The Dallas Cowboys aren't even a week past their opening night victory against the New York Giants, but the game itself unlocked a lot of answers and helped draw conclusions for the rest of the season. It appears that this Cowboy team clearly has ingredients that last year's team lacked.
Let's focus on some key takeaways from that victory that the Cowboys need to focus on in order to have weekly success.
Rob Ryan's unit has a completely different complexion than it did a year ago. Maybe it was the lockout? The complexity?
Not even close.
The Cowboys didn't have the correct talent last year to make his scheme effective. There was only so much you mask to cover up the shortcomings of Terrance Newman, Keith Brooking, Bradie James, Frank Walker and Alan Ball.
Ryan's scheme is very contingent on having cornerbacks that are capable of playing on an island. Both Carr and Claiborne didn't pull off a perfect night but they reminded us of what was lacking. The evidence is very clear that given time, this duo could emerge as an elite unit.
Carr has already established himself as a solid veteran in this league and it showed in the type of financial commitment he warranted. Claiborne held his own against Eli Manning's weapons and will only get better as the season progresses.
This shows me that the Cowboys can put extra pressure in any situation necessary because of these two players and pass pressure is no longer a luxury in this league, it's a necessity.
The defense will probably win at least two games for the Cowboys this season and that is my biggest takeaway.
Backup Running Back
DeMarco Murray had very little room to run in the first half but really showed why he's a difference-maker in the second half. Part of his early struggles had to do with the offensive line but I'm sure the Giants had a lot to do with that. My concern is that Murray will not hold up over the course of an entire season if Felix Jones cannot register a single offensive statistic.
He briefly left the game with a rib injury but it couldn't have been that bad. because he subsequently returned. That type of performance cannot be acceptable going forward. Jason Garrett needs to start, at the very least, integrating Phillip Tanner into the offensive game plans. I'm not ready to write-off Jones just yet, but is he more of the problem or the solution at this point?
Lance Dunbar on standby is a nice luxury to have but with the schedule only getting harder, it might be time to carry four running backs on the roster. He can serve a special teams role and brought into the offense slowly.
Felix Jones was supposed to add a dimension to this offense but I'm starting to realize it might need to come elsewhere.
The Offensive Line
I'm not going to go on about how this unit is in shambles because it's not. Nor am I going to be naive and think everything will work itself out by osmosis. In order for this team to make the playoffs and make noise, the offensive line has to solidly gel over the next six weeks.
If by Thanksgiving this unit is still unsettled and held together by duct tape, the Cowboys can kiss the playoffs goodbye.
It's hard not like the potential of Tyron Smith and players like Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but the Cowboys need to find out about players like David Arkin, Jeremy Parnell and Phil Costa, too.
Tony Romo can't be a magician every week and without a running game there is no balance.
Jason Hatcher did an outstanding job of being disruptive against the Giants and atoned for his roughing the passer penalty on a crucial Giants drive. Besides DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys are going to need an all-hands-on-deck approach when it comes to applying pressure. Hatcher was solid all night against the Giants.
A healthy Bruce Carter is off to a great start replacing Bradie James and Keith Brooking. His play was solid and he demonstrated elite athleticism against the run and in coverage. Josh Brent also did a nice job stepping in for Jay Ratliff and held up well at the point of attack.
Anthony Spencer, although not eye-popping, was steady. He held his contain well and showed why he is a valuable run-stopper.
Gerald Senabaugh and Barry Church did a nice job on the back end providing help in coverage, supporting the run and making accurate reads. This is turning into a nice tandem at safety.
The bottom line is that the complementary players on this roster need to play like premier players. The Cowboys have that in Romo, Murray, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Lee, Ware and few others but they need to continue to develop players and have consistent value on the roster.
Signing a premiere free agent is just not feasible every year.
The fact that the Cowboys were able to overcome countless self-inflicted wounds was astonishing. But they won't, I repeat, won't be able to do that every week. It has to get cleaned up, pronto. The pre-snap penalties were an absolute joke. Maybe it was timing or nerves or jitters but at one point the Cowboys had a 1st-and-30 that was attributed to holding calls.
Suppose Romo was unable to connect with Kevin Ogletree on that game-clinching 3rd-and-12? What would Eli have done had he gotten the ball back? I'd rather not venture a guess, but we could easily be singing a different, more miserable tune.
What stands out to me the most, is that the Cowboys were victorious on opening night despite being able to perform better. By taking away key elements from the first game into the rest of year, they can improve on an already stellar performance.
Let's see where it will take them.