Dec 072005
 
 December 7, 2005  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
New York Giants 17 – Dallas Cowboys 10

Game Overview: There is something very comforting to a Giants’ fan to see their team’s defense kick ass and that’s what the Giants’ defense did on Sunday. Dallas really only mounted one viable offensive drive all game as the Giants’ front seven dominated the line of scrimmage, intimidated QB Drew Bledsoe, and largely kept HB Julius Jones in check.

The Giants are all alone atop the NFC East. If they can get the passing game cranked up again and somehow figure out a way for PK Jay Feely to revert back to his earlier season form, this will be a tough team to beat down the stretch. But there are no guarantees and the Giants still could miss the playoffs as they have to prove they can win on the road, with three tough road games remaining.

Quarterback: Let’s get this out of the way first, before I comment on the big picture. Eli Manning (12-of-31 for 152 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) played like crap on Sunday. He was not helped by a number of untimely dropped passes and inconsistent pass protection, but he needs to do better. On a couple of his incomplete throws, it looked like the intended receiver and Manning were not quite on the same page. His worst series in the first half was right after the Giants recovered a fumble on the Dallas 22-yard line. Manning badly overthrew a wide-open Shockey in the end zone for what should have been a 24-yard touchdown pass. On the very next play, with a rusher in his face, Manning badly underthrew Burress in the end zone and the pass was intercepted. To his credit, Manning did complete a number of key passes on both scoring drives in the first half, including two important passes to Tim Carter.

In the second half, under pressure again, Manning threw an ill-advised pass intended for Burress that was intercepted and returned to the Giants’ 7-yard line. Dallas scored on the next play and cut the Giants’ lead to 17-10. Unfazed, on the very next offensive snap, Manning threw a perfect 52-yard deep pass to Carter that was dropped. In the 4th quarter, the Giants mounted a drive that looked like it might result in points, but the drive stalled when Manning overthrew Shockey, underthrew Toomer, and was pressured into an inaccurate throw on 4th-and-6.

Now let’s turn to the big picture. The amount and type of criticism that Manning is receiving right now from journalists and fans is retarded. In each game review I have written, I have tried to accurately and fairly present the good and the bad in the development of Manning this year. But some folks don’t seem to understand that young quarterbacks who have only played in a handful of games are works in progress. For most, it takes a few years to even begin to start playing near their top level. And I’m not blowing smoke out of my ass based on what has transpired this season; I warned people of this back in the offseason (see my article from July 2005).

The development of a quarterback is not easy. And the progress is not linear. There are ups and downs, something we’ve seen all year with Manning. Fans screaming about his performance on Sunday seem to forget how well he played against Seattle and Philadephia. Before that, he played a terrible game against the Vikings. Fans and journalists complain he isn’t playing as well as he did early in the season. Guess what? The defenses he is facing are better now people! I have no idea what kind of quarterback Manning will eventually evolve into. No one does, unless they have some God-like power to see the future. My guess – based on what I have seen – is that he will be quite good and possibly even great. But to expect him to reach that level without any growing pains is unrealistic at best, and stupid at worst. Manning is still learning how to read NFL defenses, how opposing defensive coordinators are trying to confuse him, and the Giants’ own offensive system. He also is still developing chemistry with his own teammates.

And let’s get one thing straight: Eli Manning is the offensive leader and ringmaster of a team that is 8-4 and in first place in the NFC East. He has thrown 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and the Giants are one of the highest-scoring teams in the League. Much of that has occurred BECAUSE of Manning, and not despite him. Manning has demonstrated a coolness under fire and a knack for leading him team from behind that separates ordinary quarterbacks from great ones. You can’t teach that.

Recognize that his development is a growth process and that he will continue to have good and bad games.

Wide Receivers: The wide receiving corps had a very unproductive day. Burress had four catches for 47 yards, Toomer one catch for 8 yards, and Carter two catches for 48 yards. Much of this was on Manning, but the receivers are also to blame. There were times when the receivers and Manning did not seem to be on the same page. And while Carter came up big early with two key catches, he also dropped a perfectly-thrown 52-yard pass right after the Cowboys cut the Giants’ lead to seven points. Later, he didn’t really adjust well to a 3rd-and-3 pass when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.

Burress did not play well either. He got away with a flagrant hold on one Barber run that picked up 10 yards. Later, he caught a 3rd-and-8 pass short of the first down marker, but was brought down by one of the wimpiest tackles you have ever seen…it was almost as if he knew S Roy Williams was in the area. The Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. Burress was flagged with offensive pass interference on a deep sideline pass when he shoved the defender way of him (this should have been an illegal contact penalty on Dallas) and then dropped the football. Late in the game, when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock, Burress misplayed a well-thrown fade pass by Manning and the Giants were forced to punt.

Toomer also dropped a high pass from Manning on the drive that ended with Feely’s missed field goal.

Tight Ends: Shockey was a virtual non-factor in the game. He caught two passes for 20 yards. His blocking was so-so. He got pushed backwards on one 3rd-and-2 run that lost a yard.

Running Backs: I’ve praised the run blocking of FB Jim Finn in recent weeks, but Sunday was not one of his better efforts. There were too many times when his intended target played off of the block to get in on the tackle of Barber. Finn did have a key 15-yard reception on third down. But Finn dropped a pass too.

Except for one run (a 27-yard, spinning effort), it wasn’t pretty for Barber, but it was effective. Dallas usually dominates the time of possession, but they did not do so on Sunday as Tiki and the offensive line continually hammered the football into a very stout defensive front. The final numbers were 115 yards on 30 carries (3.8 yards-per-carry average). The 27-yarder was a great run because Tiki somehow kept his feet when a low, attempted tackle spun him around as he was getting hit by a second defender. Great run. Some of Tiki’s most productive runs came out of the shotgun. Barber remains sharp on his blitz pick-ups, but he did drop a pass from Manning too.

Brandon Jacobs did well on both of his short-yardage efforts. One resulted in a 1-yard touchdown and the other a 3rd-and-1 conversion.

Offensive Line: A decent effort, but I was not particularly happy with OC Shaun O’Hara (who had fits with NT Jason Ferguson) and RT Kareem McKenzie (who had fits with DE Greg Ellis). Both Ferguson and Ellis caused problems on the pass rush and in run defense despite the fact that the Giants’ OL gave up no sacks (there was one coverage sack) and the team rushed for 127 yards. The Giants’ first drive ended when Manning was under pressure as McKenzie and LG David Diehl allowed immediate pressure. On the second drive, a 3rd-and-2 rushing attempt was stuffed when O’Hara was pushed way back into the backfield. Barber later lost two yards, when McKenzie’s man penetrated, and then two plays later, O’Hara did not pick up the stunting end, and Manning’s pass to Burress was intercepted in the end zone. In the second half, McKenzie gave up another pressure on a 3rd-and-12 pass that fell incomplete. Later, O’Hara missed the blitzing linebacker and Manning’s pass to Burress was intercepted again. On the drive that ended with the 4th-and-6 incompletion, O’Hara allowed another pressure on an incompletion, McKenzie did not make his block on a 2-yard run, and then McKenzie allowed another pressure on the 4th-and-6 incompletion (to his credit, McKenzie did get a good block on the 27-yard run by Barber).

Luke Petitgout bounced back with a fine game against a quality opponent (DeMarcus Ware). He did pick up one false start however. Chris Snee made some very good blocks, including an excellent pulling block on the Jacobs’ touchdown.

Defensive Line: The defensive line dominated the Cowboys’ offensive line. Starters DE Michael Strahan (7 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defense), DE Osi Umenyiora (4 tackles, 1 sack), DT Kendrick Clancy (4 tackles, 1 forced fumble), and DT Fred Robbins (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) all shined brightly as did reserves DE Justin Tuck (2 tackles, 1 forced fumble) and DT Kenderick Allen (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery).

The defensive line, with the occasional blitz, harried Bledsoe all day. And the Cowboys could never generate any kind of consistent ground game. Strahan was particularly active against the run, including from the backside. His two sacks were huge in that they helped to end Dallas drives when momentum had shifted back to the Cowboys. One was a quick outside rush while the other was an inside power rush. And Strahan was involved in a number of pass pressures that resulted in incompletions. Strahan was flagged with one neutral zone infraction.

Umenyiora continues to play well, picking up another sack to lead the Giants with 11 (tied for first in the NFL). He combined with Antonio Pierce to stuff one run for a 3-yard loss. His sack came on an inside move – something he has used to great success in recent weeks. Osi’s best play of the game came on a 2nd-and-3 misdirection toss, where he was originally fooled. He quickly changed direction and chased down the elusive Julius Jones before he could turn the corner. Dallas could not pick up the first down on the ensuing play and the Cowboys were forced to punt.

Kendrick Clancy played very well. The highlight, of course, was his quick penetration against the Dallas center, leading to a fumbled QB-HB exchange that was recovered by the Giants for a touchdown. This was the play of the game. But Clancy played well throughout and was very tough against the run at the point-of-attack (he also caused a holding penalty). So was Fred Robbins, who played his best game of the season. Robbins was flagged with a costly encroachment penalty on 3rd-and-5, however, that helped Dallas get out of a hole deep in their own territory.

And interesting formation had Umenyiora playing left end, Strahan left tackle, Allen right tackle, and Tuck right end. In this formation, Tuck stripped Bledsoe of the football and Allen recovered. Tuck also continues to see some snaps at defensive tackle in passing situations as the Giants strive to find a way to get him, Umenyiora, and Strahan all on the field together.

Allen made a good play on a screen pass late in the game, causing a 1-yard loss.

Linebackers: The trio of Antonio Pierce (7 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 fumble recovery for a TD), Carlos Emmons (6 tackles), and Nick Greisen (5 tackles, 1 pass defense) played well. There were a couple of plays where they overpursued against Jones on cutback runs, but for the most part they were very good in covering their gaps and stuffing the run. Pierce is just naturally instinctive against the run and against screen passes. He is also excellent in pass coverage. The big play he made was picking up the fumble and returning it for a touchdown. Emmons made a big hit after a short completion and Greisen made a number of strong tackles near the line of scrimmage (though he did miss Marion Barber on one 3rd-and-1 conversion that picked up 6 yards).

Defensive Backs: Bledsoe only completed 15-of-39 passes for 146 yards. The pass rush was a big factor in that success, but the defensive backs also played well. Terry Glenn was held to three catches for 37 yards and Keyshawn Johnson had two catches for 16 yards. That was it for the Dallas wide receivers!

Curtis Deloatch (1 tackle, 1 pass defense) did get beat by Glenn for a 7-yard touchdown right after the Manning interception. But he had good deep coverage on Glenn on a deep shot in the first quarter. Deloatch broke up a pass intended for Johnson late in the game.

Will Allen (4 tackles) continues to play well. He combined with Gibril Wilson on one deep shot to Glenn that fell incomplete. Late in the game, Allen also had good coverage on a pass to WR Patrick Crayton that fell incomplete.

Early in the game, it looked like Frank Walker replaced Corey Webster in the nickel package. But after two penalties on Walker, that experiment ended. Walker had good coverage on Glenn on a 3rd-and-8 slant, but stupidly wrapped his arm around the waist of Glenn (he didn’t need to do this, but this is a problem Walker has had throughout his career). Later, the same drive was kept alive when Walker was flagged with a late hit on a 3rd-and-12 incomplete pass. The penalties helped to alter the early field position battle in Dallas’ favor.

When Webster came into the game, he had good coverage on a slant pass to Glenn that fell incomplete.

The Cowboys’ biggest completion to a wide receiver – a 22-yarder to Glenn – came against Gibril Wilson (5 tackles, 1 pass defense). Wilson also badly missed a tackle on Julius Jones’ 25-yard screen pass (knocking Pierce off of Jones in the process too). Wilson did a good job of tipping away a deep pass to Johnson that was intercepted by FS Brent Alexander (5 tackles). And Wilson made a sure tackle on Jones late that kept the back inbounds and the clock moving.

Alexander and James Butler were lucky that a deep throw to Glenn on Dallas’ last possession fell incomplete as Glenn got behind both defensive backs. The completion would have given the Cowboys the ball at the Giants’ 45-yard line with over a minute left to play. James Butler did intercept a deep pass intended for Glenn near the end of the third quarter.

Special Teams: A mixed bag this week. The bad news was that Feely missed a 33-yard field goal and the Giants have to be concerned that this has become a mental thing for Feely. The miss was particularly damaging as it would have given the Giants a 10-point lead with just over five minutes left to play.

The other negatives were that the Giants gave up a 26-yard punt return as Deloatch and Butler lost contain. I don’t really see what Coughlin sees in Chad Morton as a kickoff returner (I prefer Willie Ponder). Morton did have one decent return of 25 yards, but lacks Ponder’s straight-line explosiveness. Morton also inexplicably fair caught two punts with plenty of room to operate. On the day, he averaged 20.3 yards per kick return and 3.0 yards per punt return. Not good. David Tyree was also flagged for being offsides on one Cowboy punt.

The good news was that Jeff Feagles punted very well in tough conditions. He averaged 44.7 yards on six punts, including two that were downed inside the 5-yard line. Tyree downed both of these punts and got in on two special teams tackles. Butler did a good job of getting down the field and forcing a fair catch on another punt. Kickoff coverage was outstanding as Dallas was held to 16.5 yards per kickoff return.

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 4, 2005)
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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season.

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