Following the Cowboys' dramatic 37-34 win over the Giants, here are 10 quick points about the game.
The loss of Dak changes everything.
It is hard to win in the NFL without your QB1. The Cowboys have built their offense around Prescott's talents as an electric playmaker and the results have been spectacular, particularly with the passing game. The loss of No.4 will force Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore to shift their offensive emphasis to Ezekiel Elliott as the lead playmaker with the talented WR corps serving as effective complements. Andy Dalton has the capacity to keep the offense rolling as an effective passer but the team wants to keep his pitch count low to avoid costly mistakes and turnovers. Defensively, the pressure is on Mike Nolan to be more aggressive with the play calls to create more negative plays, turnovers, and short-field opportunities. The defense has to play better to enable the Cowboys to win games without the high-powered offense that has the capacity to put up 40 on any opponent.
Zeke takes over.
The Cowboys wisely put the ball in Elliott's hands early in the game despite facing a significant deficit in the first quarter. The team turned to their "ground-and-pound" approach to regain control of the game. After Prescott's injury, the Cowboys upped the ante and made the No.21 the focal point of the game plan. The All-Pro runner responded with effort that showed the football world that he is still capable of carrying the load as an old school workhorse.
CeeDee Lamb is as good as advertised.
The rookie was viewed as the No.1 receiver in the 2020 class by several executives, scouts, and observers when he entered the draft out of Oklahoma. Lamb is as good as advertised as a playmaker in the passing game. He can win as a route runner or deliver splash plays as a "catch-and-run" specialist with explosive running skills. He quietly posted his second 100-yard game of the season on an assortment of short and intermediate plays that showcased his dynamic skills. With Lamb capable of taking over the game at any point, the Cowboys effectively countered the Giants' attempt to neutralize Amari Cooper on the outside.
Andy Dalton is good enough.
It is a luxury to have a QB2 on the roster with starting experience and a game that's still good enough to win. Dalton proved his worth against the Giants with a handful of pinpoint throws and a superbly directed two-minute drill that set up the game-winning field goal. Although Dalton isn't on the same level as Prescott as a playmaker and passer, he is good enough to win games with a five-star supporting cast on the perimeter and a dominant running back behind him. Moore will need to tweak his game plans to suit the QB2's talents while also take a more conservative approach but the Cowboys should be able to compete for the NFC East title with Dalton at the helm.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
The lack of ball security remains the Cowboys' Achilles heel. The team continues to turn the ball over at an alarming rate. From Prescott's pick-six to Dalton's botched snap, the Cowboys gifted the Giants points with their giveaways. Mike McCarthy has discussed the importance of tightening up in that area but the turnovers remain a problem area for a team with one of the most explosive offenses in football.
Special teams aren't so special.
The coaching kick units were expected to emerge as one of the strengths of the team under new special teams coordinator John Fassel but the Cowboys' kicking game remains littered with errors. The punt return team was penalized for having 12 men on the field, leading to a 50-plus yard field goal for the Giants. The Cowboys also gave up a fake field goal touchdown on the hidden man play. Luckily, the Giants had a penalty that nullified the play. The lack of awareness and attention to detail on the play is another example of the Cowboys falling asleep at the wheel in key moments.
The defense is still broken.
The Giants entered the game averaging 11.8 points per game but had a breakout game against the Cowboys. Despite lacking a premier playmaker in their offensive lineup, the Giants finished the game with 300 yards of total offense and 28 offensive points. The offensive explosion underscores the lack of discipline, focus, and synergy shown by the Cowboys' defense. The unit is unable to control the line of scrimmage and their inability to slow down an anemic offense should raise red flags for Mike Nolan and his coaches when reviewing the tape. The defense must improve significantly for the Cowboys to win without a high-powered offense to protect them in shootouts.
The pass rush finally shows up.
The Cowboys were expected to harass quarterbacks at will with a veteran defensive line that featured Demarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, and Aldon Smith. The trio finally provided the defense with a spark with their persistent pressure on Daniel Jones. Aided by a game plan that featured more blitzes, each defender was able to create more havoc at the line of scrimmage on passing downs. Although they didn't register any individual sack numbers, the pressure from the trio combined with selective blitzes from Jaylon Smith, Joe Thomas, and others helped the Cowboys disrupt Jones' timing and rhythm in the pocket. Moreover, it helped the Cowboys get a few timely stops in a game that surprisingly turned into a shootout.
The secondary tightens up.
After surrendering big play after big play in each of the Cowboys' four games, the secondary performed better against the Giants. Sure, the G-Men lack firepower on the perimeter outside of Darius Slayton but the Cowboys didn't allow the ball to fly over the top of the defense due to a blown coverage or miscommunication. That's a sign of progress for a unit that's given up a ton of 20-plus yard receptions this season. The secondary needs to continue to make strides with their execution in coverage but keeping the ball in front of the defense is a step in the right direction for the Cowboys' defense.
Jaylon Smith stuffs the stat sheet.
The Pro Bowl linebacker has been under the microscope with the defense playing sub-standard football but he deserves a game ball for making his mark against the Giants. Smith finished with 14 tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, and 0.5 sacks as a designated playmaker for the Cowboys. Smith's effectiveness on blitzes put Jones under constant pressure and helped his teammates collapse the pocket. In addition, the overall aggressiveness displayed by Smith helped re-establish the unit's tone in critical moments. The Cowboys have a ways to go to turn around the defense but Smith's effort should spark some positive conversation in film sessions this week.