How ‘bout that defense: Cowboys dismantle Giants in 40-0 win
Sep. 11, 2023 1:15 a.m. ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The question in Dallas the last few years has always been this: Can Dak Prescott lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl? This year that question might be irrelevant.
Because for one night, at least, it sure looked like this Cowboys defense is good enough to do it on their own.
They made that statement loud and clear with the biggest Opening Night shutout in franchise history, when they overwhelmed the New York Giants 40-0 on Sunday night at the Meadowlands. They sacked Giants quarterback Daniel Jones seven times, picked him off twice, forced three fumbles, held their offense to just 171 total yards and kept Jones running for his life on almost every play.
It was an onslaught. It was smothering. And for the Cowboys, it wasn’t surprising at all.
“We’re making a statement which I’ve been trying to make,” said Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. “We’re the best defense in the National Football League.”
Off that performance, it was hard to argue. The Giants had no answers for the Dallas defense, even before the heavy rains really started to fall. The Giants couldn’t block the Cowboys’ front seven. And if they keep playing like that all season, it’s hard to believe anyone will.
The beat-down the Cowboys’ defense put on the supposedly improved Giants was so thorough and so quick that Prescott barely played before Dallas had a 16-0 lead. They scored on a blocked field goal by safety Juanyeh Thomas that was returned 58 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. And they scored on a Pick-6 when cornerback Trevon Diggs put a hit on Saquon Barkley that popped the ball loose and into the hands of cornerback DaRon Bland, who returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
That all happened in the first 12 ½ minutes of the game. Prescott, by that point, had been on the field for only eight plays.
“That got it started and it really never stopped,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. “The defense was relentless all night.”
“We just never let up,” Parsons added. “Which is good — a great sign — because last year we maybe would’ve let up a little bit. But we just stayed on them. We didn’t let them breathe. We smothered them.”
That they did. The Giants actually ran their way to 38 yards on the first drive leading up to the first field goal, taking advantage of the Cowboys’ blitzes and running right by them with Jones and Barkley (12 carries, 51 yards). But they only gained 133 yards the rest of the night — and 49 of those came in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys already had their 40-point lead.
After that opening drive, the Giants were completely out of sync. They worked so hard to improve their offense this season, trading for tight end Darren Waller, signing receiver Parris Campbell, drafting receiver Jalin Hyatt and more. They did everything they could to surround their newly minted $160 million quarterback with adequate weapons.
But weapons are no good in the face of a pass rush like the Cowboys ran at them all game.
“I’ve talked about it all spring to training camp, understanding the pass rush we’re going against in practice,” said Prescott, who was just 13 of 24 for 143 yards on a mostly relaxing night for him. “Watching that come alive against another team, another quarterback, was exciting. It made it easier for us on our side.”
That fierce, relentless pass rush was led by linebacker Micah Parsons, who seemed to come at Jones (15 of 28, 104 yards, 2 interceptions) on almost every play, from every angle. He only had one sack, but he hit Jones twice and was in pursuit of the quarterback so often, Jones is going to see him in his nightmares for weeks.
Parsons even forced Jones’ second interception when he made a remarkable play to bounce off one blocker, stunt around Giants rookie center John Michael Schmitz, and then chase Jones across the field to the sidelines. That’s where Jones, clearly hearing Parson’s footsteps, made an ill-advised throw that was picked off by Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
And it’s not like Parsons was a one-man wrecking crew either. He may have staked his early case for Defensive Player of the Year with his performance, but he had plenty of help from his friends. Diggs forced one fumble and forced that early interception with his hit on Barkley. Defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa had two sacks. So did defensive end Dorance Armstrong. And DeMarcus Lawrence had a sack, a quarterback hit and a tackle for a loss and was his usual headache for the Giants.
The Cowboys defense was credited with 12 quarterback hits. They had 10 tackles for losses. They had eight passes defensed. And it felt like they had a whole lot more.
It’s only Week 1 of course, and it’s possible that the Giants are just that bad. Certainly their offensive line has long been a sore spot for this franchise and it looks to be a problem again. The Cowboys, though, would rather believe it was them. They had a good, but not great, defense last season that ranked 12th in the NFL. They struggled stopping the run at times, but they had a strong pass rush that recorded 54 sacks, which tied them for third in the NFL.
This performance, though, was another level — a level that if they can maintain it would put them on the level Parsons wants them to be: Among the best defenses of all time. This performance, he said, was worthy of that lofty goal.
“I believe so,” he said, “just with the turnovers, the relentlessness, the effort by all 11.”
Again, it’s early, as McCarthy and Prescott were quick to remind everyone after the game. But this game still felt like a great omen for what’s to come. It was also eerily reminiscent of the 1995 season opener, when the Cowboys came to the old Giants Stadium here and pounded the Giants 35-0. The Giants were coming off a 9-7 season and thought they were building something special, just like they thought heading into this year. But those Cowboys taught them a powerful lesson, and then used that momentum to kick off a championship run for what remains their last Super Bowl team.
It’ll be a while before anyone knows if that history will repeat. But this game should still send shivers down the spines of the rest of the NFC East — and maybe the rest of the NFC and NFL, too. Because the Cowboys still have a dangerous offense with an elite quarterback in Prescott, a strong offensive line, a good rushing attack behind Tony Pollard and better passing-game weapons than they had last year.
They just didn’t need them on Opening Night. At all. The offense spent most of the night as if they were just running out the clock. Prescott didn’t need to do anything other than just protect the football in the rain, because the guys on defense, as McCarthy said, “were in total control of the game.”
The Cowboys will eventually need more because this is still a quarterback league and an era of offensive explosion. But this is an offense that averaged 27.4 points per game last season. They know the offense will be there when they need it.
They just might not need Prescott as much as they thought. He might not have to be the one who carries them all season in their quest for their first Super Bowl in 27 years. This may still be Prescott’s team and he might still be the biggest star in Dallas, but if the opener was any indication, it seems clear the Dallas defense is more than capable of leading the way.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at .
This content was originally published here.