This past Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys beat down the visiting New York Giants 35-17 behind the arm of Dak Prescott. While the score was 35-10 entering the fourth quarter, effectively turning the final frame into little more than garbage time, the Cowboys defense nevertheless fell well short of the standards it established last season.
This isn’t specifically about New York’s final touchdown, but it was certainly problematic; this is about a unit with the potential to be among the very best in the league playing at a middle-of-the-road level and how problematic that could be down the road if not addressed.
On the aforementioned touchdown drive, Eli Manning and company moved 75 yards in 6 plays. Along the way, they never once faced second down. The only reason the drive ended was that Wayne Gallman eventually crossed the goal line.
It was a drive Jason Garrett called out specifically in his post-game comments, expressing a degree of frustration with starting defense’s performance. Were it only the one drive where the defense looked lackluster, there wouldn’t be much more to say, but there’s much more beneath the surface than the 17 points on the board would suggest at a glance.
The Giants racked up 470 yards of offense against Dallas Sunday, approximately 140 yards more than the team allowed on average last season.
And, while Saquon Barkley is an absolute monster to deal with, amassing 120 yards on just 11 carries on the day, New York has little more to offer offensively.
What’s worse, 38-year-old Eli Manning was sacked only one time and even managed to escape a second sack attempt by Dorance Armstrong before connecting with a wide-open Cody Latimer 22 yards down the field.
Sure, Manning saw consistent pressure, but as his two failed bootleg attempts reminded us, he’s not exactly a quick or mobile quarterback to begin with. An elite defense simply must “get home” more frequently.
In truth, the most troubling trend following the defense reaches back to last season. As Bob Sturm pointed out on BAD Radio Wednesday afternoon, through the first twelve weeks of the season last year, which goes through the New Orleans standout game, the defense allowed a total of 35 “explosive” plays.
An explosive play is a play of 20 or more yards, so allowing just 3 per game is pretty strong, to say the least. The problem is that from that time on, through the next seven regular-season games, that same defense has allowed 30 explosive plays.
The Manning to Latimer play mentioned above is one such explosive play. Another, of course, would be the 59-yard run by Barkley on the Giants’ second snap of the game.
We’re talking about a nearly 50% increase in explosive plays allowed by the same defense in that time, and while that may not matter much against the New York or Washington, it’ll absolutely matter in week four at New Orleans and in other games.
The belief around the Cowboys entering this season was that the defense was elite and that the offense was talented enough that it should be able to uphold its end of the bargain.
After Dak’s breakout performance Sunday, seemingly all underlying storylines were swept under the rug in the public. On the surface, 17 points don’t seem like much, especially when the final 7 come in garbage time, but if this team wants to compete for a championship, it’s essential that it recaptures its previous dominant form.
Thankfully, Jason Garrett and the players are already well aware of this. No one is content or pleased with the defense’s play on Sunday, and the fact that there is much to improve upon should help keep the team focused as it navigates the early part of the season.
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