New-look defense helps Cowboys get first win over Giants at new stadium
SEP 08, 2013 10:46p ET
It had been a major source of embarrassment that his team had lost all four home games to the Giants since the grand opening of Cowboys Stadium.
But on Sunday night, the Cowboys jumped out to a big lead over the mistake-prone Giants and then held on for a 36-31 win. Nothing about the 2013 season was decided on this night, but you couldn't tell it by listening to Jerry.
"I was so desperate, I changed the name [of the stadium] to get a win," said Jones, referring to his new naming-rights deal with AT&T. "You gotta try something."
It would be foolish to draw a lot of broad-sweeping conclusions from a season-opening win, but Jones has to feel validated for some of the decisions he made this past offseason.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his longtime associate Rod Marinelli installed a 4-3 scheme that was supposed to lead to a lot more takeaways. And it took exactly one play for the Cowboys to produce their first of the season.
On his first play from scrimmage, Eli Manning tried to loft a screen pass to tailback David Wilson. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware plucked the throw out of midair to give the Cowboys the ball at the Giants' 15-yard line.
The Cowboys caused two more turnovers in the first quarter and finished with six in the game. It was the first time in club history to have three takeaways in the first quarter.
This was as rattled as I've seen the Giants in years. But because the Cowboys failed to capitalize on several opportunities, the Giants only trailed 13-10 at the half. Perhaps New York will take some solace in the fact they had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter despite all their mistakes. But head coach Tom Coughlin wasn't ready to talk silver linings after Sunday's loss.
"I'm totally, totally disappointed and embarrassed by that kind of football," Coughlin said. "That's sloppy, sloppy football. We have control over ourselves. We have to recognize situations that are going to lead to those kinds of things and then you can't turn the ball over. You can't win turning the ball over."
Giants quarterback Eli Manning amassed 450 yards passing and four touchdowns against the Cowboys, but it wasn't enough to overcome all the turnovers.
On their second possession, the Giants quickly drove to the Cowboys' 8-yard line. But on first-and-goal, Wilson was stripped by safety Barry Church and the ball was recovered by George Selvie.
Maybe this is why Kiffin and Marinelli made players watch so many hours of old Tampa Bay Buccaneers film. Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, who had the game-clinching interception return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, said he and his teammates complained at times because the coaches wouldn't stop talking about takeaways.
"We practiced scooping and scoring every single practice," Carr told FoxSportsSouthwest.com. "They wanted it to be second nature for us. And tonight, we weren't taking that half-second to think about things. This is a giant step in the right direction."
Early in the third quarter, Wilson was stripped by defensive tackle Nick Hayden and Church scooped it up and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown to give the Cowboys a 20-10 lead.
Hayden sat out last season after reaching an injury settlement with the Cincinnati Bengals. He said he was sitting on the couch watching games with his wife at this time last season. He and journeyman defensive end George Selvie were basically signed as training camp bodies.
But with starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list and Anthony Spencer recovering from arthroscopic surgery, Hayden and Selvie emerged as starters. Selvie gave Giants rookie right tackle Justin Pugh fits, and Hayden was disruptive in the middle of the defense.
"Selvie and I have similar stories," Hayden said. "So we became good friends right away."
The Cowboys had six takeaways (one on special teams) for the first time since Dec. 14, 2003 at Washington. Head coach Jason Garrett has stressed takeaways since taking over midway through the 2010 season, but it never seemed to take.
Former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan overloaded his players with information. There was too much pre-snap confusion, and that's why Jones opted to replace Ryan with Kiffin.
"It's simple. Our coaches can spend more time on technique and less time on the system," Jones said of Kiffin's defense. "[Last year] it was fairly complicated, and you had a pretty big playbook. If you're going to [have all the takeaways], you might as well do it against the Giants. You can't count on six takeaways every time out, but having it happen early in the season like this should really help our confidence."
Jones finished a long interview session by expressing his appreciation for LeBron's support of the Cowboys. And he alluded to his reserve offensive lineman Phil Costa's "sweet thing," who is also known as Hulk Hogan's daughter.
It wouldn't be Jerry if he didn't provide an entertaining sideshow. But for one night, the team on the main stage captured most of the attention.
We'll soon know whether Sunday night's win was a one-hit wonder.