Perhaps you thought Dak Prescott would fall victim to the sophomore slump. Or that the Cowboys wouldn’t be able to force opponents to turn the ball over, just as they struggled to do last season. Maybe, with all their absences along the defensive line, they wouldn’t be able to effectively rush the passer. One game into the 2017 season, Dallas has continued what it started in its 13-win season last year, and in doing so, took care of the team it couldn’t seem to beat last year.
The Cowboys showed why no one (including this writer) should doubt them this year in Sunday night’s 19-3 win against the Giants. Their rivals didn’t have their best player in Odell Beckham Jr., but it’s unlikely the outcome would have been different with him considering New York’s other shortcomings.
But first, what the Cowboys did well. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 104 yards, marking the eighth time in his short career that he’s eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in a game. Prescott wasn’t as good as his stats made him seem in the first half, failing to get into the end zone from inside the opponent’s 20 twice—including three failed attempts to Dez Bryant in the end zone—and later being gifted 21 yards to New York’s 15-yard line on a miserable pass interference call. But Prescott avoided mistakes (per usual), and threw for 268 yards and a touchdown as he got into more of a rhythm in the second half.
Meanwhile, Demarcus Lawrence sacked Eli Manning twice and Charles Tapper got him a third time as the Cowboys did enough to disrupt the two-time Super Bowl winner. And after shedding Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and J.J. Wilcox in free agency, and after losing Orlando Scandrick to a hand injury, the Cowboys’ secondary was able to produce an interception of Manning (they had just nine picks last season).
It would seem that even without Beckham that Manning would have enough weapons to score more than three points. Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram are all able pass-catchers. But Engram never got into a rhythm in his first NFL regular-season game. Manning targeted Marshall four times before the former Jet caught a pass in garbage time—only after a costly third-and-12 drop with a wide-open field in front of him.
And Odell doesn’t block, either. Seemingly no starting offensive lineman played well for New York, continuing the ugly trend for a franchise that was once proud of its offensive line. Left tackle Ereck Flowers soiled his good first half with more of his 2016 play in the second half.
Perhaps more disappointing than Manning’s protection Sunday night was Cris Collinsworth’s regrettable (non)remark about Elliott’s off-field issues. “Forgive us if we talk about him as a football player,” Collinsworth told the millions tuned into the nation’s most-watched program every fall.
Indeed, the domestic violence case involving Elliott and his ex-girlfriend is far from black and white, and explaining those details along with the legalese of why Elliott was able to play this Sunday but maybe not next Sunday would take too much time. But Collinsworth’s phrasing made it seem as though Elliott’s alleged abuse of his ex-girlfriend isn’t worth discussing while football matters are ongoing. It also appears that he’s not equipped to tackle such a matter, though he, Al Michaels and Michele Tafoya handled Tyreek Hill’s domestic violence case well during a Sunday Night Football game in 2016. To Michaels’ credit, the longtime announcer did circle back early in the fourth quarter with a quick summation of why Elliott was not yet serving his six-game suspension.
Should Elliott serve his suspension this season, the Cowboys’ playoff prospects may change. But through the impossibly small sample size of Week 1, the Dallas team that put New York in handcuffs Sunday night is matched in the NFC only by Green Bay.