Credit Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett for having the team focused and ready to go amid the drama of running back Ezekiel Elliott’s court chaos.
Special mention should go to right tackle La’el Collins, who started for the first time in place of the retired Doug Free and made New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre Paul disappear for much of the game.
Wide receiver Terrance Williams returned from a sprained ankle to record six catches, including five first downs, while limping through pain.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith made his Cowboys debut after sitting out all last season with a college knee injury. He recorded seven tackles and a forced fumble. He is a physical presence and will only get better.
The Cowboys overpowered the Giants 19-3 Sunday night at AT&T Stadium and their performance fit their grades:
RUN OFFENSE: B Yes, Ezekiel Elliott should have gotten a crack when the Cowboys had first and goal at the 3. But Elliott and the line did solid work against a good Giants defense. He ran for a tough 104 yards on 24 carries. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was physical and punishing, fitting perfectly with what the line was doing up front. Quarterback Dak Prescott gained 24 yards on three scrambles to move the chains and add to the total.
PASS OFFENSE: B There has been a lot of talk and discussion about the job Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins does against receiver Dez Bryant, who had just two catches for 43 yards after recorded just two catches in two games against him last season. Quarterback Dak Prescott missed a wide open Bryant with a high throw on a slant and Bryant drew a pass interference penalty against Jenkins that led to Jason Witten’s touchdown reception. Don’t ignore Witten’s team-high seven catches for 59 yards, Terrance Williams’s six catches for 68 yards or three for 32 for Cole Beasley, including a miraculous one-handed, behind his head catch a first down. Prescott wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked, admittedly missing some throws, while completing 24 of 39 passes for 268 yards. But he played mistake free.
RUN DEFENSE: A The Giants rushed 12 times for 35 yards. They didn’t run it much and didn’t have any real success when they did. Linebacker Sean Lee was all over the field, recording a team-high eight tackles and a tackle for loss. Middle linebacker Jaylon Smith played 36 plays in his first game since college and was second on the team with seven tackles.
PASS DEFENSE: A The Cowboys had three sacks, putting it on pace for 48 for the season which would be the most since recording 59 in 2008. Now the Cowboys likely won’t keep that pace up. But this was a great start for a unit that has routinely struggled get to the quarterback. DeMarcus Lawrence had two sacks, after notching just one last season. The coverage was top notch as well. Eli Manning passed for 220 yards on 38 attempts, 4.8 yards per pass play. Cornerback Anthony Brown had a game-sealing interception.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A Dan Bailey kicked four field goals. Ho Hum. That is what we come to expect from the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Yet, Bailey was overshadowed against the Giants by punter Chris Jones who was the special team’s MVP and the savior of the defense. Jones had four punts and downed all four inside the 20, forcing the Giants to start at the 6, the 9, 10 and 10.
COACHING: A Nitpick offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s play-calling on the goal line all you want. Elliott should have gotten at least one carry from the 3. But Linehan’s designs, schemes and play-calls also had a highly respected Giants defense on its heals most of the game. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli does more with less than any coach in NFL. This no name defense had more sacks and turnovers than the vaunted Giants. The Cowboyd did that with the loss of its best cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, in the second quarter.