FRISCO, Texas – It's never going to be perfect, but there's always more to like when you watch the tape of a winning effort.
You can't say enough about the effort of this Dallas defense to limit some explosive Giants playmakers. And while the offense wasn't pretty, there was a lot to like from both a play calling and execution standpoint, as the Cowboys improved on their Week 1 effort.
After spending some time re-watching the game, here are some of my biggest takeaways.
· I loved the way that Scott Linehan started the game with a pass to Allen Hurns on the slant instead of trying to run Ezekiel Elliott inside with 12 personnel on the field. Linehan opened the Giants defense up with 11 personnel, which made it a six-man box. The fake inside to Elliott drew the linebackers up, and, with Geoff Swaim working to the flat, it cleared the space for Hurns to easily take the ball from Dak Prescott.
· As good as all the sacks were for the Cowboys defense, I thought the best pressure of the game came from DeMarcus Lawrence when he basically defeated two blockers to get to Eli Manning in the red zone. The Giants put Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram to his side. On the snap, Lawrence engaged Ellison, which brought Engram down to him. Once he felt that pressure, he executed a spin move to the outside, which bought him space from both of the blockers. By the time Manning had set up in the pocket, Lawrence was on top of him. Manning had to get rid of the ball before he wanted to and his pass to Sterling Shepard was badly off the mark.
· Byron Jones couldn't have been in better position to handle Odell Beckham Jr. up the field on the Giants' opening procession of the game. Jones never turned his head for the ball, but instead ran with Beckham the entire length of the sideline, then went up with him when Beckham extended his hands. Jones timed it perfectly, knocking the ball away just as it arrived.
· I didn't feel like the Giants' offensive line could have blocked these Cowboys linebackers, especially with them playing on the move. There was one particular snap where Jaylon Smith covered some serious ground on a toss sweep to Saquon Barkley. Jon Halapio was responsible for Smith on the pull and was a good five yards behind him as he drove Barkley out of bounds before he had a chance to turn the corner. It was just another example of Smith's improved agility and lateral mobility.
· On Taco Charlton's sack of Eli Manning it appeared that the secondary was in a coverage called "man free," which is man coverage across the board with a deep safety free in the middle of the field. Kavon Frazier was in the deep middle with Jeff Heath down low. Even if Manning had been able to spin away from Charlton, there was not one receiver that was close to being open. Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones and Anthony Brown had their men on lock down, which was a common theme for this unit all game.
· I like the design of Cole Beasley and Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield together. The Giants tried to bring a blitz inside as both Beasley and Elliott worked wide. With the middle of the field open, Deonte Thompson came on the drag underneath. With Janoris Jenkins in chase mode, he couldn't keep up with Thompson as Prescott just put the ball out front of him for the easy reception and first down.
· I thought there was a chance for Leighton Vander Esch to get the start over Damien Wilson in this game. Vander Esch had been practicing well and it appeared that the coaching staff was looking for a reason to allow him more playing time. Wilson also didn't play one of his better games last week, so that could have factored into the decision, as well. Vander Esch did get more playing time, but it was due to Sean Lee's cramping issues in the second half. Wilson did start the game and was outstanding. He was all over the field making tackles, playing deep in coverage and blitzing Eli Manning for a sack. Give the coaches some credit for sticking with Damien Wilson in the lineup when it could have been easy to put Vander Esch in the lineup.
· The Cowboys used an extra blocker with Cameron Fleming in the game on third down to attempt to help convert the down. Initially, I didn't like the play call of working the ball to the edge, but if executed, it was the right call. It's La'el Collins' job to get the end man on the line and log him inside. Collins' right hand was just a bit too high on Kareem Martin and it forced him to grab the pad. If Collins is not out in space, the official doesn't make that call. Overall the play was well-blocked with Elliott picking up the first down on the run.
· Probably not the most ideal situation for coverage, but on the Antwaun Woods sack, Taco Charlton was running stride for stride with Odell Beckham Jr. until Sean Lee turned to carry him the rest of the way up the field. Manning was never able to see the matchup due to him having to avoid Joe Thomas, then Woods as he closed the lane down in the middle of the pocket. If Manning had been able to see Beckham Jr. initially it would have likely been a huge play.
· I had been waiting for Scott Linehan to call the fake jet sweep to Tavon Austin and shovel pass to Ezekiel Elliott in a game. It's one of those plays that colleges run each week with great success, and I thought the Cowboys were going to have the same success. The Giants did a really nice job of not biting on the fake and staying at home to defend the play. La'el Collins tried to slam Kerry Wynn to the inside, but Wynn was able to maintain his balance to retrace his steps and fall back to the outside to make the tackle. It is one of those plays that didn't work this time but keep it in mind for some future use.
· Don't know what the Giants were thinking when it came to their pass protection, but they made a huge mistake believing that backup running back Shane Smith could stay in and help block these blitzes. As much as their offense line had issues recognizing simple line stunts, Smith was just as bad and his technique was poor. Kavon Frazier was able to break him down without much difficulty for a sack off a blitz from the outside that he should have been prepared to handle.
· There were two times where Scott Linehan went with the tight end trap and Ezekiel Elliott was able to pop both runs. Both Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin were used to create a seam for Elliott to run up inside. On the second one, Elliott got outstanding blocks by Zack Martin, Joe Looney and Connor Williams, which put him on the second level before Landon Collins was able to react.