrick suffered a broken left hand early in the 2nd quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Rookie Chidobe Awuzie had to step-in and play more, especially in nickel and dime packages. He seemed to acquit himself well. And newcomer, starting cornerback Nolan Carroll, was part of an excellent performance by the defensive backfield. Giants wide receivers accounted for only 12 of Manning’s 29 completions (the others were to running backs and tight ends) and Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall, a big-time free agent addition in the offseason, was a complete non-factor. Marshall had only 1 catch for 10 yards.
What’s next for the Cowboys? A trip to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon at 3:25pm central. The Cowboys (1-0) are tied with the Eagles (1-0) at the top of the NFC East standings. The Eagles beat the Redskins (0-1) on Sunday afternoon.