ARLINGTON, Texas – As always, I'll have a better understanding of this game after I've had a chance to watch it over again.
But for the time being, here are my early impressions about the Cowboys' season-opening win over the Giants at AT&T Stadium.
- I thought it was going to be Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers that the Cowboys attacked, instead it was right tackle Bobby Hart. DeMarcus Lawrence was outstanding in the way he was able to keep Hart off balance. His first of two sacks was a well-executed twist stunt with Maliek Collins. He was able to work right in behind Collins, who had such good penetration that neither Hart nor right guard John Jerry were able to react back to the inside to cut him off.
- You have to be impressed with the way that La'el Collins was able to stand up to Jason Pierre-Paul. I had my concerns about Collins in this game due to the ability that Pierre-Paul has to capture the edge. He is really a right defensive end playing on the left side, and any break down in technique could have spelled disaster. Other than the hold, Collins' technique was solid. More importantly, he was able to finish his blocks and not allow Pierre-Paul to break him down.
- I had no idea how many plays Jaylon Smith was going to play in this game, but it appeared as if he never came off the field. When Anthony Hitchens suffered his injury, I had a feeling that Smith might get this start -- even with the veteran Justin Durant on the squad. Smith went through the training camp practices and the preseason games while Durant was working to get himself in condition. As long as the doctors and trainers said that Smith was okay, he gave this squad the best option at the position. His physical nature and rugged tackling style showed up in this game. I liked how he was around the ball, and when he had to burst to get to the outside he was able to do so.
- I liked what I saw from the Cowboys' running game and their ability to get linemen in space. I said it earlier in the week, that some of the best runs they had in that game at MetLife Stadium came off the edge. The offensive staff must have seen the same thing and went back to that several times for some quality runs. Any time you can get Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and even Chaz Green in space, there is a good chance that defensive backs are not going to want any part of the play -- especially with Ezekiel Elliott carrying the ball.
- Excellent play fake and throw by Dak Prescott to Jason Witten for the touchdown. Witten has such a feel for how to move defenders with his route to buy space, it was an easy choice. You could see on the play that Prescott's eyes were looking Witten's direction the entire time. Once he saw the break to the inside, he knew that's exactly where he needed to go with the ball. By the way, a very underrated trait from Prescott is his ball handling. We have witnessed more good than bad there.
- When Orlando Scandrick left the game with a fractured hand, I thought the secondary might be in trouble. With Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie the only ones left, it forced the coaches to have to rethink their sub-packages. The plan initially was for Scandrick to play in the slot with Carroll and Brown on the outside in the nickel. If they wanted to go to the dime, then Awuzie would come into the game. Instead, Awuzie had to play on the outside with Carroll and Brown in the slot. It appeared that they were able to use Jeff Heath in some coverage situations to help when needed. Although Odell Beckham Jr. wasn't in the lineup, I thought the unit more than held their own against this Giants receiving corps.
- I don't know if there is a cornerback in the league that plays Dez Bryant better than Janoris Jenkins. It's a tremendous, physical battle when those two get together. I don't believe that Jenkins is afraid of Bryant's size and power. Jenkins plays him like he is also 6-2, 222 pounds. He just doesn't give him any room, especially down the field. Where Bryant can get the best of him is on those inside routes where Jenkins has to go through him and can't. I never have a problem getting the ball early and often to Bryant, but with Jenkins in coverage, every ball appears contested and that's a tough way to make a living.
- I have to give the thumbs up to Chaz Green on his first NFL start at left guard. I'll have a chance to study the tape Monday, but I have to say from the eye ball test he was good. He didn't appear to struggle with the power of Damon Harrison, Jay Bromley or Dalvin Tomlinson. I was concerned how he would match up against those strong tackles, but he didn't get knocked back. Alongside Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, he was able to keep the front of the pocket firm. I also liked what I saw from him playing in space, especially when he was asked to capture the edge.
- Outstanding coverage by Jeff Heath and Nolan Carroll led to the sack by Charles Tapper. Eli Manning tried to find a receiver down the field and underneath, but there was nowhere to go. Heath was able to carry Evan Engram across the field, while Carroll was all over Brandon Marshall. Manning was trying to get the ball to one of them, but he was unable to do so and was forced to the ground by Tapper for his first NFL sack.
- I have seen some outstanding catches in my career, but the one that Cole Beasley pulled off might be the best. Beasley had no business catching the ball but his concentration and balance allowed him to do so. What was even more impressive about that play was that it gave the offense a first down. With that, they were able to run another 3:15 off the clock before giving the ball back to the Giants.
- The Cowboys were 1-of-4 in the red zone against the Giants in this game, which usually would get you beat. In our pregame predictions, I thought they would have had more success than that. As much as I enjoyed the call to Witten, I was disappointed in the three straight pass plays from the three-yard line. I no longer see this offense as a finesse one. I understand that throwing the ball to Dez Bryant is never a bad thing -- but after that first fade, I would have tuned to Ezekiel Elliott and let him have two cracks at the end zone. This team won a lot of games last season running the ball in the red zone. I hope they don't get away from that now.
- When you're down 16 points, like the Giants were in the third quarter, and you take 9:44 off the clock but only manage three points -- I'd say that's a win for Rod Marinelli's defense.