Despite giving up 31 points and 450 yards through the air, the defense was the difference maker in the game. Dallas forced six turnovers, including two that led to defensive touchdowns.
A Cowboys defense hasn’t had a positive impact like that in several years.
Beyond allowing a few big plays here and there, the defense looked great in general and vastly improved from a year ago. Dallas was also very strong in the run game.
The Giants ran the ball only 14 times for 50 yards.
Part of the reason New York had such few attempts was that they were trailing for most of the game and needed to score quickly. However, Eli Manning and company wouldn’t have abandoned the run if it had been effective.
Dallas’ front seven dominated at the point of attack and made things quite difficult for the Giants running backs all night. Even without Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer in the lineup, the Cowboys defensive line played well.
Nick Hayden and Jason Hatcher clogged the middle for most of the game, allowing linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter to run wild. Combined, Carter and Lee made 14 total tackles, including 10 solos.
Hatcher, Carter and George Selvie also each added a sack. The defense put a fair share of pressure on Manning throughout most of the contest, forcing him into turnover-prone situations.
Even with the six turnovers and two touchdowns, the defense as a whole can be a lot better. With a road game in Kansas City on Sunday, they might need to be better in order to leave with another victory.
One way Dallas can improve its defense is to generate more pressure. It’s been proven that the easiest way to affect a team’s flow on offense is to disrupt the quarterback consistently.
Even though they snagged a couple sacks, the Cowboys didn’t really blitz all too often. It's convenient if your front four can create issues for the opposing quarterback by themselves, but well-timed blitzes can make all the difference.
On most third-down situations, Kiffin opted to not blitz Manning and instead relied on his secondary to make plays. By sending more people in blitz packages, the defense could create more havoc for quarterbacks and reduce the amount of time the secondary needs to cover.
Along with utilizing blitzes more often, Dallas really needs to eliminate the amount of big plays it gave up against the Giants.
Although they were solid in the ground game, the Cowboys gave up too many big plays from start to finish. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks had only five catches apiece; however, they both impacted the game with huge plays.
Early in the first quarter, Nicks caught a ball and went for 57 yards deep into Dallas territory. Later, Cruz blew past everyone and caught a 70-yard touchdown. These two plays alone led to 10 points.
It doesn’t matter how successful the defense is throughout the game if they continue to give up these types of plays. Fortunately for Dallas, it was able to score enough points to make up for its mistakes.
For too long the Cowboys have had difficulties allowing game-changing plays through the air. While putting more pressure on quarterbacks would be beneficial, so would better play in the secondary. The Giants receivers were wide open too often, and that all starts with the cornerbacks.
The most disappointing player in Sunday’s win was second-year corner Morris Claiborne. Because of injury, the former LSU Tiger didn’t participate much in training camp, which was evident. He looked slow at times and wasn’t playing to the ability that we saw from him last season.
Claiborne did record three tackles, but the last one dislocated his shoulder, adding to his frustration.
With both the line and linebackers looking solid, I’d say the secondary is still the weakest part of the defensive unit. Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick didn’t do poorly, but they each can play even better.
Claiborne is expected to play Week 2 in Kansas City; yet, I’m skeptical about how he’ll be able to perform with his lingering injury problems. One thing that’s not debatable is Dallas’ need for him to be on the field performing his best.
The NFL definitely took note of the Cowboys new-look defense for this season after Week 1. If Dallas can make improvements in the areas where it’s weakest, the defense can place among the league’s best in 2013.
All statistics via Pro-Football-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.
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