Dallas Cowboys: Final Positional Grades from Opening Night
The Cowboys' opening night win over the defending Super Bowl champs was exactly what this franchise needed in many ways.
Now, partially gone, is the bad taste that was left in the mouths of players, coaches and fans at the conclusion of last season. A complete sweep of the Giants will probably rid the entire taste, but let's take it one step at a time.
And that's what we'll do. Let's take a look step by step, unit by unit, at just how well they fared in what was a memorable opening night of football.
Tony Romo does what Tony Romo does best.
He was able to extend plays, keep his vision up the field, escape would-be pass rushers and make big plays. He completed 22 of 29 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He was able to connect with seven different receivers and because of his ability to make plays with his feet, he also bailed out the offensive line when their play was, well, downright offensive.
Probably the biggest takeaway from Romo's night was his ability to bounce back from that interception by Michael Boley. You can tell he was disappointed but it would also be hard not to start thinking here we go again. That did not happen.
Final Grade: A+
Murray endured some difficulty running the ball in the first half. He finished with just 20 yards but the Cowboys held the lead. His second half would tell a different story, as he had 111 after halftime giving him 131 yards in the game. 48 of those yards came on an impressive run in which he steamrolled Mathias Kiwanuka, bounced to the sideline and then scampered up the right side.
Murray got better as the game progressed, he was able to wear down the Giants defense and he was a difference maker. With Murray running effectively and keeping the defense honest, it made Romo's job that much easier.
As for Felix Jones, I would say that it might be time to integrate Phillip Tanner into the mix a little more. It's also nice to know that Lance Dunbar is on standby.
Final Grade: A-
It was not a pretty performance to say the least, but combined with Romo's evasiveness, it was effective enough to get the job done.
Give credit to Ryan Cook for stepping in on short notice after Phil Costa left the game on the third snap. He held his own, and with time, he may even wind up starting.
Tyron Smith had a decent game blocking, although having difficulty with Jason Pierre-Paul, but it was his hustle on Boley's interception that turned out to be an under-the-radar play in the outcome.
I was really impressed with Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau in the second half as they were able to open up some holes that allowed Murray to get those tough inside yards on first and second downs.
Doug Free was effective enough in his switch to right tackle, but it's clear that this unit still has some work to do.
Final Grade: C+
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
What more can you say about these two groups that comprise the Cowboys' other half of the passing offense?
Kevin Ogletree was the breakout performer and highlight of the evening but Dez Bryant and Miles Austin had standout performances as well. If all three of these players can stay healthy, I think we've only seen a glimpse of what they can do. This unit has the ability to present a nightmare matchup every week.
If the Cowboys can turn Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris or Andre Holmes into an effective fourth receiver, it could be downright scary.
Jason Witten didn't exactly have his best overall or statistical performance, but his determination in getting on the field, while dealing with a life-threatening injury, is something that legends are made of.
It's that simple and quite inspirational.
Final Combined Grade: A
Eli Manning and his aerial attack from last season were held in check rather soundly. After tossing five touchdowns against the Cowboys last season, Manning only connected on two plays of greater than 15 yards and only had one touchdown. It looks like the moves at cornerback worked as both Carr and Claiborne turned in solid performances.
Finally, a pair of cornerbacks that can press, play off-man and have the instincts to read plays correctly and be ball-hawks.
Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh were solid as well. The only negative of the night was the 40-yard pass to Dominik Hixon that Mana Silva was involved in and that needs to be corrected.
Final Grade: A-
This unit held its own despite the absence of Jay Ratliff. Ahmad Bradshaw finished with 17 rushes for 78 yards and a touchdown, but gained 33 of those yards on one run.
The Cowboys also stone-walled him on a key possession after Boley's interception and that turned out to be a key in the game. There was consistent pressure all night and Jason Hatcher recorded one sack.
Ratliff's return will only improve this unit.
Final Grade: B
Sean Lee provided a welcome to the NFL moment for David Wilson and it was a thing of beauty to watch. His instincts are outstanding and he continues to amaze.
On that particular play he flew to the play, pounced on Wilson and punched out the ball. The Giants appeared to be driving on that possession and that play set the tone for the defense.
Bruce Carter showed off the speed that had Jerry Jones licking his chops in the second round of the 2011 draft. Carter gets to the ball quickly, he was solid at the point of attack and pursuing the runner and he was a blanket in coverage.
DeMarcus Ware was in his usual relentless beast-mode on his way to recording two sacks. He is the consummate professional and warrior that drives this defense. Anthony Spencer had a solid night as well by being active, showing great run support and getting after Manning on several plays.
Final Grade: A
In taking over for Mat McBriar on a full-time basis, Chris Jones averaged over 50 yards on his punts. For now, it looks like he's passed the test, but I'm sure McBriar is a phone call away if that changes. Dan Bailey connected in his only attempt of the evening.
The Cowboys didn't get much from Felix Jones on kickoff returns and it shows that he lacks any type of burst.
It appears that Dez Bryant will be the punt returner but the Cowboys must be cautious of the injury-risk when it comes to him. The coverage units were efficient as well and didn't give the Giants any advantageous field position.
Final Grade: B
Jason Garrett had a solid game plan and executed it well. He got the balance he was looking for and made the decision to let Romo challenge the Giants' cornerbacks and that paid off in a big way.
Rob Ryan seems to be taking the less talk and show more results approach to this new season.
His defense looked way more comfortable with a full year to digest his system and it didn't appear to be having anymore communication breakdowns that plagued this unit last year.
The Cowboys defense showed the mental toughness necessary to close out the game and the confidence to handle the Giants entire offense. New talent doesn't help either.
Kudos to Bill Callahan and Skip Peete as well.
Final Grade: A
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