New York Giants: An unlikely hero in Romeo Okwara starred in win over Cowboys 1
Dec 11, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive end Romeo Okwara (78) sacks Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) in the 1st half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

With Jason Pierre-Paul done for the season, the New York Giants needed an unlikely hero. Romeo Okwara was that guy in win over Cowboys.

The New York Giants are coming off their biggest win of the season.

Their 10-7 narrow victory over division rival Dallas Cowboys was everything the Giants needed to silence the critics who no longer believed in the 9-4 side following their devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the week before.

The Giants dominated the Cowboys on the defensive side of the football, holding rookie Dak Prescott to the worst game of his career, and containing star receiver Dez Bryant for most of the game. New York put on a dominant performance on national television, putting the rest of the NFL on notice for how good the defense has become this season.

However, the star of that defense came from an unlikely place.

Romeo Okwara, the backup defensive end filling in for the injured Jason Pierre-Paul, was fantastic against a Cowboys’ offensive line that many consider the best in the NFL. Okwara finished the game with eight tackles, including one sack, as he was absolutely dominant from the defensive end position.

Certainly, the sack was an incredible highlight for Okwara’s night, as it was the first of his career, and forced the Cowboys to punt during a crucial point in the second quarter, but realistically, one play perfectly encapsulated Okwara’s performance.

On a key third down in the second quarter, the Giants brought a blitz, as they did for most of the night, in an effort to keep Dak off balance. Prescott wisely checked down to third-down back Lance Dunbar, who was promptly knocked out of his shoes by a looming Okwara. The play not only showcased Okwara’s incredible athleticism and power, but also demonstrated his wisdom beyond his experience. Very few rookie defensive ends would be able to identify and stop the check down the way Okwara did, and the Giants benefited massively from it.

In fact, the Giants rookie played so well that his ability warranted more play time than anyone expected. Though Okwara was expected to be part of a rotation of defensive ends replacing JPP, he was so dominant against Dallas that head coach Ben McAdoo opted to keep him in the game. Okwara played 60 of the Giants’ 66 snaps on defense, while Kerry Wynn played just four. Owa Odighizuwa was sidelined with a knee injury.

Nov 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Giants defensive end Romeo Okwara (78) during the third quarter between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Giants won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

When asked about it after the game, McAdoo was extremely complimentary of his rookie defensive end saying, “(Okwara) Was obviously inspired. Played at a high level, played with a great motor. Encouraging to see.”

Considering Okwara played just 20.1 percent of snaps and had just 12 total tackles coming into the game against Dallas, to say he surpassed expectations is the understatement of the century. Romeo was so dominant that he arguably made the Giants’ defense better than they have been in any game this season. On a night where New York dominated the line of scrimmage, Okwara was a star, not only filling in for JPP, but doing so with flying colors.

While the JPP injury figured to be devastating for the Giants moving forward, the emergence of Okwara has lessened that blow significantly. Certainly, it’s just one game, but the absence of Pierre-Paul forced defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to use Devon Kennard in more obvious pass rushing situations, which made Okwara significantly more effective.

If the Giants can shut down Dallas’ high-powered offense, they should have no problem with any of the other teams remaining on their schedule. Thanks to the play of Okwara, New York no longer has to sweat over the state of their defense, and can once again focus on reigniting the offense and making a serious push towards the playoffs.

Billy Nayden is an SMU Mustang from Connecticut born and raised on New York sports. Avid fan of nearly every sport from MMA to handball. His heart is in NYC, but Billy has seen games on multiple continents, and has frequented arenas ranging from high school gyms to world class meccas.