Sep 122007
 
 September 12, 2007  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
Dallas Cowboys 45 – New York Giants 35

by Damon Micalizzi for BigBlueInteractive.com

In Brief…

In a game that was just as painful for fans to watch, as it was for the players who underwent Monday morning MRIs, the Giants continue to be bitten by an injury bug that loves to strike on National TV against the Cowboys. Let me preface this whole thing with this: If Eli Manning misses any significant amount of time, you can pretty much flush this season down the toilet. In spite of the fact that our defense looked terrible and important players are seemingly dropping like flies, the only reason why any Giant fan can hold his head up high at work this week is because of the play of the Quarterback. Manning was nothing short of spectacular against a team that is considered by many to be the best in the NFC. Any questions as to who is the leader of the offense in the “Post-Tiki World” were answered emphatically on Sunday night. However, there are far too many other questions left unresolved.

Quarterbacks

You’d be hard pressed to find a pass that could be considered ill advised or inaccurate on Sunday night. He made every throw and he made every throw look easy. His interception was a perfectly thrown ball of which Plaxico Burress slipped on the buttonhook and the only one there was the defender. He stepped up in the pocket when it collapsed around him. He bought time with his feet. He threw to the sidelines. He threw it deep. He looked off the safeties to the right and then threw to the left. With Brandon Jacobs done for the game (maybe longer) and the lead grew to 14, when Dallas knew he was going to pass, he still went through his progressions and threw darts all over the field. He is the leader and in total control of the offense, often changing the play and directing traffic and taking the play clock down to :01 before the snap, but always getting the play off. Eli Manning is a gamer, who even after he was hurt, came back in and threw another touchdown pass before the trainers pulled the plug on him for the rest of the night.

In what was hopefully just his only cameo for the season, Jared Lorenzen slid short of the first down on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs and seal the game for the Cowboys. Many will say that the game was over at that point. I’m not going to argue that. The bottom line is, we don’t want to know what life is like without Eli.

Running Backs

The pit that everyone felt in the bottom of their stomach when Jacobs went down was eased a bit by Manning’s aerial attack and a somewhat impressive showing by Derrick Ward. Ward had a few nice runs mostly on cutbacks, which has the bread and butter of this offensive line under the Tiki administration. Ward looks to be serviceable and seemed comfortable running behind Reuben Droughns who did a nice job as the lead blocker. Ward did have a drop on a check down pass that could have kept a drive alive had he held on to the ball. He did catch 4 balls though, taking one of them in for a 9-yard score.

After watching Jacobs, albeit brief, I must admit, I was looking forward to seeing the Cowboys try to tackle him in the fourth quarter. His strength is like nothing I’ve seen from a running back since Bo Jackson. He’s just a bear to tackle. The first defender to meet him on every run seemingly went backwards at contact. That injury scares me though.

Without him, we may get a look at Ahmad Bradshaw out of the backfield a little sooner than planned. Bradshaw did a good job on kick returns save for one, where he fumbled. I do think the ground caused that fumble although, I’m not sure if contact led to him being down. Fortunately, we recovered the ball anyway.

Wide Receivers

Not bad for sitting out all preseason huh? Plaxico Burress was a monster to the tune of 144 yards receiving and three touchdowns. He did a very nice job of using his body to fight off the defender and make several tough catches for first downs as well. Amani Toomer continues to run perfect routes and catch everything that comes his way. He might have had a TD catch too, but Coughlin didn’t challenge the play. I think Toomer’s right toe was down when he first caught the ball, and that final step that was obviously on the chalk was moot. They didn’t throw the flag so we’ll never know for sure.

Steve Smith caught thee passes late all of them underneath, finding the hole in the zone and getting past the marker for a first down. Unfortunately, his best catch of the night didn’t count. Just before the half, where he laid out to catch the ball while falling out of bounds. He didn’t get his feet down, but it was a heck of a grab nonetheless. He followed that up with a ball that went through his hands in traffic that could have been a first and goal if he held on. Eli seems comfortable throwing to him though and he looks to be a viable option in the slot.

Tight Ends

Jeremy Shockey looked great, both as a blocker and a receiver. Gaining tough yards after the catch and blocking downfield for Derrick Ward. He was open more times than he was thrown to, however, on those plays it seemed Eli found someone who was just a little further down field. Every time he touched the ball though he punished the tackler. Thankfully, he escaped the game healthy.

Michael Matthews only made his presence known on one play. Just after the two minute warning, he whiffed picking up the blitzing nickel back who got to Manning’s blind side just as he let go of the ball.

Offensive Line

It’s hard to complain about a group that blocked for over a hundred yards rushing on just 20 carries and protected their QB on the way to 312 yards and 4 TD passes. Though he did face some pressure, for the most part Eli had time to throw and was only sacked once. David Diehl did a very nice job keeping Demarcus Ware out of the backfield and only got beat a few times by one of the best pass rushers in the game. On the right side Kareem McKenzie and Chris Snee opened some huge holes looked good in pulling and getting out in front on the toss to Ward for 44 yards. McKenzie was also heady on one play helping Jacobs stay on his feet while turning him up field and pushing the defender off to gain an extra yard or two.

Defensive Line

Pretty much from the get-go, this unit looked over-matched. In the first quarter, on the Cowboys’ first possession they held their gaps, and let the linebackers make plays against the run, but they weren’t able to get any pressure on the quarterback. Barry Cofield was able to get a good push a few times and was blatantly held on Witten’s second big catch of that first drive. Needless to say, the hold wasn’t called.

When Osi Umenyiora went down, Justin Tuck moved over to Osi’s side and Michael Strahan was forced to play much more of the game than he had anticipated and it showed. After the first quarter Strahan, who had a couple tackles against the run was for the most part silent. Tuck worked hard all night and though double-teamed, was able to get to Romo for a sack late in the third quarter.

Adrian Awasom actually got a good push on several plays from the edge, however never did he get close to a ball carrier. Manny Wright and Jay Alford both also got more snaps than they had been expecting. Wright did get under the pads of the OG a few times and held his gaps well. Alford’s most notable play was the low snap that led to the unsuccessful extra point after Eli and Plaxico’s first TD hookup.

Linebackers

I really don’t want to go overboard and call for an end to the whole Mathias Kiwanuka at linebacker experiment, but when he wasn’t rushing the passer or stalking a runner he looked lost to me against the Cowboys. No one should be surprised that learning how to cover is the hardest part of making this transition from DE to LB, and I don’t think that you can pin all of Jason Whitten’s wide openness on Kiwi, but man, did he look out of sorts in coverage.

So too did Antonio Pierce though. After Pierce and Aaron Ross teamed up on a nice tackle of Jason Whitten, holding him up short of the first down to force a fourth and one, he was virtually done for the night. On the following play (and seemingly every big play from there on), Antonio was seen flailing at the shoestrings of the ball carrier, a step (or two) too slow and just out of reach. That 4th and 1 run to the endzone by Marion Barber seemed to just take the gas out of the defense as a whole…. For the rest of the night.

Kawika Mitchell had two nice tackles early in the first half but he too was caught out of position in the second half more than a few times. He was always around the ball but always seemingly just a second too late.

Cornerbacks

Corey Webster started opposite R.W. McQuarters and did a decent job in coverage and was only beat once on a double move by Patrick Crayton. Other than that he wasn’t tested much. That’s probably because Romo had a field day exploiting the zone coverage over the middle. All night long. McQuarters got burnt two times. Once by Terrell Owens for a TD, which shouldn’t be too shocking and the second time by Sam Hurd. Never heard of Sam Hurd? Nor had I. That was the play though that put the game out of reach. 45-35 Cowboys.

Aaron Ross stayed out of trouble for the most part, as he wasn’t really tested. Again it’s hard to give credit to a defensive back for not being noticed much when the reason he wasn’t tested could very well be simply because Romo had better options over the middle.

Sam Madison was in on just a handful of play got the majority of his time on the field covering kickoffs. The only time I noticed Kevin Dockery was when he was limping.

Safeties

Gibril Wilson was maybe the lone bright spot on this defensive unit. With eight solo tackles and a pick, he had a very solid game. On the pick, he jumped in front of the slot receiver on a quick slant and made a nice grab. In spite of all of the action he saw, he really shouldn’t have been that busy, as he was often the last possible person to make the tackle due to his peers inept tackling and a gassed front seven.

The other star in the Sunday Night How Not To Defend Over the Middle Clinic was James Butler. Butler was in the screen on every big play the Cowboys had and much like the other two stooges earning (Pierce and Kiwanuka) was just out of position or late getting to the ball. I wonder if Craig Dahl will be active next week.

Special Teams

Lawrence Tynes was a pleasant surprise hitting all of his field goal attempts decisively and his kickoffs weren’t bad either. A little low, but deeper than I thought. Of course, he too ended up being looked at by the trainers so here’s to looking the gift horse in the mouth. Who knows? Didn’t Jay Feely seemingly kick it up a notch after breaking his foot last year? Let’s hope Jay Alford figures out how to get a little air between the ball and the turf on his snaps. After the botched XP his next snap was low as well, although Jeff Feagles did a nice job getting it down.

Coverage on kicks and punts was adequate yet unspectacular. Although, Michael Johnson had a nice forced fumble on kickoff coverage, stripping the ball to set up another Tynes field goal just before the half.

To Sum It Up…

I had to watch this game three times just to try to figure out what happened on defense. I still don’t know. It was very clear that they were out of gas in the second half. While they weren’t able to really run the ball down our throats, there was virtually no pass rush. I don’t know if it was the heat or the humidity, but I am reluctant to believe that Tony Romo is as good as we made him look on Sunday night. Quite frankly, Kent Graham could have hit on most of those passes, as the middle was consistently wide open. Of course Romo had all day to throw. A little pressure on the quarterback and this could have been a very different game. Adjustments will be made and guys might move around but if people keep getting hurt we’re in big trouble.

Three plays ultimately decided this game.

Fourth and 1… Marion Barber not only runs for the first down but also leaves Pierce in the dust and hurdles in for the score. That took a lot of steam out of the defense. Dallas’ O-Line had a much easier time after that play.

Jaques Reeves’ interception… Reeves’ INT didn’t even give the Giant’s D a chance to get a drink. Another Dallas TD. Barber’s TD on 4th and 1 and that INT is quite possibly a 14 point swing.

Sam Hurd’s 51-yard TD catch… When McQuarters was burnt for the final score of the night the game was not close enough to risk putting Eli back in. Enter Jared Lorenzen. Game over.

In spite of how poor the defense looked, this game was very winnable until the very end, thanks to the outstanding play of the quarterback and the receiving corps. I’m no doctor, but one thing that I didn’t see mentioned anywhere, was that when Spencer spun Eli down on his right shoulder, it was the second time he took him down that way. And it was the second time he landed on his right shoulder. I’ll bet he plays on Sunday. If he doesn’t things could get ugly quick against a tough Green Bay D.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 9, 2007)

A New Season; Old Questions

by David Oliver for BigBlueInteractive.com

After an interminable delay, it has started. And it had to be Dallas, or as John Madden says, ‘a rivalry game.’ There were many pluses and just as many minuses. After watching one pre-season game, I wrote that the Giants were at least an 8-8 team, with a potential to win 10 games. After watching one regular season game, I hold to the 8 and 8, but the potential looks more like 6-10. Ouch. The defense is pathetic and will hold its own only against pathetic offenses. There are some of those, i.e. the Jets, the Redskins; well you know the drill. Let’s start with an overview. The offense is solid, came out of the gate clicking and will keep the Giants in many games. Kevin Gilbride is a pleasant surprise and will be a keeper if it continues. Chris Palmer was always a Parcells favorite, and there is a reason for that. Eli is coming into his own. He was making his reads and throwing very catchable balls, spread around the field. The only thing missing right now is a Tiki back – someone coming out of the backfield as an escape valve or a threat in his own right. That is a huge hole. The question about BJ getting injured was never if, but when. Tiki was an unusually durable back, who like other great backs was skillful in avoiding the big hit, even as he could take a hit and keep going. That is not the norm today. I just keep getting flashbacks to Natrone Means, Fred Taylor (who quite possibly could have been one of the really great backs in the League, if…well, you know the if) and others who played in a system that used RBs until they were injured. The O Line was magnificent, particularly the right side which bottled up a furious rush time after time. The only question I have was left unanswered. I have been saying and believing since the move was made that David Diehl lacks the feet to hold off the speed rushers. He is more than adequate in the running game and can block any other rusher other than a speed end or speed blitzing defender. I’m willing to wait to see how he develops, but if the Giants don’t put some backfield help in there (Ward did make a couple of nice pick ups), Eli will get hit a lot in this offense. Too often no one was left at home and the left side rushers came unattended. Amani is back, Smith is going to be a good addition, Shockey needs to be out in the flat more and Plax is ready for a really big year.

The defense is another story. Every time I mention that the Giants do not have one credible, championship tackle, I get a chorus of how good Robbins and Cofield are. They are not. They are journeymen at best. All of the running was through the tackle slots or right up the middle and Pierce was forced to play as if he were a tackle. Pierce came to the Giants as a LB who could attack from sideline to sideline. If he is forced to stay in the middle to make tackles, that negates his strength and makes him an average, but dedicated LB. To boot, it is only a matter of time before he gets injured. Spags has designed a very aggressive D, which is good. The problem is that all the pressure is coming from the sides, the long way to the QB, and it is a step short. There was very little, if any pressure up the middle – no pushing the line back into the QBs face. Dallas has a very big O line so they may just have been better than the Giants and this was not an indicative performance. But I will continue to say that there is not one every down, consistent defensive tackle on this team. The secondary is a shambles. Wilson is the only player back there and he is a better up-and-tackle man than a cover man. I hate saying this, but the secondary is sorry. There is no need to identify blame – this is the second go round on this unit – neither has been successful. Johnny Lynn, at his worst, never fielded a secondary unit this pathetic. And every year they bring in about 15 defensive backs for a look. Yeech!! This secondary is going to be the cause of many broken clickers and a lot of beer consumption this year. I just placed an order for 300 shares of each – Bud and Molson Coors stock – might as well get some benefit out of the deal. The LBs – well, they aren’t like the 80s crew, but who can say how good they are playing behind this line and in front of these D backs.

Special teams looked decent and Tynes looks like the right choice, if they can get the ball into Feagles hands. Bradshaw will develop into a very good return man with experience. Nuff said here. It is patently obvious what will happen to this team if Eli goes down for any length of time, and its not pretty.

It is only one game and I am not writing off the season just yet. So on what do I base the opinions above. Let’s take a closer look.

Giants O 1: On the KO return Bradshaw was trying too hard. Opening jitters. Then Eli went to work. One pass to Toomer, one to Plax, nicely done. Everybody did their job as there was good line play, decent routes and good reads and connection by Eli. Bad snap on the extra point.

Giants D 1: Tynes KO into the end zone. Pierce made the first tackle. Then a play action pass with good coverage. Next a high snap but a good play by Romo. Kiwi was very slow in play recognition and was out of place. A blitz and tackle, then Kiwi stopped a run. It was looking good. All of a sudden, Witten was running free in the middle. Then Romo and his receiver were not in sync. A fake reverse, which the Giants’ D overshot, resulted in a first down. Julius Jones went up the middle for 5 yards, then up the middle for a first down, then he slipped and Strahan fell on him – Stra’s best play of the night. Jones again up the middle where Manny Wright made an appearance. On 3rd down, bad pass. Then a FG as Osi left for the dressing room.

Giants O 2: Bradshaw looked quick as he brought the KO to the 24. Jacobs had a nice cut back run; there were two penalties on Dallas resulting in a first down. Eli to Shockey for a first down. BJ around end for 7 yards. A pretty long pass, ruled out of the end zone, missing a TD by a toe. Ward for little gain; incomplete pass on 4th down.

Giants D 2: McQuarters had a good play on TO. Then a 3 yard run off tackle. Romo, with time, hit Witten for a first. Romo overthrew Witten, holding on the play. Dallas false start, then confusion on the snap. The Giants had a good rush but #91(?) missed the tackle. Marion Barber the showed his skills as he ran over Webster. Romo missed, Dallas punted. Things were looking ok at this point.

Giants O 3: BJ picked his way for a couple as the quarter ended. Eli to Toomer for a 1st down. Then the line showed some blocking strength as Eli threw to Shockey. BJ for a first, but a late penalty for a crackback block. BJ ran hard, broke the pile and got some tough positive yards. Eli hit Ward on a nice deep pass. Punt, 8-yard return, Butler on the tackle.

Giants D 3: Romo to Barber for 29 yards; Kiwi missed a tackle and Webster was just abused by Witten. Wilson made a nice stop. Then Romo floated one off his back foot, incomplete. Then Romo over the middle where Ross made the tackle, for his play of the night. Marion Barber broke a run outside; the containment was somewhere else. Dallas took the lead.

Giants O 4: By now Osi was gone for the Giants, Ferguson for the Boys. Bradshaw returned the kick to the 27. Eli to Burress. BJ off tackle, but Snee was called for a hold. Eli to Shock out of the backfield. Then Dallas blitzed, Plax fell and the ball was intercepted.

Giants D 4: Big rush, completed pass, but Dallas was called for an illegal shift. Jones went off tackle and it appears as if the deep I formation gives the Giants D some problems. I noticed this in the preseason game. Romo to Crayton for a first; Jones up the middle. The defensive middle was abused. A busted play and a flag for holding. A draw play for a couple, then Romo to Witten over the middle for a TD. There was no pressure on this play and Kiwi and McQuarters looked frozen. Madden started singing ‘Somewhere Over The Middle.’

Giants O 5: Bradshaw took the kickoff to the 24. The O Line protected Eli who hit Plax for 9. Ward had a very nice run behind a Droughns block. Eli to Ward for a first. Shockey then missed a block but Eli shoveled him the ball for positive yards. 2-minute warning. Eli got hit as he threw incomplete. Eli to Shockey who ran for a first. A draw to Ward didn’t gain much. Eli to Toomer. Eli QB sneak for the first. Eli to Toomer. Eli incomplete to Matthews. Eli to Plax for the TD. No one was even blocking the rush on the left side. Madden now singing ‘Three Blind Mice’ as Dallas is giving the Giants the Plax pass all night but the Giants appear not to want to keep taking advantage of the coverage.

Giants Special Teams: Michael Johnson recovered a fumble on the KO. Eli missed Smith in the end zone; Tynes hit a 44-yard FG.

Halftime. Madden spent a lot of time talking about the second-half preparation and endurance, saying the better-conditioned team would prevail. (This is a public service announcement).

Giants D 6: Big rush, complete pass, Cofield limps off. Jones off tackle for a couple. Another big rush with Romo hitting Witten. This was strength on strength and Dallas won. Ominous feeling. Jones went around end for 21 yards, the Giants appeared gassed as there was no support at all on the run. Picture of Madden rocking back and forth, biting his lip. He sees what’s coming. Romo to TO; nice play action pass as TO makes it a one-handed grab on his way home.

Giants O 7: Bradshaw dropped the ball on the return but the Giants recovered. Ward was met by half of Dallas as he gained nothing on the play. Dallas blitzed and got the sack and you could feel them picking up intensity. Pressure again but the O Line responded as Eli hit Plax. Ward around the end for 4; Ward up the middle for not much. Eli to Plax for a first. Eli, with a lot of time hit Toomer who was not his first read. This was a nice looking play. Ward run for nothing. Eli incomplete to Plax, Madden saying Plax needs to make that catch. Big rush as Eli thrown incomplete into the end zone. Tynes hits a 48-yard FG. The Giants are still in this game.

Giants D 7: Good defensive stand after a nice Dallas runback. Dallas threw incomplete, then Wilson and Pierce made a stop. Tuck blitzed and got a sack. Dallas punted.

Giants O 8: Eli throws incomplete to Shockey. Eli throws a flanker pass to Ward for positive yardage. Eli under pressure tossed to Droughns, incomplete. The LB came in free. Giants punted.

Giants D 8: Romo hit a wide open Witten on a play action pass for 38 yards. Madden rocking again almost as if this is painful for him to watch. Barber went around the left end with Flozell downfield making the block on #95. Imagine, Flozell down field, or upfield or anywhere but on the LOS! Barber runs and Robbins makes his second appearance of the night. Kiwi blitzes, but there is no contain and Romo runs 9 yards for his first NFL TD. 4 plays, 67 yards.

Giants O 9: Bradshaw had his best return, out to the 41. Ward for 4. Toss back to Ward who had a nice run up the middle. Three quarters complete and the Giants will not die. Eli checks off to Ward for a couple, then Ward for nothing. Eli incomplete to Smith, but a 5-yard delay of game on Dallas. Another Tynes FG.

Giants D 9: Squib kick returned to the 30. Romo, with time, hit Crayton for 25. Jones met by Pierce behind the line. Romo on play action hit a wide open TO for the TD. Wilson flagged for an unnecessary push. Dallas pulling away.

Giants O 10: Eli to Toomer for 20. Ward on an inside cut back gains 15. Snee threw a nice block. Pressure from Dallas, picked up, pass complete to Toomer. Ward around left side for the first down. Eli with good blocking hits Plax for 9. Ware beats Diehl and hits Eli. Droughns carries for first down. Diehl then hits Ware as Eli completes to Toomer. Diehl then false starts. On a nice looking play, Ward chips Ware, takes a shovel pass and goes for the TD. Eli was hit hard on this play. 2-point attempt failed as there was an illegal formation flag.

Giants D 10: Wilson gets the interception. Eli on the sidelines appearing hurt.

Giants O 11: Ward for 2. Quick toss to Smith to the 15. Eli to Smith for the first down. Eli to Toomer for minimal gain. Eli to Plax for the TD as Ward had a nice pick up block.

Giants D 11: Big run back on the KO. Jones run, Stra makes a stop. Flozell commits a false start – he is ready for the locker room and another meal. Jones run, Ross missed the tackle but the D chased and forced him out of bounds. Romo hit Hurd for 54 yard TD as McQuarters went for the ball, or Dancing With the Stars, couldn’t tell which.

Giants O 12: Lorenzen in the game. Watched this series, then went to bed.

So there it is. The offense, with Eli, will stay with anybody. The defense, with Eli, couldn’t be much worse because it is going to suffer, lose players to injury, and will thank the offense for every long TD drive. This is the second shuffle of the player deck under the watch of the esteemed Leader. He had better get it right soon or this season will be hell. I am glad I will only get to watch the Redskins games and the Sunday night games. All I can say is that it looks as if, after all these years, we fans have gotten our offense. The only problem appears to be that the defense took the last train to the coast. With Eli, 8 and 8. Without Eli, it’s too early in the season to even contemplate it.

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