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Spagnola: What A Perfect Opening Response


ARLINGTON, Texas – Cowboys 35, Giants 17.

Cowboys 494 yards total offense, and to think they lost five yards on their final three plays of the game.

Cowboys six of eight on third down while going up 35-10.

Cowboys two-for-two scoring touchdowns in the red zone and one-for-one in goal-to-go.

Giants basically one touchdown scored until 2:49 was left in the game, and that first one came during the Giants' first possession of the game.

OK, I get it. First game. One game. Inferior opponent.

But still.

Any questions?

No need to ask if Dak Prescott is ready to take that next step. Ha. Talk about a perfect response. His step was triple-jump quality here Sunday afternoon before 90,353 folks at AT&T Stadium, becoming the Cowboys first quarterback in this their 60th season to record a perfect QB rating with more than 20 passing attempts. His 405 yards passing eclipsed Hall of Famer Troy Aikman's previous franchise mark of 362 yards for most yards passing in a season opener.

Want more? This was Prescott's second 400-yard passing performance in just the start of his fourth season, matching Don Meredith for second in franchise history and behind only Tony Romo's five registered during his 14-year career.

And, oh, one more, his 405 yards passing is the 11th most in club history, just one yard less than the ninth best recorded by Meredith and Romo. Plus, who knows, maybe offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, with the Cowboys up 35-10 after three quarters, only allowed Dak to throw two more passes, making sure his own seventh-best passing performance of 435 yards remained safe.

No wonder Cowboys owner Jerry Jones afterward said Dak's contract extension is "imminent," along with, "I know one thing, when it's on the line he sure can play for us."

Think Amari Cooper's foot is OK? Uh, six catches for 106 yards and one touchdown, a great 9-route when Dak recognized Coop had single coverage on the outside with the Giants blitzing, the look they were hoping for on that 21-yard TD right before halftime.

Think Michael Gallup no longer is a rookie? The second-year wideout led the Cowboys with seven catches for 158 yards, a sure detriment to teams loading up trying to stop Cooper.

Think Randall Cobb will be a sufficient replacement for Cole Beasley? The ninth-year veteran caught four passes for 68 yards, and none bigger than with the scored tied at seven, the Cowboys facing a third and 10 at the Giants 16, when he caught a pass, broke a tackle at the 12, and wiggled his way to the five for 15 yards, a first down to set up Dak's five-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten on the next play.

"He was today and is going to be an outstanding part of our offense," Jones said.

Uh, Witten? Well, that TD, two more catches, all totaling 15 yards, while sharing duties with Blake Jarwin whose 25-yard TD catch of a Dak shotput-like pass tied the game – a play Dak said was a Witten special, but when he looked in the huddle there was no Witten, Jarwin was in the game.

With Travis Frederick playing his first game in 20 months, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin being held out of practice the final several weeks of training camp and La'el Collins nursing a slightly strained suffered in that third preseason game, was this offensive line going to be cohesive enough? Well, Dak threw the ball 32 times. He was never sacked once and only hit two other times with the Giants blitzing quite a bit. And Dak never had to run out of the pocket because of pressure, his two runs for 14 yards were called plays and his other two were end of the game, victory formation kneel downs.

Any more questions about if the 31-year-old Kellen Moore is capable as a first-time OC in just his second year coaching? Like 35 points, 494 total yards, 405 of those passing. Come on Kellen, what's wrong with the running game, just 89 yards on 30 carries? And I smile when saying that. So was head coach Jason Garrett, who made sure he called Kellen over on the sideline as soon as the game ended to shake his hand for a job well done.

"It was an A-plus by our offensive game plan and play calling," said Jones, also, as Moore pointed out, pronounced his first name correctly instead of Kee-Len, another sure step in the right direction.

And Zeke? Gosh, maybe we all ought to spend a month in Cabo. OK, with 37 snaps, Ezekiel Elliott, with only three days of practice since mid-June, ran the ball 13 times for 53 yards, but as you probably saw there late in the third quarter, he started getting into rhythm. Started seeing the holes better. Just as he did on the 10-yard touchdown run, squirting through a hole opened wide by Tyron Smith, then powering his way the final few yards for the score.

"Obviously I was a little rusty," Zeke said. "I didn't play the best game. I have a lot I can improve on."

OK, OK, everything can't be perfect, but he did end up averaging 4.1 yards a carry and caught one pass for 10 yards.

Mentioning an imperfection. While the Cowboys only gave up 17 points, and those final seven with just 2:49 to play, guarantee you defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants better. Much better. The Giants totaled 470 yards. Running back Saquon Barkley went 11 for 120, a startling 10.9 a carry, and the Giants totaled 151 on just 17 carries – somewhat concerning if you think in the past two games, counting the playoff loss to the Rams, this defense has been hit for 424 yards rushing. This would be a troubling trend if not shut down in a hurry.

So would Eli Manning throwing for 306 yards.

But the Cowboys did counter all this by forcing three fumbles, recovering two. They did deflect five passes incomplete. And, with the Giants somewhat hovering around, trailing 28-10 in the third quarter, they did come up with a huge play on fourth-and-1 at the Cowboys' 7, when instead of just handing the ball to Barkley, the Giants called for Manning to roll out. But Leighton Vander Esch cut him off at the pass, and DeMarcus Lawrence came in to finish Manning off for not only a three-yard sack he shared with LVE, but forced a fumble he recovered at the 11 to end that threat.

"I don't feel like it's good enough," Lawrence said, "so we have to keep building and get better at this."

Offensively, though, nothing could have been finer, the Cowboys following a trend they began establishing the final eight games of the regular season last year when scoring at least 27 points in five of those games. But only once last year did the Cowboys total more than 494 yards, the 576 in the overtime win against Philadelphia.

On the other hand, the 470 yards given up to the Giants is the most by a Cowboys defense in 22 games, giving up 516 to the Chargers in Game 11 of the 2017 season. Although, if you need something to worry about, the Rams in that playoff game did total 459 yards.

But it's one game, right. Just as it's just one game on offense, too.

"The most positive thing I have about today, frankly, is just the overall play-calling, the overall manifestation of what the offense has been doing," Jones said.

You bet, and at least for one week, the first game of the 2019 season, these Cowboys had some answers to the questions swirling around this offense since the start of training camp.

Mighty resounding ones, too.