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Not many people saw what they expected last night. Certainly most expected the defending champion New York Giants to take down the Dallas Cowboys in the same fashion that they have in the recent past, but that didn’t happen. A lot of people expected a shootout from the start, and yet it was 7-3 through the first half with both defenses looking strong. And finally, everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sure the Giants would step up and make a 4th quarter run and the Cowboys defense, or even Tony Romo, would hand the game over. But that didn’t happen. Dallas won 24-17. Here are the top five things we noticed about the game.
1. The offensive line looked solid against the strong front seven of the Giants. New York finished with just two sacks. While the first half was a defensive struggle, Tony Romo had time to find receivers. And, most impressively, the offensive line looked stronger as the game went on. When the offensive line started dictating the game, the running game picked up, Romo had more time to find open receivers, and Dallas held the ball a long time. The Cowboys had the ball nearly 10 more minutes than the Giants in this game and the fatigue for the Giants defense showed in the 3rd and 4th quarters of this game.
The O-line also has a great running back to block for. Dallas rushers averaged 5.5 yards per carry: 26 rushes for 143 yards. I love the way DeMarco Murray ran last night. He didn’t shy away from contact and he had a great way of busting through the line when there didn’t appear to be any holes. Rather than bounce around looking for an opening like so many running backs do or just plowing ahead with his head down, he would delicately find a slight opening and sort of crawl through it into daylight. Watch other running backs this weekend, not many will do what Murray did last night.
This was supposed to be a trial by fire for the new Dallas O-line. They’d never played together as a unit before. They were on the road against an excellent front seven. They were supposed to fail. But boy did they pass with flying colors.
Photo courtesy Al Bello/Getty Images
2. I’m not sure that there will be a more sought-after wide receiver among fantasy football free agents than Kevin Ogletree early next week. This was a guy that even we had talked about not solidifying that #3 spot well enough in the preseason. The big play ability of a couple of his backups seemed to have them show more upside. Ogletree was an easy guy to forget as well. The Giants had to concentrate a lot on established guys like Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, plus the unexpected return yesterday of tight end Jason Witten.
Romo looked his way early and often as Ogletree finished with an astonishing eight catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns. There’s no telling how Ogeltree will look from here on out. This is just one game. But to have a reliable receiver making big plays and big catches in big spots, like getting the first down that sealed the game late in the 4th quarter, puts to rest any doubt that the receiving corps would be weak in 2012. The effect this has on the pressure that Austin and Bryant face every game is significant as well.
3. As we said in our season preview, new cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne were going to have to be the game-changers. The Dallas front seven is solid, but they can’t get a sack on every possession and while they can keep the Giants from making big plays in the running game, it’s tougher to do so in the passing game. There were several possessions last night that resulted in incompletions or sacks because the coverage on the receivers were so good. Carr and Claiborne were physical and did a great job of playing the receiver rather than stare back at the quarterback. Claiborne was particularly impressive, as he’s a rookie and yet played almost as well as Carr did.
Again, this was a tough group to go up against in game one and the secondary, while allowing a couple of big plays, kept the passing game from having a big impact and kept them from scoring until late in the 4th quarter.
Photo courtesy Al Bello/Getty Images
4. As for Tony Romo, he looked great, even early when both defenses were dominating action, although he did throw an interception that was nearly returned for a touchdown and resulted in a field goal, he showed great poise in the pocket, standing strong in the face of blitzed to hit guys like Kevin Ogletree and Miles Austin for first downs and feeling the rush and drifting away from the pocket to make big plays.
Watch these two plays. NBC did a great job of pointing out how Tony Romo changed these two plays and turned them into touchdowns based on the coverage that he read. On this throw to Ogletree, he sees one-on-one coverage and calls for the double move that led to an easy touchdown. It was the same for the Austin touchdown, except this time the defensive help came. Still, Romo put it high and inside for Austin, allowing him to walk into the endzone for the score.
Romo finished 22-29 with two touchdowns and an interception. Most importantly, he made big plays and closed out the game for the win.
5. Finally, this win has long-term implications. At minimum, to make the playoffs, Dallas needs to finish with a 4-2 division record. A sweep at the hands of the Giants would make that virtually impossible. But a win gets them off to a great start. It also shows that the Cowboys may have the team to win the division and get to the playoffs after all. The Giants were a virtual lock to win the division coming into the season. We’re one game in, and people already have to start questioning whether the NFC playoff picture is going to include the Cowboys or Giants, maybe both.