DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys are coming off back-to-back division wins where they dropped 37 points apiece on their rivals in each contest.
Looking to put the painful memory of a three-game losing streak firmly in their rearview mirror, the game nonetheless started poorly for Dallas on Monday night.
Miscues led to a 12-3 deficit and surely brought back visions of another dud at MetLife Stadium following a 24-22 upset loss to the New York Jets in Week 6. But, from the final two minutes of the first half through the end of the game, Dallas outscored New York 34-6 to retain their grip on the top spot in the NFC East.
After almost handing the game away early, the Cowboys remembered that they were playing a divisional opponent against whom they are unbeaten this season and kicked it into high gear where they were outright dominant over the final 32 minutes of game action. And then, after getting a big lead rolling in the second half, the defense unleashed the hounds so to speak.
The Cowboys defensive line harassed Giants rookie QB Daniel Jones to the point that the New York offense was almost non-existent. One of the reasons the Cowboys were able to take control was their recent addition of Michael Bennett.
The Cowboys went looking for help over the bye week – much like they did in 2018 when they sent a first round pick to Oakland for the services of Amari Cooper – and decided on addressing a desire to bolster the defense.
This year, the Cowboys were looking at Jets safety Jamal Adams as a big name acquisition but, due to the high price for the burgeoning star, the trade never came to fruition.
Ultimately, the Cowboys sought help in the trenches and sent a late-round pick to the New England Patriots for former Pro Bowl lineman Bennett. In his first game back in the NFC East – after a stay in Philadelphia last season – Bennett more than made his presence felt.
In fact, Bennett led the Cowboys defense with four quarterback hits, collected his first sack as a Cowboy, and contributed two tackles for a loss. With a wide-eyed rookie like Jones trying to find his way, limiting the time to make decisions and dropping him onto the dirt is what you’re looking to do to a young quarterback.
Bennett provided that in spades in his debut, and it eventually took a toll as Jones turned the ball over three times.
What Bennett does very well, and what the Cowboys called on him to provide, is the ability to inject some flexibility along the defensive line. Bennett is a defensive end by trade, so he can line up outside allowing DeMarcus Lawrence and/or Robert Quinn to attack from the inside.
But, as we saw in his debut, Bennett has the skill to rush inside and create havoc with stunts and twists.
Bennett’s style of play melds well in a four-down lineman front in a one-gap defense, which is what Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys play. Dallas was no doubt anticipating this compatibility when they brought Bennett in. The inability to thrive without this scheme in New England is perhaps why he wasn’t necessarily happy as a Patriot.
But Bennett isn’t considered to be a malcontent and that he displays a very high football IQ is another reason that the Cowboys made the trade.
Bennett excelled in Seattle under the leadership of current defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard. Indeed, Richard was the defensive coordinator for the Legion of Boom defense in Seattle in each of the three seasons that Bennett was named to the Pro Bowl (2015-2017).
While Bennett can be overly aggressive at times – as shown by an unforced offsides penalty on Monday – the effort is there. Jason Garrett and the coaching staff are more than likely in their final year to make some noise deep in the playoffs, so they definitely needed to find ways to improve the defense for what they are hoping is a return to postseason glory.
While he may look odd wearing Brett Maher’s shoulder pads, Michael Bennett is already a welcome addition to the defense.
And, with the team vying for the NFC East title again, Bennett is certainly a player to keep your eyes on down the stretch as the Cowboys begin to wade into the toughest part of their schedule in the coming weeks.
How are you feeling about the Cowboys now after the acquisition of Michael Bennett? Share your thoughts on the defensive line with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.