Report card: Cowboys pass with flying colors
How much of a difference might a healthy DeMarco Murray have made last December? It's hard not to wonder after watching him shred the Giants for 131 yards on 20 carries. It's not a coincidence that the Cowboys are now 6-0 when Murray carries the ball at least 20 times. Owner/GM Jerry Jones made sure to point out that the offseason acquisitions of fullback Lawrence Vickers and guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau helped open holes for Murray. However, Murray made a lot of yards on his own, highlighted by a spectacular 48-yard run in which he made several Giants miss.
This game illustrates why the Cowboys are committed to Tony Romo, who will get a lucrative, long-term contract extension by the time training camp opens next summer. Other than a glaring mistake that led to an interception, Romo couldn't have played much better, completing 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. His two touchdown passes to Kevin Ogletree were classic Romo plays, as he made up for shaky pass protection by buying time with his feet to allow a receiver to get open. Ogletree (eight catches, 114 yards) certainly calmed concerns about the third receiver crisis.
Ahmad Bradshaw ended up with 17 carries for 78 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown, but he didn't have much room most of the night. The Dallas run defense responded to the toughest possible challenge with a goal-line stand in the second quarter, dropping Bradshaw for losses on two straight plays after the Giants started the series on the Cowboys' 1-yard line. OLB Anthony Spencer was a force against the run, setting the tone for a goal-line stand with a tackle for a loss when Bradshaw was one-on-one against him in space. Sean Lee had 12 tackles and a forced fumble that snuffed another New York scoring opportunity.
Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne were worth every penny the Cowboys paid them in this season opener. It makes Eli Manning's life much more difficult when he can't just find an open receiver the moment he completes his drop. Manning's numbers (21-of-32 for 213 yards and one TD) weren't bad, but they were a far cry from the spectacular stats he put up in two wins over Dallas last season. The Cowboys sacked Manning three times, twice by DeMarcus Ware, who became the second-fastest pass rusher in NFL history to 100 career sacks.
The Cowboys didn't miss two-time Pro Bowl punter Mat McBriar in the season opener. Chris Jones boomed a couple of beautiful directional punts, averaging 54.0 yards gross and 51.5 yards net. Kicker Dan Bailey nailed a 33-yard field goal on his lone attempt. The Cowboys' return game didn't do anything of note, with Dez Bryant gaining a grand total of zero yards on two punt returns. Felix Jones got past the 20 on only one of four kickoff returns.
You can criticize Jason Garrett for a failed fourth down early in the game, when Lawrence Vickers matched his 2011 rushing totals (one carry for no yards). But you have to credit Garrett for an aggressive passing game attack that exploited Giants backup corner Michael Coe, who was pressed into starting duty due to injuries. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had great success blitzing Manning, as the Cowboys held him to 3.4 yards per attempt with three sacks when bringing five or more rushers. The Cowboys still have a lot to clean up (13 penalties for 86 yards).