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My very late recap of Game 1 Cowboys vs. Giants

September 8, 2012

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Offense:

Tony Romo: For a second consecutive season Tony Romo had a brilliant first 3 quarters of work in the season opener yet, unlike last season which ended with an epic meltdown against the Jets, he made key plays at the end of the game that helped his team secure a victory. That will be the key this season as Romo has put up elite stats the past few seasons yet continues to be murdered in the press because of his occassional, and vastly overemphasized, failure to produce in the clutch. For one night at least he looked not only like a great quarterback but a quarterback who can be trusted with the game on the line. His final pass of the night put him past 300 yards for the game moving him to 14th All Time in +300 yard passing games in NFL History. The fact that it also was the most important pass of the night makes the accomplishment even more memorable.

Dez Bryant: Dez doesn’t just look 100% healthy but he looks motivated and ready to dominate this season. Regularly matched up against the Giants best (by far) cornerback in Corey Webster he still looked unstoppable in stretches and the emphasis the Giants defense placed on him I think was a key reason why Ogletree and Austin had such big games. Dez looked like a Pro Bowl wideout two nights ago and the Cowboys can only hope he stays healthy and motivated this season as he could become a Top 5 wideout if that happens.

Tyron Smith: I can’t remember the last time I saw an offensive lineman have 3 false starts so that alone would make his night a disappointment but the way in which Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) dominated him scares me. It was his first game at LT and he’s only 21 years old so there is definitely a chance that he improves but he not only looked weaker than JPP but also slower and less technically sound. For a guy who many considered a Pro Bowl candidate this season, he showed little ability and even less emotion. He needs to bounce back in a big way next week against Seattle’s much less vaunted defensive line so this can look like the aberration

Kevin Ogletree: Well that “who would replace Laurent Robinson” worry sure didn’t last long did it? Ogletree had a career high in receptions, yards, targets, and touchdowns in the first game of the season and puts to rest any rumors about the Cowboys kicking the tires of Plaxico Burress, Chad Ochocinco, or any other veteran currently on the street. It also shows how great Romo is as a QB as this is back to back years where he takes a fringe player and puts them in a position to put up elite numbers. Also it’s interesting to look at past Cowboys wideouts and how they were effective in Dallas with Romo yet became worthless when they left Dallas. In 2008 Terrell Owens, Roy Williams, and Patrick Crayton were the top 3 wideouts on the team yet all three are currently out of football. Only Owens is at the age where he should no longer be expected to be playing so talent was clearly a factor in making these players have shorter careers. My point is that while Ogletree was very good two nights ago I would argue it had more to do with Tony Romo’s overall play and the fact that the Giants were decimated in the secondary (more to come on that later).

Defense:

Ware as Defensive POY: Ware had 2 sacks in his first game becoming the 2nd fastest player to ever reach 100 sacks for his career. Ware is one of only two players all time to have 2 +20 sack seasons in his career. Ware is tied with 4 other players for the most seasons to lead the NFL in sacks. Ware has had 6 seasons with double digit sacks and with 2 in his first game it’s very likely he will have a 7th this season. I say all of this because despite his universal praise as the best pass rusher of this generation, Ware still has not won the Defensive Player of the Year Award. In fact last year, despite finishing second in the NFL in sacks, he didn’t even garner one vote from the 50 writers who decide the award. Since he entered the NFL 3 other pass rushers have won the award and all of them (Jason Taylor, James Harrison, Terrell Suggs) look far inferior to Ware upon closer inspection. In the past 5 seasons none of them have had a single season sack total higher than Ware had that season. Despite being younger in age than Harrison or Suggs he already has more career sacks than either of them and is only 38 sacks away from the retired Taylor while still being in his prime at the age of 29. Ware being universally regarded as the best pass rusher of his generation yet consistently snubbed for DPOY is embarrassing yet is the result of his mediocre teammates more than any Cowboys bias. Hopefully with the additions of Carr and Claiborne the Cowboys will become a Top 5 defense and Ware can finally add that coveted hardware to his collection. I sure hope so because he’s on pace to be one of the greatest pass rushers of all time yet with Lawrence Taylor having won 3 Defensive Player of the Year Awards and Reggie White, Joe Greene, and Bruce Smith having won two it will be a pretty difficult case to argue that he belongs among them if he doesn’t at least get one.

Sean Lee: Lee had an outstanding 12 tackles yet the biggest play of the night for him was clearly his forced fumble. It’s the type of game changing turnover that he often causes yet still surprises me as I’ve become so accustomed to Dallas linebackers do nothing but tackle. In 9 seasons Bradie James had 10 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions for an average of about 1.3 turnovers per year. Lee is clearly a step above James as a playmaker as Lee already has 2 forced fumbles and 6 interceptions in basically 2 seasons of play for an average of about 4 turnovers per year. The additional 2-3 turnovers a year can be the difference between missing the playoffs and making the playoffs. I expect a Pro Bowl caliber season from Sean Lee this season and it’s off to a great start.

Morris Claiborne: The Giants clearly were targeting him on Wednesday night yet he held up relatively well to the testing. Part of the reason was because Carr was so dominant that Claiborne had safety help over the top on most plays but also because the officials gave them more freedom than usual to get their hands on wideouts. I have my doubts that this will continue, locked out officials returning or not, as the NFL wants offense and they want aerial attack style offense so they will not be pleased with their stars being roughed up by defenses. Rules will be better enforced in future weeks and then the real test will come as the scouting report on Claiborne has always been that he has elite ball skills and elite arm length yet mediocre speed so if he’s forced to keep his hands off wideouts he could be burned for the occasional long touchdown. Still it’s hard not to be impressed with the rookie in his NFL debut and he should have a much easier test next week when they face Seattle that currently sports an odd mix of veteran (Braylon Edwards, Sidney Rice) and young (Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin) talent. It’s an interesting depth chart but one that lacks any elite player on it and shouldn’t be very tough to cover.

Overall: The Cowboys went into Giants Stadium and pulled off a massive upset of the defending Super Bowl champs. A huge reason for this was the improvement of the Dallas defense as they showed off two cornerbacks who are taller, stronger, and more physical than anything they’ve had on their roster for quite awhile. They also showed two fast inside linebackers who flew to the football and a defensive line that often was able to collapse the pocket. The storyline for the media has been Romo finally performing in the clutch or Jerry Jones exorcising his Giants demons yet the reality is it was the defense that was the key in this win. The Giants averaged 5.0 yards per play in this game which is a huge drop off from their two games last year of 6.6 and 6.7 yards per play. A glass half full person would see this game and suddenly think a 12-4 season was possible as the Cowboys played with a less than 100% Miles Austin, a Jason Witten who was going solely on heart, were missing their starting center Phil Costa, and had an offense that struggled the entire first half. To beat the defending Super Bowl champs under those conditions shows a mental toughness that has rarely been seen around Valley Ranch. Yet there were some discrepancies between the game I saw and the one discussed on the radio the past few days. A glass half empty person would say that the Giants had a rookie RB fumble, a star WR (Hakeem Nicks) who probably shouldn’t have even played as he wasn’t a factor all night, another star WR (Victor Cruz) with perhaps the worst game of his career, and a defensive line that only had 2 sacks due to numerous holds by the offensive line that weren’t called by the temporarily officials. Give David Wilson a few games under his belt and he doesn’t make that turnover. Give the Giants D-Line another shot at Dallas’s O-Line and they could probably get somewhere around the 6 sacks they had last time the Giants went to Cowboys stadium. Give Romo another chance to ice the game late in the 4th quarter and he might make a mistake. Give Manning another chance to come from behind late in the 4th quarter and he probably is the one who comes out on top. I know this is a very pessimistic view of the game but I feel like it’s needed to counterbalance the prevailing opinion that this game meant the world. It was a great game but keep in mind that the Jets had a great win in their season opener, against the Cowboys nonetheless, yet went on to a disappointing season that saw them miss the playoffs. I don’t think this is the changing of the guard by any means as the Giants still have 2 rings in the past half decade and the Cowboys have 0. Was it impressive? Yes. Was it surprising? Yes. Yet let’s see this team go out and whoop up on two mediocre teams in the Seahawks and Bucs to go to 3-0 before we start even calling this season that promising. If either of those games end in a loss the Cowboys will be 2-1 just like I predicted and still on pace to end the year 10-6. The Cowboys showed glimpses of being a great all around team. Let’s hope the same team shows up 9 days from now in the Pacific Northwest.

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