The New York Giants are undefeated, with a sterling 1-0 record after a thrilling win over the division rival Dallas Cowboys.
What did we learn in Ben McAdoo’s regular-season debut as head coach?
Giants’ offensive line
The Giants’ much-maligned offensive line largely played well against the Dallas front. They weren’t consistently great, but they were good enough to let the Giants win. Eli Manning generally had a comfortable pocket to work with, only under duress occasionally.
More surprising was the play of the line in the run game, with the Giants’ back tallying 115 yards on the ground on just 24 carries (4.8 yards per carry).
They faced a depleted unit in Dallas, and will have to prove themselves again against the New Orleans Saints, but it was a good start.
The Giants’ defensive line was stout against the run to open the game. Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon’s (who was a problem for the Dallas offense) reputations as fierce run defenders are proving to be well earned, particularly against Ezekiel Elliott.
Between Dallas’ quick passes and talented offensive line, the pass rush was largely nonexistent through most of the first half, but began to take effect towards the end of the second half. Eventually, the Giants began to get some hits on Prescott with a combination of blitzes. The pressure started to get to the Dallas quarterback much more regularly in the second half, helping to blunt the Cowboys' attack.
As you can expect from young players, it was a mixed bag. Rookie Sterling Shepard made some nice grabs in the first half, including a tough touchdown catch. However, he appeared to not be on the same page as Manning on a third-quarter interception, and was responsible for killing a drive with an alignment error.
Safety Darian Thompson made several critical tackles, as did corner Eli Apple. The Giants needed these young players to step up and they largely did.
Up and down for Eli
Eli Manning was sharp in the first half, but looked shaky in the second half. Manning picked the Dallas defense apart on second and third possessions, placing the ball exactly where it needed to be.
In the second half, Eli ended the first drive with an interception when Shepard simply stopped his route allowing Brandon Carr to come away with the ball. He threw Beckham out of bounds and missed Shane Vereen on the next posession.
Once the game reached the fourth quarter and the running game reasserted itself, Eli's play improved again, leading to Cruz's first touchdown in almost two years.
Victor Cruz gets his salsa on
Victor Cruz is back.
He made his presence felt in the first half with 31 yards in the first half to help set up Sterling Shepard’s touchdown.
In the fourth quarter he came back with a three yard touchdown reception. It was his first time getting his dancing shoes on since 2014. He ran a combination route with Larry Donnell, showing impressive patience allowing a void to grow in the defense, then his trademark quickness getting separation to make the grab.
John Jerry CAN run block!
This wasn’t quite our surprise of the night, but John Jerry played well in the run game. Shane Vereen and Rashad Jenning both ran behind him several times for big gains. He looked particularly good pulling to the left side, opening big holes for the running backs. Jerry was instrumental in the Giants’ final drive, repeatedly pulling to the left and opening highways for the Giants’ backs to pick up chunks of yards.
Will Romo start for the Cowboys again?
Dak Prescott wasn’t as great against the Giants as he was in the preseason.
He did, however, show a quick release and accuracy, frustrating the Giants’ defense and keeping the chains moving in the absence of a consistent running game. He also showed impressive strength to hold on to the ball even when hit, and courage to stand in the pocket in the face of the Giants’ pass rush.
He will be able to win games for Dallas against a less-stout rush defense. The question is if he will play enough to make Tony Romo the highest paid backup in the league.
The Giants are already better at safety
Third-year safety Nat Berhe got the start, and rookie Darian Thompson played plenty of snaps. Combined with sophomore Landon Collins, the Giants’ safety group is vastly improved over 2015.
Both Berhe and Thompson showed off their striking abilities, limiting the Cowboys’ yards after the catch and making several crucial stops.
Collins had a great game. He was a threat coming downhill, which was expected. His play in coverage, including denying Dez Bryant a touchdown, was unexpectedly impressive. A year’s experience and pounds lost are paying obvious dividends for the Alabama product. He needs to continue to work on his ball skills, as he was close to several interceptions.
The cardiac kids are back
If this game happened at any time in the last three years, the Giants would have lost.
But this time a competent four-minute drill, stout defense, and some bad clock management gave the Giants the win. In 2015 the tone for the Giants’ season was set when poor clock management snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and leave the door open for the Cowboys to win.
This time it was the Cowboys who were scrambling to get to the line of scrimmage as time expired. It’s the time of thrilling, come-from-behind win that Giants’ fans haven’t seen since the wild 2011 season.
Surprise of the game -- the Giants ran the ball
The big question was whether or not the Giants offensive line could even keep Manning upright, let alone open anything resembling a hole for the running backs. They weren’t consistent road graders, but the Giants didn’t just open holes, but they out-rushed the vaunted Dallas running game 115 yards to 86 yards (98 counting Prescott’s two runs).
If they can keep it up while the passing offense smooths out its wrinkles, this offense can be something special.