Instant Analysis: Cowboys’ defense assaults Giants, Rush clutch in 23-16 win

My how quickly things change. Nine days ago Cowboys Nation was, as a whole, throwing in the towel on their season. After failing to score a touchdown in the season opener and losing their franchise quarterback, the malaise of the offseason was quick to turn into frustration and fury for the fanbase. But then Cooper Rush came out and led two touchdown drives to start the game against Cincinnati, and then a game winner to even the club’s record.

Now, following a great second-half response to falling behind for the first time since Week 1, the Cowboys sit at 2-1 on the year. They overcame drops, horrendous officiating and a rowdy road crowd for the first time in 2022. Rush was precise, calm cool and collected and Dan Quinn’s defense once again terrorized an opposing QB. The final result, a 23-16 victory that saw Dallas run for 176 yards and collect five sacks.

The game was over when...

… the refs were forced to finally call penalties on the Giants for holding. With under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, New York was trying to mount a comeback, trailing by 10. Needing two scores, they were able to get into field goal range but on third down, the Dallas pass rush came through again. There was an obvious tackle by the left guard, and still safety Donovan Wilson came in for the sack. Daniel Jones flung the ball but was called for intentional grounding just to avoid the sixth sack of the day.

He was pressured 23 times, a career high in his four years in the league. They kicked the field goal and then kicked off, but the Cowboys were able to run the clock out and seal the win.

Key Stat: 13

After five more on the game, that’s the total number of sacks the Cowboys have through three games, leading the NFL. Lawrence got his first three, Armstrong got No. 3 and No. 4 and Wilson checked in with one.

The Cowboys led the league in forced turnovers in 2021, and now they are leading the league in sacks. Dan Quinn might not just get a head coaching job next year, he might be able to run for president in 2024.

Game Ball: Tank Lawrence

5 tackles, 2 sacks with 5 total pressures, 2 TFL.

That was Lawrence’s first half. After being blanked in the first two games of the year with zero pressures recorded, Lawrence absolutely feasted on rookie RT Evan Neal. On the opening drive of the third quarter came sack No. 3.

Unfortunately, Lawrence hurt his left foot later in the drive, when safety Donovan Wilson recorded Dallas’ fifth sack of the game. He did return to the game.

Game Ball: QB Cooper Rush

The stats won’t show it, but Rush performed about as well as anyone could dream of. Unfortunately, he was betrayed by bad drops and lack of extension on a couple huge throws, plus he suffered the refs. Still, he was quite impressive in his second-straight start. After falling behind 13-6, he led an impressive tying drive immediately pulling Dallas back even.

He then orchestrated an drive through the air that included a clutch four-yard completion to Lamb on fourth down, and a beautiful pass over the defense where only Lamb could catch it. Rush stood tall and became just the third QB in Cowboys’ history to win his first three starts while finishing the game.

Quick Hits

  • The Cowboys haven’t been good enough this season to warrant the conversation, but for the first time all season it happened. I’ve long contended that NFL referees have an edict to make calls that tend to keep nationally-televised contests close if they can, and that certainly seemed to be the case in the first half. Micah Parsons was religiously held, ticky-tack holds were called on Dallas and not New York, and then the non-call DPI in the end zone that stole 4 points from the Cowboys when it would’ve been a Noah Brown TD.

  • CeeDee Lamb has been anointed, but he cannot have those kinds of drops. Following a huge 3rd-and-12 run by Ezekiel Elliott for 27, Rush had all day in the pocket and Lamb had broken wide open. Lamb attempted to make a body catch and it caromed off his chest. Touchdown wasted, Dallas ended up punting on the drive.

  • Speaking of the punt, Lamb dropped a tipped pass that would’ve brought Dallas closer, but instead left a 58-yard attempt by big-leg kicker Brett Maher. Head coach Mike McCarthy chose to punt, went for a delay of game to get more field room, but the Giants declined. Then Pro Bowl punter Bryan Anger failed to down the ball in the field of play, resulting in just a net of 20 yards.

  • On Jason Peters’ first play as a Cowboy, Dallas ran Tony Pollard right between him and rookie Tyler Smith and he was sprung for a 46 yard gain.

  • Can a player have a redemption arc in the same game? The effort that Lamb put in on the drive that gave Dallas a fourth-quarter lead was extremely impressive considering where he was after the drop in the first half. He had four catches, all for first downs or a touchdown, including a 4th-and-4 quick pass when he was absolutely punished and held on. His one-handed one-yard catch was classic Lamb.

  • They didn’t talk about it on the broadcast, but Trevon Diggs left the game with an apparent foot injury in the fourth quarter. Fortunately he was able to return after missing a drive, and sealed the game with his first interception of the year.

  • The balance in the run game was phenomenal. Tony Pollard had 13 carries to Ezekiel Elliott’s 15 and they both made the Giants suffer throughout the contest.  Elliott had a big 27-yard run in addition to Pollard’s huge run early, and the two were working until the final whistle to the tune of 176 yards on 30 carries.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire