By Dwain Price
FRISCO – That New York Giants team the Dallas Cowboys defeated, 19-3, in the regular season opener will be decidedly different than the one the Cowboys will square off against Sunday at noon in New Jersey.
For starters, the Giants shuffled the deck on three of the top personnel in their organization. Head coach Ben McAdoo was fired Monday and the Giants named defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo as the interim head coach. Giants general manager Jerry Reese was also fired, and the team named assistant general manager Kevin Abrams as the interim general manager. And this past Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, the Giants didn’t play long-time starting quarterback Eli Manning, and instead benched him in favor of Geno Smith.
All of this drama will serve as the backdrop for the Cowboys (6-6) as they attempt to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. However, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett isn’t concerned about whether all the changes in New York will give the Giants a boost.
“We have to focus on us and our preparation and get ready for them,” Garrett said. “You know, lock in on what we need to do as coaches and players each day this week.”
Garrett can certainly relate to what’s happening with the anemic 2-10 Giants. Garrett was the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, but became the team’s interim head coach when Wade Phillips was fired on Nov. 8, 2010. Phillips was fired after the Cowboys got off to a 1-7 start. The Cowboys finished that season 5-3 under Garrett, whose first win, ironically was a 33-20 decision on the road over the heavily favored Giants.
Asked to compare the path he traveled to become the Cowboys coach to what the Giants are experiencing, Garrett said: “That was a particular situation that we had a few years ago, and we tried to handle it the best. The biggest thing we tried to preach to our guys is just to prepare for the opportunity that we have on Sunday.”
“It’s the same thing we’re preaching right now to our team, to get ready for this opportunity that we have,” he continued. “Each day’s worth of preparation is critical to allow us to play our best.”
Last week the Cowboys played their best game of the season as they spanked the Washington Redskins, 38-14. In the game, the Cowboys’ defense was very aggressive and played with more passion, the special team’s got an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown by rookie Ryan Switzer, and the offense saw running back Alfred Morris carry the ball 27 times for 127 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought our defense did a good job defending the run and really keeping the score down,” Garrett said. “I thought we tackled better in this game, even though we did have some missed tackles. I thought we were more physical in how we tackled and in forcing the opposing offense to earn it.”
More playing time for backup safety Kavon Frazier helped set an aggressive tone for the Cowboys’ defense. Frazier was second on the team with six tackles against the Redskins, including a pair of very hard hits.
“I was definitely pleased with my ability to strike – my hitting ability,” Frazier said. “I always knew I could get out there and deliver some blows, but just showing it on national television was definitely a big step.”
On the two big hits, Frazier made a point to point to his forearm. Why?
“I’m cold bloodied – I’ve got ice in my veins,” he said. “Just coming up where I came from you definitely had a little bit of a chip on your shoulder, so I will say I’ve had ice in my veins for a while now.”
Frazier reminds the Cowboys of safety Barry Church, who played for Dallas from 2010 until he signed a free agent contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past offseason.
“Kavon really took advantage of the opportunity that he got,” said Garrett, who became the Cowboys’ coach on Jan. 6, 2011. “He is a physical tackler, his presence is felt out there.
“He didn’t play a perfect game by any means,” he continued. “But he certainly played with confidence and played the right way.”
A 2016 sixth-round pick out of Central Michigan, Frazier has had to exercise some patience while waiting on increased playing time. And he eventually wound up stealing some playing time away from Byron Jones last week.
“Some games I might get 20 snaps and some games I might get none,” Frazier said. “I don’t know if I’ve had the best patience, but it paid off in the end. This last game I think people definitely saw what I’m capable of.”
Of course, the Cowboys didn’t have a totally flawless game against the Redskins as quarterback Dak Prescott completed just 11-of-22 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. It’s the fourth straight game Prescott has thrown for under 180 yards – all since running back Ezekiel Elliott was sidelined while serving a six-game game suspension for violating the NFL’s domestic violence policy. So what has Garrett learned about Prescott during Elliott’s absence?
“I don’t know that I’ve learned anything new, but I think it validates probably what we already know,” Garrett said. “Just the kind of competitor he is, how mentally and physically tough he is, how he can handle any situation with poise and composure and keep going.”
Prescott injured his throwing hand against the Redskins when he was tackled on an option play. Although Prescott went to the locker room for observation, he never missed a play and doesn’t lack confidence.
“Obviously at different times we didn’t execute quite as well, so that can impact just how you’re feeling about things,” Garrett said. “But his confidence in himself and his teammates really doesn’t waver. He just keeps going, keeps playing. I think we saw that the other night in the game.”