Top 5 Dallas Cowboys observations from the team's 36-31 win over the Giants

September 9, 2013

The Dallas Cowboys opened the season Sunday night with an impressive 36-31 home win over their division rival, the New York Giants.  The game marked the debuts of offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, as well as the return of the 4-3 defensive alignment so familiar to fans in Dallas.

The Cowboys D led the way, producing 5 turnovers and two touchdowns.  The Cowboys' punt coverage unit also recovered an additional fumble when the ball deflected off a New York player.

Here are our Top Five Cowboys-related observations from this game:

#5 The D-Line was surprisingly productive

With starters Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff out for a significant period with injuries, most expected the Cowboys' front four to struggle during the early part of the year.  Unexpectedly, however, Dallas' defensive line played outstanding.

Cowboys superstar DeMarcus Ware led the way -- no surprise -- intercepting Giants' QB Eli Manning with an athletic play as he leaped in the air to pick off a screen.  Regular Jason Hatcher also did his part, recording a sack.

But what nobody could predict was the stellar play of substitute George Selvie, who not only recorded a sack, but also recovered a key fumble.  Selvie also put consistent pressure on Manning throughout the evening.

#4 Miles Austin makes a huge difference

Austin is a big-play threat at wideout whose best work often comes after-the-catch with his excellent running skills.  In recent seasons, however, Austin's play has been inconsistent due to various nagging injuries.

On Sunday, Austin entered the game healthy, and his impact was felt immediately.  Quarterback Tony Romo looked to him regularly, as Austin caught 10 balls for 72 yards.

Interestingly, many of those receptions came on underneath throws, rather than the usual deeper routes we are more accustomed to seeing him run.  Undoubtedly, Callahan is looking to expand this aspect of Austin's game in the Boys' new offense.

#3 Running back depth is a concern

DeMarco Murray is an underrated star at running back -- elusive, always falling forward for positive yardage, and a physical finisher when necessary.  He also has been injury-prone.  Knowing that history, Sunday's game gave Cowboy fans reasons both to smile and to be concerned this season.

First, the good news.  Murray's playmaking ability will be a featured part of Callahan's offense this year, as he ran the ball 20 times for 86 yards (4.3 avg.), and also had 8 receptions for 39 yards.

With all that work, comes the bad news, as Murray's body could once again break down, leaving the Cowboys stuck with unproven backups Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, and Phillip Tanner.

Dunbar missed Sunday's game due to a foot injury, but Tanner played, promptly fumbling the ball onto the Texas turf in his lone carry (Dallas recovered).  Both backups are players who will need time to develop, erasing any hope of the Cowboys having a two-headed monster-style backfield early in the season.

#2  Terrance Williams is a work in progress 

Rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams, a Baylor product with big-play ability and a track and field background, was projected to replace Kevin Ogletree this year as the team's third receiver.  Williams fell to Dallas in the third round, and was considered a good value pick by many when he was drafted.

On Sunday, Williams caught two balls for 32 yards, including one 23-yard completion.  At other times, he seemed to be out of sync with Tony Romo.

On one particular play in the first half, Williams tried a disastrous double move just as Romo made his throw.  As a result, the Giants intercepted the pass and nearly had a pick six.

Romo nevertheless came back to Williams after the mistake, demonstrating his willingness to trust the rook and to hit the open man.  Such trust will be needed in order for Williams to learn on-the-job and become a reliable weapon in the offense.

#1 Monte Kiffin is an upgrade over Rob Ryan

It's been only one game, but there are reasons to believe that Kiffin's 4-3, "Tampa 2" defense will be an improvement over Rob Ryan's unit from last year.

First, the D produced five turnovers, something not seen under Ryan.  One interception was just a great individual play from Ware, but the most impressive aspect was the defense's concerted effort to consistently strip the ball and cause fumbles.  The technique worked, as the Cowboys recovered two fumbles.

Second, the effort level seemingly has increased.  It appears that the defensive unit is more active overall, as more gang tackling and hustle was displayed on Sunday.

Third, the defense was clutch.  For the past several seasons, the Cowboys defense has struggled to hold leads in the fourth quarter.  Last night, however, the defense rose to the occasion late in the game, as Brandon Carr's pick-six effectively sealed the game for Dallas.

That clutchness was also seen in the first half when the Giants intercepted Romo and had a first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line.  The D shut down the Giants' offense and held them to a field goal.

Of course, not everything went perfect, as a blown coverage allowed Victor Cruz to get free for a 70-yard touchdown reception.

In fairness to Ryan, the personnel on this defense is different from last year, and has a healthy group of linebackers, as speedy Bruce Carter and Sean Lee were both in the lineup. Nevertheless, the early signs point to an improved unit overall.

By Mike Elliott
Editor for The Daily Sports Herald

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