There was something more important than beating their rivals for the first time at Cowboys Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo didn’t lose the turnover battle, something that has been their Achilles heel in the past, signaling a possible change for this team as they try to break their lack-of-postseason streak.
It’s hard to say just how happy the Cowboys are with their 36-31 win over the New York Giants, because their rivals, who they have failed to beat at home for a very long time turned the ball over six times. Eli Manning swayed from brilliant to terrible as the gameplan of saving the team on his arm alone didn’t really work against a much more aggressive and ball-hawking Cowboys defense compared to the past, throwing three interceptions.
But it looked like most of the wrath from the Giants side was pointed at David Wilson, who began his NFL career with a fumble and a benching against the Cowboys, and had another sad opening to the season, fumbling the ball twice and finding himself out of the game pretty soon.
Romo, the quarterback who throws more interceptions than anyone else in the NFL when under pressure (8 last season) wasn’t completely innocent of making mistakes, throwing an interception, but in general seemed to thrive in the new short-passing game design from Bill Callahan, completing 36 of his 49 passes for 263 yards, adding a couple of touchdowns.
Usually when a quarterback drops back to pass over 50 times it isn’t a good sign, but these are the Cowboys at the moment. Less big plays, a lot more screens and flats. DeMarco Murray did have a good game on the ground (86 yards, 20 carries), but he was also very effective in the passing game, catching 8 passes for 39 yards, countering the fact that Dez Bryant was constantly double-teamed, finishing with only 22 yards on 4 catches.
Romo kept it simple: 33 of his attempts were for 5 yards or fewer downfield (67%), his largest percentage of passes thrown within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage in a game since 2008. He completed 83% of those attempts. Jason Witten, catching 8 passes for 70 yards, and Miles Austin, enjoying the freedom and Bryant-focus from the Giants’ defense, caught 10 passes for 72 yards. Slow and steady won the race that time.
The defense seemed to be the big difference, despite giving up 31 points. The Cowboys forced four of the turnovers, something they needed the entire season to do last year, and it’s been since Week 10, 2011 against the Bills that they forced four turnovers in one game.
The other fix was stopping the big plays, which wasn’t as consistent, with Victor Cruz scoring a 70-yard touchdown. But the Cowboys’ defense scored, taking advantage of mistakes and risky passes more than before, as Barry Church returned a fumble 27 yards for a touchdown, and later it was Brandon Carr returning a 49-yard interception for the score.
The Dallas Cowboys have had promising starts fizzle out quickly in the past; the win over the Giants this early is similar to last season. But they were missing some players, and had a lot more success than in the past when it comes to getting to Manning and creating turnovers. Romo’s protection is getting better, and he should have a running game as long as Murray is healthy. Far from perfect, but the right ingredients to end up in the playoffs.