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NFL’s ‘best’ defense? Cowboys stake their claim in pummeling of Giants


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Following an offseason of going up against the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive line in practice, Dak Prescott was more than happy to see the vaunted front terrorize a different team.

“Watching that (pass rush) come alive against another quarterback was exciting,” the Cowboys quarterback said after the 40-0 shellacking his team put on the New York Giants on Sunday night. “Made it easier for us on our side.”

Indeed, Prescott and the Cowboys offense needed not to be explosive, but simply to take care of the ball. The defense, particularly the pass rush, and special teams took care of the rest.

“I think we were making a statement which I’ve been trying to make,” linebacker Micah Parsons said. “We’re the best defense in the National Football League.”

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones was sacked seven times and hit 12 total times. He was pressured on 62.9% of his throws. The cornerstone of New York’s offensive line, left tackle Andrew Thomas, injured his hamstring following the first drive of the game while trying to track down a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. Thomas played through the injury but was hampered through the night.

That first run-heavy drive was the lone time in the game the Giants moved the ball with any success. Head coach Mike McCarthy said the Cowboys expected that, as teams will try to extinguish Dallas’ pass rush by running it early and often. Dallas did not stray from its strengths, though.

“We took the first step the right way and played to our identity,” McCarthy said. “We took the ball away. We ran it.”

Jones’ second interception of the game – the first was returned by DaRon Bland for a touchdown when Trevon Diggs lit up Saquon Barkley on a short pass attempt – came as a direct result of Parsons pursuing Jones toward the sideline from behind.

Osa Odighizuwa and Dorance Armstrong each had two sacks, while Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Chauncey Golston each had one.

“When your defense plays like that, yeah, you don’t have to press anything,” Prescott said.

He added: “You don’t see a lot of wins like this.”

McCarthy, in his first game as playcaller in Dallas following the departure of former offensive coordinator Kellen Moore (now with the Los Angeles Chargers), dialed up more runs (30) than passes (25) as his team raced out to a sizable lead.

The weather played a factor in that as well, McCarthy said. Rain – torrential at points –had an obvious effect on the playing conditions. And the Cowboys, despite being a team that plays its home games indoors, were prepared.

Three times this week Dallas practiced wet-ball drills. Running back Tony Pollard, who had 70 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, said the extra practice “definitely” helped and that he knew what to expect while holding the heavier ball. Prescott said that several times upon receiving the snap he felt like he was holding “a ball of water.”

The Giants also had to deal with a slippery ball but didn’t handle it as well. They put the ball on the ground five times and were lucky enough to only lose possession once, when Cowboys cornerback Diggs punched the ball out from receiver Isaiah Hodgins’ hands after a 24-yard catch-and-run. Dallas recovered its lone fumble.

Mother Nature had no impact on the guys going after Jones and the Giants, though.

“We are the same any type of weather, any type of place,” said Lawrence, who notched his 11th sack in 16 contests against the NFC East rival.

Lawrence traced the pass rush’s success back to the arrival of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who “changed our front tremendously,” in 2021. That season, the defense tied for the league lead in turnover differential (+14). In 2022, the Cowboys were second (+10), trailing only the San Francisco 49ers, the team that knocked them out of last year’s postseason. In that NFC divisional-round game, Prescott threw two interceptions and Dallas lost the takeaway battle 2-1 in the 19-12 defeat. The quarterback opened 2023 with a clean sheet.

A lot of good can come from going up against Parsons, Lawrence and Co. in practice, Prescott said.

“Whether it was speeding me up, forcing me to check down quicker, making my feet move, making my decisions faster,” Prescott said.

Sometimes, the rep may have technically been a sack, but the nature of practice and letting the play develop regardless of the pass rush also helped.

“I can tell you that after a lot of the plays and things that happen in practice,” Prescott said, “I was thankful those guys are on our team.”

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