Cowboys Notes: Dak Prescott leads charge vs. Giants with historic outing, more from lopsided Week 1 win
The former Rookie of the Year blew the roof off of the season opener, but he wasn't the only one
Do you want to see a dead body?
If so, allow me to direct your attention to the Week 1 meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, in which the latter was dragged to the shed out back and victimized like so many who couldn't escape Jason Voorhies in the wooded confines of Camp Crystal Lake.
Granted, the Cowboys entered the opener as favorites to down their division rival but with questions surrounding what type of play-caller new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore would be, if Ezekiel Elliott was ready for a full workload , if Travis Frederick was ready for regular season work after defeating Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and if Amari Cooper's foot was truly good to go in his return from plantar fasciitis -- among other looming quandaries hovering about the team's offensive unit -- it wasn't a foregone conclusion they'd defeat a team that has given them all they can handle on several occasions in the recent past.
What instead happened was a massacre in Texas without the chainsaw, and here are the biggest takeaways for the Cowboys a 35-17 murder that wasn't nearly as close as the final score would have you believe.
Kellen Moore is a sweet potato
The Legend of Idaho has been anything but after setting records for Boise State and entering the ranks of the NFL as an undrafted free agent of the Detroit Lions in 2012. It's been a tough scene for Moore up until he finally decided to hang up his cleats and accepting the job as Cowboys quarterbacks coach in 2018. Just one year later, he got the nod as offensive coordinator following the ousting of a deathly stale Scott Linehan and for all of his praised football acumen, the reality was it's rarely easy for a new coordinator to simply step in and excel from minute one.
Well, that's exactly what Moore did, and his play-calling turned a discombobulated Giants defense inside-out to the point they were staring down at their own innards.
Every test that needed to be passed in Week 1, Moore passed, and with flying colors. From getting off to a fast start to adapting on the fly to feeding off the play-action to using presnap motion and misdirection at his leisure, the Cowboys scheme was a master class in how to dismember an opponent -- propelling the Idahoan onto the main stage in grand fashion.
Dak Prescott became a serial killer
because you want the market to drive your value higher along with the belief that a new coordinator will elevate your game, you might be Dak Prescott. If you then walk onto the field with said extension looming and then carve up a divisional rival to the tune of 405 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, a perfect 158.3 passer rating; then you ARE Dak Prescott.
Any questions involving Prescott's ability to take over a game with his arm died a gruesome death on Sunday afternoon, with Moore's play-calling marrying a laser-focused Prescott to bring about a career outing for the fourth-year signal-caller.
Every throw that needed to be made was made. Every needle was threaded. Every dime got dropped. Every Giant that thought they had a chance at stopping him got the Dexter treatment, because it was Showtime at AT&T Stadium, and with Prescott's grand plan now complete -- expect him to get a more attractive offer from the Cowboys and the deal to close soon.
Prescott's perfect passer rating is the first in team history of any QB who attempted at least 20 passes, per Bobby Belt of NFL Network, and he's the first in franchise history to throw for 400 yards and four TDs in a win. It's the second-most yardage he's thrown for in his career, and the first time he's thrown a touchdown to four different players in a game.
Cut the check and make it Rayne.
Michael Gallup has Pro Bowl potential
This isn't anything new to anyone who's followed my analysis of Gallup from minute one but, for those who didn't know, now you know. Gallup is the real deal and has been since joining the Cowboys as a third-round pick in 2018. His timing issues with Prescott were what cost him a stellar outing as a rookie, but even then he was able to impact games en route to a respectable first year in the NFL.
Those timing issues are seemingly long gone now with the two working feverishly in the offseason and preseason to put them to bed, and it showed against the Giants. Gallup had a career-best 158 yards against New York and, for perspective, it means -- in one game -- he's already reeled in 31.16% of his total Year 1 production.
Combined with the prowess of Amari Cooper, Gallup is a terror to defend, and even when Cooper isn't on the field. At this rate, as I've predicted often, Gallup will land a free trip to Orlando, FL in February. That is assuming the Cowboys aren't a bit busy in Miami.
Amari Cooper's foot is just fine
Plantar fasciitis? Ligament issue? Muscle strain? Doesn't matter. Cooper by 100.
Humorous plays on LeBron James-type memes aside, the three time Pro Bowl wideout returned to action on Sept. 8 after missing the entirety of the preseason and having not practiced since Aug. 3 with a heel ailment in his left foot. He was back in the fold to practice for the season opener and when things got underway against the Giants, his foot was the last thing on anyone's mind. It was a day that saw Cooper have his way with a New York secondary that found themselves under siege from the coin flip onward, and containing both Gallup and Cooper was simply an impossibility for them.
The latter wasn't far behind the former's career outing, reeling in 106 yards and a touchdown on just six catches. That's a whole lot of YAC (yards after catch), and sends notice his foot is just fine -- once he pulls it out of the Giants' backside.
Randall Cobb looks back to prime form
A picture is worth a thousand words, and that means video is worth a million, so allow me to first show you this before I continue my assessment of Cobb's debut in a Cowboys uniform:
There truly isn't much more that needs to be said after that clip, other than noting how assured the Cowboys feel at the slot position with Cobb partying in Week 1 like it's 2014. He helped Prescott in the quarterback's goal of spreading the ball around, contributing 69 yards and a touchdown on four catches to the Cowboys effort.
Ezekiel Elliott shaking off some rust, but kept Giants nervous
Speaking of manufactured homophones for "Cabo", the two-time NFL rushing champ is back after an extended holdout that ultimatelyjust four days before the Giants strolled into Arlington. Elliott returned to the fold in great shape, but the Cowboys wanted to be deliberate in how they utilized him in the opener after not having him at all in training camp. He'd end up with 37 snaps (54%) -- a bit more than the reported 20-25 the team was supposedly planning -- and admittedly knocked off a bit of rust in the process.
Elliott finished with just 53 yards but that came on just 13 carries for a solid 4.1 yard per carry average, and he didn't exactly look rusty with this move he put on the Giants later in the game.
You can expect Elliott's workload to ramp up in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, particularly seeing as defensive tackle -- out with an MCL sprain suffered in the implosion to the Philadelphia Eagles. Elliott added another 10 yards receiving on one catch to his stat line, as Moore kept the Giants guessing all night over just how the All-Pro would be used. He was definitely put to work, but not nearly as much as he usually would've, because him being back was enough to keep New York falling for the play-action pass time and again.
The Cowboys used play action on 47% of their plays in Week 1 and, nearly every time, the Giants bit hard enough to crack a tooth.
Jason Witten is still, well, Jason Witten
The king is back, and in as good or better shape than he was when he decided to hang up his cleats following the 2017 season. Now out of the ESPN booth and onto the field once again for the Cowboys, the future Hall of Fame tight end wasted no time making sure everyone knew he still has some juice left in his glass. In the process, he just happened to pull in one of Prescott's four passing touchdowns -- giving him 69 for his career and putting him only three shy of surpassing Bob Hayes and five shy of overtaking Dez Bryant as the franchise's all-time leader in receiving TDs.
It seems a foregone conclusion Witten will ultimately obtain the throne, because there isn't a better security blanket on the team for Prescott outside of Elliott. Chemistry is beginning to bloom with Blake Jarwin, yes, but Witten and the Y Option are simply unbeatable when deployed. He doesn't need gawdy numbers. He simply needs to be productive in some capacity.
Mission accomplished in Week 1.
Blake Jarwin is NOT Jason Witten, but that's a good thing
Picking right up where he left off in the 2018 regular season, Jarwin is proving himself a major part of the Cowboys offense -- even with Witten back on the team. Jarwin set a franchise record at the position when he reeled in three touchdowns against the Giants in Week 17 and, true to form, he went out in Week 1 of the new season and stabbed them in the heart again.
His 39 yards were serviceable but his touchdown came at perfect time for the Cowboys, as he again exploited New York's inability to defend the seam route.
With 27 snaps to Witten's count of 45, it's clear the latter remains the starter going forward, which was expected. The beauty of Jarwin is when he does enter the game, opposing defenses must account for the boost in athleticism and speed he brings over the more sturdy underneath threat that is Witten.
Jarwin can take the top off of a defense in a moment's notice, as evidenced by four touchdowns in his last two games against Big Blue.
Travis Frederick completes his return to football
If not for headlines surrounding Elliott's holdout and contract talks between the Cowboys and both Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, the return of Frederick to the field would've (and should've) been the prevailing storyline. The perennial All-Pro was sidelined for the entire 2018 season due to his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and played in an NFL game only one year later when he took the field against the Giants. To say this is a phenomenal story is an understatement of massive proportions, particularly when considering Frederick didn't have feeling in his feet as recently as last October.
A frontrunner for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Frederick played well in the Week 1 dismantling of the Giants, and that's why you didn't hear his name called a single time during the entire 60-minute contest. He allowed no sacks on Prescott and landed no penalties, after having not played football at all since December 2017.
Frederick is the John Wick of North Texas, and yea, I'm thinking he's back.
Xavier Woods is heading for a breakout season
This game was nearly disastrous from the start for the Giants, thanks to Woods. The third-year safety is poised to silence all critics on his way to a potential Pro Bowl season in 2019, and especially if he keeps doing what he did in the opener. On the first play from scrimmage for the Giants, Woods refused to shy away from reigning Rookie of the Year and resident phenom Saquon Barkley and instead lowered the boom following the handoff from Eli Manning.
If not for the heads up play of his compatriots, Barkley would've lost this fumble and given the Cowboys field position in the red zone.
The 24-year-old would not be denied in the opener, leading the team with 11 combined tackles -- nine of which were solo -- and the above forced fumble. There can be no doubt that after all of the Earl Thomas talk, there's a free safety in Dallas that's proving although opposing offenses might go over the river, they'll have one hell of a time getting through the Woods.
Leighton Vander Esch's rookie season wasn't a fluke
Vander Esch missed a tackle early in the game and some began their knee-jerk reaction that involved prematurely labeling his entire 2019 season a sophomore slump, and with plenty of time left to play in both the opener and -- of course -- the season itself. Not long after, the one known as the Wolf Hunter went on a rampage, and it was one the Giants had no answer for whatsoever. Vander Esch followed up his breakout rookie season by gutting Big Blue to the tune of 10 combined tackles -- nine of them solo -- plus a forced fumble, one QB hit, and 0.5 sack.
Sophomore slump? Where??
Beware the howl in 2019, as Vander Esch now readies to visit Little Red Riding Hood at FedEx Field in Week 2.
DeMarcus Lawrence is healthy and poised to dominate
It's the $105 million man, and he's no longer bothered by a torn labrum in his should after undergoing surgery to have it repaired this offseason. Despite Lawrence missing most of OTAs, minicamp and training camp due to his rehabilitation, he was able to step in and make an impact after catching wind of Manning's cologne in the AT&T Stadium air. Few things get Lawrence as pumped as being able to line up across from Manning -- a quarterback he regularly trolls on Twitter -- and everyone witnessed his motivation in the sack-fumble Lawrence delivered with under six minutes to play in the third quarter.
By the way, he also recovered the ball.
Lawrence had only two tackles in the game, but one of them helped seal the deal for the Cowboys by stopping a Giants offense that was on the move and threatening to shrink the deficit. It's also key to note the team scaled back Lawrence's snap count as a way of monitoring his return to football, in the same way, they did cornerback Byron Jones. Lawrence had only 32 defensive snaps, whereas fellow linemen like Maliek Collins and Kerry Hyder had 52 and 44, respectively.
He'll see his workload increase a notch against the Redskins, who now have proof that Lawrence isn't kidding around when it comes to proving he's earned his big payday.
Jourdan Lewis is an NFL starter being treated like he isn't
It's a fantastic problem for the Cowboys to have, but it's a problem, nonetheless. Lewis has been relegated to mostly bench duty and special teams as passing game coordinator Kris Richard has shown a proclivity toward the bigger Anthony Brown in the nickel corner role. Those paying attention can certainly attribute good play to Brown, but also wonder if Lewis doesn't deserve more of a role on the defense as opposed to simply using him on special teams and for unsuccessful trick plays on offense, circa 2018.
With the workload reduction on Jones against the Giants, Lewis got the nod at starter and was a banshee freed from Hell. No, he didn't rack up a bunch of tackles and no, the plays he made won't show up on the highlight reel, but they were impactful. One of his most important plays came when he went completely horizontal to deflect a pass intended for Sterling Shepard in the end zone, negating a surefire touchdown by Manning on third down with nine yards to go.
The Giants were forced to kick a field goal that made the score 21-10 instead of 21-14 with 11:02 remaining in the third quarter, and helped keep New York from establishing momentum coming out of halftime. An 11-point difference kept the Cowboys in firm control whereas a seven-point lead would've given the Giants steam to apply more pressure, but thanks to Lewis, the latter never took hold.
The Cowboys would be wise to figure out how to get him on the field more, because time and again, he's proven he's earned it.
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