Count it as a complete team effort with Dallas dominating their rivals for all four quarters of the season debut. The Cowboys won in all three phases on their way to a win as impressive as you’ll see in a Week 1 tilt.
Perhaps most impressive is a blowout of this magnitude wasn’t the expectation coming into the game, conventional wisdom had the Giants as a team that had closed the gap on the Cowboys in the NFC East. If that gap was the Hudson River, the experts had it right.
On a day where the football across the league wasn’t crisp, the Cowboys played nearly perfect, scoring touchdowns on special teams, defense, and offense on their way to the NFL’s only shutout performance and first 40-point effort in 2023.
For all the hand-wringing about head coach Mike McCarthy not playing most of his starters in the preseason, it didn’t matter after the first 11 plays. The Giants put together a strong drive to begin the game, but John Fassel’s special teams unit made sure that it wouldn’t cost the team.
Juanyeh Thomas led a jailbreak on a 45-yard field goal attempt, which the safety blocked, and newcomer Noah Igbinoghene returned it 58-yards for the game’s opening score. From that point on, the Cowboys controlled the contest and never looked back.
Working the newly installed Texas Coast offense, quarterback Dak Prescott led the Cowboys on a field goal drive on his first possession and it didn’t take long for the defense to put the team back on the scoreboard. On a 3rd & long for New York, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones dumped the ball off to star runner Saquon Barkley, who was hit by Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs, whose tackle popped the ball loose. Dallas CB DaRon Bland intercepted the jarred pass and ran it back 22 yards for the score. At 16-0, the game had already felt over, and for Jones, he might have wished it were.
It wasn’t a normal way to score to start a season, but it proved that this year has the makings to be a complete Cowboys team.
Before the first quarter was over, the beatdown was on. Much like the rain in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the Dallas’ defense would be an unrelenting force that Jones could not escape. The newly minted $40 million QB was running for his life most of the night and threw two interceptions on his way to passing for just 104 yards. It was an embarrassing display from a quarterback that had been touted as having surpassed Prescott on the QB hierarchy.
Dan Quinn’s defense allowed just 171 total yards while collecting three takeaways, picking up where they left off the last two years. Two of the turnovers were forced by Diggs making tackles. The first one led to a score, and the second was a forced fumble on a punchout after allowing a reception. Diggs’ physicality has been brought into question, but that wasn’t the case on this night.
The third turnover came via a stellar play from one of the Cowboys’ biggest offseason acquisitions, Stephon Gilmore. The veteran cornerback hauled in an interception in the second quarter that led to a touchdown from running back Tony Pollard five plays later.
Freshly cemented starting running back Pollard had an efficient night, just as he’s done in the previous three years as Ezekiel Elliott’s understudy, producing when he’s called upon. Pollard excelled on a light workload, gaining 70-yards on 14 carries, and scoring twice.
McCarthy’s new offense, and the one he’s calling plays for now, didn’t have an explosive first game, but they were effective. Prescott completed 54% of his passes, but there were a few drops from his tight ends, including one by Peyton Hendershot on a perfect throw that would have resulted in a touchdown.
A modest night from the offense never mattered. Despite the lack of gaudy statistics, Prescott and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s crew looked comfortable and weren’t rattled by a defense that can pressure an offense with an elite defensive line.
The night belonged to the defense, though. The Cowboys harassed Jones all night, while holding Barkley and new weapon, TE Darren Waller, in check. The duo totaled just 99-yards and were rendered ineffective while Dallas was piling on the points.
They very well could have labeled it Sack-Tember as the season kicked off as, all told, Dallas brought down the elusive Jones seven times.
The Cowboys were favored coming into the game but one could have foreseen an outcome like this. Most experts acknowledge that the Cowboys have one of the better rosters in the league, but those same pundits predicted that the Giants would challenge the Cowboys in 2023.
That wasn’t even close to the case in Week 1, where the Cowboys delivered the fourth-biggest shutout to open a season in league history and the franchise’s biggest debut blowout since also beating the Giants 35-0 to kick off their last Super Bowl campaign back in 1995. It was a dominating performance demonstrating that these Cowboys are on another level, on both sides of the ball.
And it came from a team that didn’t play any starters in the preseason, with a backup left guard, on the road, and with an untested new offense in the rain. Wins like this are rare, and they only happen when you have a really good team.
One week into the season, that’s exactly what the Cowboys appear to have.
Which part of the Cowboys’ 40-0 debut win was most impressive to you? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.