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What we learned: Cowboys defense looks special in Week 1 defeat of New York

The Dallas Cowboys showed the nation that their defense is a force to be reckoned with in the Week 1 shutout win over the New York Giants.

DALLAS — Despite the weather in the Meadowlands, it was a beautiful night for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, as they blew out the New York Giants to begin the season. The forecast predicted rain, but the Giants weren’t ready for the storm that the Cowboys brought to MetLife Stadium.

The last time the Cowboys shut out their rivals on opening night on the road was in 1995, when the legendary triplets helped beat the brakes off the Giants 35-0. This Week 1 contest brought back flashbacks to that halcyon era, and the organization hopes that this season ends in the same fashion, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

That’s getting ahead of themselves, of course, but Dallas backed up their claims of being a Super Bowl contender with the Week 1 rout. Here’s more of what we learned about the Cowboys in the victory over the Giants:

Defensive is as good as advertised

The Cowboys’ defense came into the game with the reputation of being one of the best in the league. After leading the NFL in takeaways over the last two years, that was an assumption that was difficult to disagree with.

However, it was still hard to believe that there was room to grow, but the defense showed in the dominant Week 1 win that there is in fact another gear. The Cowboys pressured quarterback Daniel Jones all night, garnered seven sacks, forced three turnovers, and allowed just 171 yards to New York’s rejuvenated offense. The defense was all over Jones, who never had time to get settled in the loss.

It was the first shutout for the Cowboys in the Dan Quinn era, and if they continue to back-up their claims that they are the best defense in the NFL, more could be on the way. In front of a national, prime time audience, Dallas backed up all of the bravado with brilliance.

Offense remains untested

Things were uneven on the other side of the ball, but it’s difficult to know if the lackluster offense was a result of the elements, game circumstances, or because they just simply didn’t need to do much. Dak Prescott tossed for 143 yards on 24 attempts in the win, but didn’t throw a touchdown.

However, the important thing is that Prescott protected the football and didn’t throw the interceptions that plagued him last year and he did so under adverse field conditions.

Overall the offense totaled 265 yards in an efficient effort. New starting running back Tony Pollard averaged five yards per rush on his way to two touchdowns, and the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. The success of the line was a bit of a surprise considering the unit was missing Tyler Smith and Tyron Smith was playing on a sprained ankle, yet they kept Prescott clean all game.

Dallas was unveiling a new offense, but it’s unclear how much they revealed in the blowout. The offense and Prescott did look comfortable, yet it’s unlikely that we saw the full-scale Texas Coast offense unleashed.

Tight ends had an uneven night

Prescott may not have recorded a passing touchdown, but he did have two passes that could’ve ended up as scores were it not for drops. Both would-be touchdowns went off the hands of his tight ends, one to Jake Ferguson in the first half and another on a beautiful pass that Peyton Hendershot dropped in the second half. The second-year TE tandem dropped three passes in total, making it a disappointing effort in the passing game.

However, all three TEs – Ferguson, Hendershot, and rookie second-rounder Luke Schoonmaker – were stellar when used as blockers in the running game, something that Dallas relies on heavily from their tight ends.

The drops didn’t hurt in this game, but it’s something to watch for going forward. The offense will need the receiving prowess of their tight ends to catch up to their success as blockers.

Special Teams comes up special

The shutout was a team win for the Cowboys, who dominated in all three phases, and it began early with their special teams unit jumpstarting the walkover. Juanyeh Thomas’ block and Noah Igbinoghene’s return for a score off of New York’s opening possession deflated the crowd and opened the floodgates in the win.

Dallas’ special teams maven C.J. Goodwin doesn’t get credit for the block, but he’s the savvy veteran who noticed the Cowboys could exploit how the Giants line up on field goal attempts. Goodwin explained to Thomas what he had to do, and it worked out perfectly.

The block and return was an early momentum shift that saw a nine-point swing in the game, which is rare, and it gave Dallas control of the contest right out of the gate.

Rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey also acquitted himself well in his first regular season game. Aubrey missed his first kick, an extra point try, but made the rest of his attempts to give the Cowboys some confidence in his ability. With weather conditions being a mess, especially for a kicker, it was a solid debut for Aubrey.

Special teams is one-third of the game and the Cowboys badly outplayed the Giants in this phase as well.

What do you think is the biggest takeaway from the 40-0 Week 1 blowout for the Cowboys? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.

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