EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –As lip-readers and perhaps the FCC know by now, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had a lot to get excited about in Wednesday's 24-17 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.
Ryan's emotions peaked on a goal line stand in the second quarter, when his unit allowed only a field goal after New York took over possession at the Cowboys' 2-yard line following an interception. The coordinator had plenty to be excited about the rest of the night, too, as the defense started the season with a fine performance against a Giants offense that did whatever it wanted against them in 2011.
"That's a great offense," head coach Jason Garrett said of New York's group, led by Eli Manning. "We've had some great battles with them in the past, most of them have been high scoring affairs, and I thought our defense did a really good job, first of all controlling the run. I thought they affected the quarterback, and then I think in the back end, against some guys who can really make plays, I thought we did a good job covering them throughout the ballgame. A lot of big third-down stops to get them off the field."
New York finished with just 269 yards of total offense, and Eli Manning was consistently pressured, as DeMarcus Ware became the second-fastest player to 100 sacks in NFL history, registering two of the Cowboys' three takedowns of the Super Bowl MVP, who threw for just 213 yards, far more palatable than the 746 yards and five touchdowns he threw in the two 2011 meetings between the teams.
This offseason, the Cowboys made significant upgrades to their secondary, which team owner Jerry Jones was spurred by the game-breaking play of receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in the two losses to New York last year. But the Giants' starters were most silent on Wednesday night, save for a couple embarrassing drops by Cruz. The duo was held to just 86 total yards, never really ripping off a big play.
"Guys are just buying into the system," free agent cornerback addition Brandon Carr said. "Nobody wants to be the weak link of this defense. Nobody wants to be the weak link of the secondary. Guys have pride."
The Cowboys' starting defense excelled during the preseason, not allowing a touchdown in their five quarters of work, and carried the streak over through halftime on Wednesday, buying time for the offense to come around, with Sean Lee forcing a fumble to end one drive. New York recorded only five first downs in the half.
The Giants showed signs of life in the third quarter, Ahmad Bradshaw capping a nine-play, 89-yard march with a 10-yard touchdown run, but New York never could put successful drives together. New York scored again with 2:36 to play in the contest, on a pass from Manning to former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett, cutting their deficit to seven, but the Dallas offense was able to move the ball and drain the clock.
For a defense and a team that had trouble holding off the late charge of its opponents at times in 2011, Wednesday was a great showing.
"It sort of lets us know where we are as a defense, how we can be," Ware said. "It's like, 'can we be consistent every week and play that same way?' … What you practice in OTAs, and minicamp, and training camp, I feel like a lot of that can be seen at adverse times. Being able to still convert, being able to close them in the fourth quarter and still win games, we've seen all that. We know that we can do it."