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Gamebreakers: Cowboys who shined in NYG mauling


(Editor's note: The content provided is based on opinions and/or perspective of the editorial staff and not the Cowboys football staff or organization.)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — All of the talk in the offseason about the Dallas Cowboys effectively ended the instant things got underway on Sunday evening, their regular season opener being a bout against a very familiar foe in the New York Giants — the lead story for the entirety of the offseason being Dak Prescott and the new-look offense now steered by Mike McCarthy.

But while everybody was staring at the offense, it was special teams and the defense that blew the game open early, with the offense stepping in to help extend the lead in what quickly turned into an obliteration of the Cowboys' rival.

Carpe Omnia, indeed.

Everything was seized on Sunday night.

Trevon Diggs, CB

I thought someone said Trevon Diggs wasn't willing to hit guys? If that's true, we must've somehow been sucked into a different dimension of the multiverse when Dr. Strange's spell was ruined by Peter Parker. Diggs stepped up after a completion to Barkley and sent him to Boomtown, USA to send the message that he's looking to level up after the big contract he landed this summer — not level down — adding a forced fumble in the fourth quarter for good measure. Of many candidates I could have chosen from, Diggs is my Player of the Game in Week 1.

Micah Parsons, W (Weapon)

Let's just do away with position designations for Parsons and call him what he is: a weapon. The First-Team All-Pro pass rusher was nearly forced to pay rent for living in Daniel Jones' personal space and he did it as a linebacker, and edge rusher and even a NOSE TACKLE (0-tech) lined up directly over center. Parsons was a menace to start what should be a campaign for Defensive Player of the Year.

Juanyeh Thomas, S

You always wonder if a player can translate a great training camp into the regular season, and Thomas is answering that question loud and clear. The second-year safety had not one, not two or three, but several impact plays that included a key stop against Saquon Barkley, a pass breakup against Darren Waller and a blocked field goal that led to a defensive touchdown from Noah Igbinoghene that put the Cowboys on the board early.

Noah Igbinoghene, CB

Igbinoghene said he prayed for change and considered his trade to the Cowboys might be the answered prayer. It would certainly seem so, as the "fresh start" that was "needed" turned into a debut for Dallas wherein he scored the aforementioned touchdown at MetLife Stadium to start what turned into a stampede of big plays from Dallas.

DaRon Bland, CB

I said it during his 2022 breakout season and I'll say it again: Bland is the new spicy. The young cornerback is picking up right where he left off last year, namely being Johnny on the Spot after Trevon Diggs turned Saquon Barkley into a tackling dummy on a target from Daniel Jones to create a tip-drill interception that Bland then run into the end zone for a 22-yard pick-six that gave the Cowboys a 16-0 lead after Brandon Aubrey successfully booted the extra point.

Stephon Gilmore, CB

Not to be outdone, Gilmore made his debut for the Cowboys a special one. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is wasting no time proving he's far from washed. If anything, he's Dry Clean Only, evidenced by the way he narrowly scooped up a would-be target to Darren Waller for his first-ever interception in a Cowboys uniform to go along with four tackles. For a player who grew up dreaming of playing in Dallas, it had to be the second step of his dream coming true, the first being the trade that landed him in North Texas.

CeeDee Lamb, WR

It was a game dominated by the defense and special teams in the first half, but Lamb made his presence felt early as well. On third-and-4 from Dallas' 32-yard line, Dak Prescott mailed a dart to Lamb for the conversion, and for a lot more yardage thereafter — a 49-yard catch-and-run that led to a 9-0 lead for Dallas on the boot of Brandon Aubrey.

Brandon Aubrey, K

The collective sound of frustration that emanated from Cowboys fans worldwide after Aubrey missed his first extra point attempt was loud enough to quake the moon. He'd settle in and make each of his remaining extra point attempts as well as both of his field goal attempts in addition to 100% of his kickoffs resulting in touchbacks. He didn't let the early miss change him.

Osa Odighizuwa, DL

On an evening that saw Micah Parsons lead the charge in setting the tone for the Cowboys defense, it was Odighizuwa who helped keep it set. Having had a breakout season in 2022, Odighizuwa marched into MetLife Stadium with a mission; and that mission was to make Daniel Jones sore on Tuesday morning. After logging two sacks on the night, it's safe to say he achieved that mission and then some.

Dorance Armstrong, DE

Not to be outdone by his defensive line compatriots, Armstrong logged a multi-sack day as well against Jones and the Giants' offensive front. His two sacks and three tackles for loss was the additional hammer to the nail of a coffin of a New York offense that got buried, dug up and buried again over the course of four quarters in the season opener.

DeMarcus Lawrence, DE

I'd be remiss if I didn't keep the love flowing toward the Cowboys defensive line, but this time let's deliver some roses to Lawrence, whose QB pressure combined with his usual stout run defense to make for a long day for Evan Neal. Lawrence took Neal to the woodshed in 2022, and things weren't much different in the first matchup of the 2023 season. The Pro Bowler sacked Daniel Jones and helped seal the edge against Saquon Barkley, putting a lot of great things on film and freeing up others across the defensive line to eat hearty.

Jayron Kearse, S

How on Earth will the Cowboys stop Darren Waller (said the world going into Week 1)? One of the biggest answers to that question was Jayron Kearse, who saw duties in coverage against Waller and, at times, in single-high as the lone patrolman against the deep ball. And so it goes that, going forward, wherever the Cowboys choose to play their newly-crowned Uno card is where the ball probably shouldn't be thrown — not that there's anywhere else to throw it.

Tony Pollard, RB

It wasn't an offensive explosion for the Cowboys, but it also didn't have to be as they sort through things in their new-look offense. So while Pollard didn't crack open the planet with his rushing yards on Sunday evening (he eventually got going with 70 ru/yards on the day), he did deliver two touchdowns — one rushing, one receiving — to extend the Cowboys' lead to something that was nowhere near touchable by Jones and a Giants' offense that was trying all evening to figure out how to escape the penitentiary, but Andy Dufresne never showed up to save them.

KaVontae Turpin, WR

The entirety of training camp was spent trying to get Turpin involved in the offense, something he wasn't permitted to do in 2022. It paid off early this season, with the ace returner running off of the left end in the fourth quarter for a seven-yard touchdown that led to the Cowboys taking a 40-0 lead over the Giants with more than 11 minutes left in the game. If Turpin continues to be a factor on offense, as is the expectation, it makes for yet another weapon to account for.

Malik Hooker, S

One day prior to taking the flight to New York, Hooker came down with an illness that mildly threatened his availability for Week 1. After tweeting a gif of Michael Jordan's famous flu game, the veteran safety not only started against the Giants, but he played most of the contest before starters were pulled midway through the fourth quarter and produced five combined tackles (third-most on the team).

Markquese Bell, S

Juanyeh Thomas wasn't the only second-year safety having a solid day, with Bell often seen flying around like his hair was on fire. Bell had four tackles on the day, one that saw Donovan Wilson ruled out as inactive with a calf injury. The former has had a strong training camp and is building upon his potential, one that will likely make everyone at FAMU proud. Oh and by the way, he tossed in a forced fumble before the night was over, just to drive home his point on being ready and willing to "do and be whatever" the Cowboys need.

Leighton Vander Esch, LB

It felt like a quiet evening for Vander Esch, but it really wasn't. As is often the case, Vander Esch's prowess is in doing the dirty work quietly, and that's exactly what he did against the Giants with his six tackles — a tally good enough to be second-highest on the Cowboys defense behind only Jayron Kearse. Vander Esch and Damone Clark helped contain Saquon Barkley and their coverage from sideline-to-sideline made it difficult for underneath routes to matter.

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