Having watched the Cowboys' victory over the Giants from our studio at The Star, here are my initial thoughts from the game.
I'll have more for you tomorrow after I have a chance to dig into the tape.
- Had a feeling that we would see a nice game from DeMarcus Lawrence rushing the passer. His technique has improved each week since the start of the season. Starting to see him do a much better job with his quickness to the shoulder of the blocker, which has set up his inside moves. Lawrence had right tackle Mike Remmers guessing the entire game, and when you get a blocker doubting what he's doing, it's going to make it a long night for him. Lawrence did a great job of creating that situation for Remmers.
- As a unit, the Cowboys' tight ends have been reasonably quiet this season – except for when they have played the Giants, who have some of the worst safety play in the league. Jason Witten has always played well against them throughout his career. His catch right before half put Brett Maher in field-goal range. Blake Jarwin, who has become a Giant Killer in his own right, had a big catch and run to get the offense going when it was struggling. It was one of the few times that the Giants had a pass rush to force Dak Prescott out of the pocket, but he was able to extend the play. Jarwin did the smart thing, settling along the sideline in order to give Prescott an outlet, which he took. Jarwin was able to adjust to the low ball and showed some nifty moves to finish the play.
- Been waiting all season for Xavier Woods to create turnovers and he did just that. Woods did a nice job of reading with his eyes and not being fooled on the double-move by wide receiver Darius Slayton. Those eyes took him to the route, which put him in position to play the ball. It would have been easy for him to drive on the ball and misplay it, but he trusted what he saw and made the play. Along with Jourdan Lewis, Woods' hit on quarterback Daniel Jones to force a fumble was a great example of the physicality in which he can play with when he's on his game.
- I wrote about this in my "Final Thoughts" on Friday, that I was expecting big things from Sean Lee starting for Leighton Vander Esch, and he was able to deliver. I honestly believe that the more Lee plays, the more he gets into the flow of the game and he has better results. Other than the long screen pass to running back Saquon Barkley (another item in "Final Thoughts"), I don't know how you could have played him any better and Lee was a huge part of that. You have to get bodies to the ball with Barkley, but you also have to come under control and be ready to wrap him up, which Lee was able to do consistently.
- The Cowboys were fortunate to receive a huge break on the drive where Michael Gallup had the outstanding touchdown reception. For some reason, linebacker Markus Golden jumped offsides. His mistake made it a more manageable third-and-short, which Randall Cobb was able to convert in the flat on a nifty call by Kellen Moore to get him open. Cobb was able to separate and Prescott found him on the break. Later on the same drive, Prescott converted another third down with a scramble before throwing the ball over the top of cornerback Deandre Baker to Gallup, who showed incredible balance to get it in the end zone.
- What a defensive stand by the Cowboys after the Barkley 65-yard reception off the screen pass. I thought for sure that the Giants were going to get a touchdown after the position that Barkley put them in. But head coach Pat Shurmur threw the ball three straight times with Jones before settling on the field goal. Lee and Chidobe Awuzie came up with two big deflections before Jones missed a wide open Evan Engram. Instead, he threw in the direction of receiver Bennie Fowler on third down, but was much too high on the play. It was really the theme of the night of how well the Cowboys played, as the Giants were 1 for 5 in those red-zone trips.
- Give the offensive line a ton of credit for their blocking on the Amari Cooper touchdown reception. Those dig routes take forever to execute, even with a guy like Cooper running them. For Cooper to have the time to get across and Prescott to be able to find him was all on the line. When the ball left Prescott's hand, I thought he might have been a little high, but it was right on the money and delivered at the perfect spot. All Cooper had to do was secure it and finish, which he was able to do.
- Like the way that Kris Richard continues to use Jaylon Smith as an extra rusher on passing downs. I would much rather see Smith working with those defensive linemen that know how to rush, especially when they go with those twist stunts. Smith has the power to cause problems for the blockers, but he also has a feel for how to work off his teammates when they're able to get penetration to tie those blockers up. It was his sack with Robert Quinn that drove the Giants out of field-goal range after the big kickoff return by Cody Latimer to start the second half.
- I wish that Moore could have gotten linebacker Lorenzo Carter to bite on that read-option where Prescott only gained a yard. It appeared that he had all the other blocks secured and Carter just did a nice job of staying wide and not getting sucked down to the inside. If he takes that fake, Prescott at worst picks up the first down and could have likely scored. Instead, the Cowboys had to settle on a 28-yard field from Maher. It's never a bad option to have Prescott run the ball in those situations, but give the defense some credit for defending the play.
- Tip of the cap to Byron Jones, Awuzie and Lewis for holding Golden Tate to six receptions for just 42 yards. I don't know how Jones could have defended Tate any better on that incredible one-handed grab on third down to set up the Giants' only touchdown. As we witnessed, Tate has the ability to make those backbreaking receptions at critical times during the game. I thought the secondary did an excellent job of even when he did make a reception, there was no run after the catch. Jones, Awuzie and Lewis were not only aggressive in the way they played him in route, they were able to get him to the ground when he did make a reception and that's hard to do with him.
- Michael Bennett appears to be a nice fit for this rotation. It appears that Rod Marinelli is going to use him as a backup left end behind DeMarcus Lawrence and a nickel tackle for Antwaun Woods. There were a couple of snaps where I noticed he was lined up to the same side as Lawrence but tight together. Almost as if they were trying to put stress on the right side of the Giants line in order to confuse their blocking scheme, which they were able to do to get some pressure on Jones.
- I have no idea what was going on with the kickoff coverage for the Cowboys. Returns of 50 and 42 yards are inexcusable. They were able to cover better after those two returns, but I am interested to see if they had some issues where they had men get trapped to one side or the other, which left a breach in the coverage. All it takes is one guy to be out of place, and the return finds that area and then there are big problems. There also might be an issue with the lack of depth on the kickoffs, which too could cause problems.