Cowboys 31 – Giants 20
by Damon Micalizzi for BigBlueInteractive.com
As much as it may pain some Giants fans to admit it, the Cowboys are a damn good football team. Even more agonizing to acknowledge is that Tony Romo is a damn good football player. While Sunday’s 31-20 loss to the Cowboys and Romo is sure to overload the Dallas Bandwagon and further strengthen Romo mania, a closer look at the game should give Giants fans a little piece of mind that should these two teams meet again, the result is not a foregone conclusion. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
They say football is a game that is won in the trenches. This game was a three-hour depiction of that age-old cliché. The Giants won six straight games with a dominating offensive line that protected the quarterback and opened up large holes for the running backs. They won six games with a dominating defensive line that plugged holes quickly and wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Simply put: they lost this game because they didn’t do any of that.
We’ve all heard that football is a game of adjustments. Eli Manning opened the game with five of the best throws I’ve ever seen him make. After the beautifully thrown deep out to Jeremy Shockey, Eli never really had much time to drop back and pass again. The offensive line without a doubt had their worst game of the season. However, statistically, at least from a yardage standpoint, the Giants and Cowboys played pretty evenly on offense. That’s amazing considering how poorly the O-Line played.
This season Manning has proved adept at getting the ball snapped with .05 seconds left on the play clock. I’m not sure what the cause of it was, but three delay of game penalties in the second half against Dallas are inexcusable. Whatever the case may be, those penalties are on Manning. The third and final delay of game penalty was undoubtedly the nail in the coffin as third and manageable, became third and long enabling the Dallas pass rush to stifle the drive and any chances the Giants had at tying the game.
However, aside from those backbreaking penalties, Manning had a hell of a game throwing the ball. The out routes to Shockey were perfectly placed balls where only Shockey had a chance to get them. He later hit rookie Kevin Boss on the same route while Shockey took a breather. On 3rd and 10 after the first delay of game penalty, Manning stepped up in the pocket to throw a 23-yard dart to Amani Toomer for a first down.
Yes Manning had two picks. On Manning’s first interception, his hand was hit as he let go of the ball causing it to sail high. The other INT was on a Hail Mary at the end of the game. When the offensive line didn’t crumble, and Manning wasn’t running for his life, he made every throw, and put the ball exactly where it needed to be.
It was great to see Shockey get involved early and often. It should be no surprise that with the increased roll in the passing game, Shockey’s blocking was extraordinary against the Cowboys as well. Shockey played like a man possessed. He caught almost everything thrown his way, and provided a safety net for Manning who was forced to get rid of the ball quicker than he would like several times.
Brandon Jacobs had to fight for every yard he gained and although his numbers don’t exactly jump off the page at you, he earned his paycheck on Sunday. There were seemingly no holes to run through inside, and Dallas linebackers were able to roam free. Still though, Jacobs was able to gain 95 yards, most of them coming running behind the blocking of Shockey and Plaxico Burress on the outside. It should also not go unnoticed the 30 yards in penalties that Jacobs induced by goading Dallas players to commit unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Both of those penalties led to Giants points.
**Note: Had Jacobs been flagged for taunting on those plays, I would have suggested he shut the hell up.
When you watch the game again, if you can stomach it, focus on the line of scrimmage. Dallas’ defensive front was quick off the ball and when they didn’t get into the backfield they pushed the offensive line back into Manning’s face. The offensive line was not able to open up any holes between the tackles and they were constantly back peddling into the QB’s throwing lanes. David Diehl got beat several times, but the unit as a whole, just seemed to be physically dominated by the Dallas defensive front.
How bad was the pass protection? Well in spite of all this, late in the second quarter, the Giants were seemingly in control of this game. Up 14-10 and looking at putting up some points before the half they had the ball with great field position, starting at the 42-yard line. Back-to-back-to-back sacks later, the Giants were punting at the two-minute warning, looking at 4th and 33.
Before anyone starts suspecting Plaxico Burress’ ankle is to blame for his quiet night against a team he torched just two months ago, the Dallas defense had Burress double-teamed in bracket coverage all game long. Shockey’s increased workload was a direct result of Burress being covered by both a corner underneath, with safety help over the top. The added safety attention to Plaxico let Jeremy find holes in the zones and man-to-man coverage that he hasn’t seen in years. Hence, the career high 12 catches for 129 yards.
Amani Toomer can still get open, but clearly has some trouble with an exceptionally speedy corner lining up opposite him. Jaques Reeves isn’t going to the Pro Bowl anytime soon, but he’s fast. And with Plaxico being doubled on every play, you would think Toomer would have done more than just catch 3 balls for 37 yards.
It’s moot now, but Sinorice Moss was a pump-fake away from a TD catch just before the half. On the pass from Manning to Shockey that set up the field goal, Moss had three steps on his man who was already looking back at Shockey. Moss looked quick gaining 13 yards on a short pass that made me wonder, why they don’t try that play on first or second down more?
It’s no coincidence that the obvious blown coverage on Tony Curtis’ TD catch for the game’s first score signaled the return of James Butler. On that play, Butler, still seeing Jason Witten in his nightmares from week one, over pursued Witten, who was running a short post route after chipping Umenyiora along the way, even though Gibril Wilson was in position to take Witten who was coming over the middle. Curtis was open for what seemed like forever, as Butler continued to stay with Witten, who was covered. Romo scrambled, stepped up in the pocket as if he were going to tuck the ball and take off and then with one foot on the line of scrimmage, threw one of the ugliest passes into the endzone for a score. The ball seemed to hang in the air for about 10 seconds, daring Butler to make a play. Butler, with his arms flailing towards Curtis got there about a minute and a half too late. What should have been a Cowboys field goal attempt was seven points instead.
The defense stiffened and played extremely well for the rest of the first half. That was, until the two-minute warning. Then the pass rush disappeared as Romo and the Cowboys put on a no huddle offense clinic. Three step drops, and quick outs to the tune of six plays for 58 yards and two Giants’ missed tackles later (Ross and Wilson), Patrick Crayton was placing the ball down in the endzone for a TD.
Before Crayton’s score, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora both had sacks and played well in the first half. They didn’t get much help on the inside. When the Giants were able to force a 3rd and long, and the quartet of Strahan, Tuck, Kiwanuka and Umenyiora came in to rush Romo, it seemed as if they were running stunts and twists that took too long to develop. The Cowboys were prepared to deal with the Giants pass rush. Using a single read scheme, with Romo in the shotgun, or using a three-step drop, passes were released quickly based on which way the safety went.
And, don’t be fooled by Jason Witten’s quiet night. That was by design as well. Witten’s first order of business on most passing plays was to chip the DE before going out into his route. In max protect, Anthony Fasano did a nice job blocking as well. Jason Garrett was not going to let the pressure come from the outside. IF the Giants were going to get to Romo, it was going to be from the interior, so that Romo could roll out and make plays on the move. Garrett’s game plan was executed well, and two blown coverages later, Romo had a huge game.
The first blown coverage was Butler’s on the Cowboys first drive. The second was on Sam Madison on Terrell Owens’ 50-yard TD catch. Once again, that quick one-read scheme led to a big play downfield. Michael Johnson came up on the play to cover Witten running a short route. Romo saw Johnson bite, and with Madison dropping back, he knew he had T.O. matched up against the smaller Gibril Wilson. The thing is, Madison, should have been there to help over the top. For some reason, he looked to want to jump the route to the outside and it wasn’t going that way. Wilson was left covering T.O. one-on-one with no help. Even worse, Madison took himself out of the play all together, and T.O. was able to score.
Madison had a rough night. Earlier in the game Owens abused him, when he tried to jam him at the line of scrimmage playing bump and run. Madison missed Owens all together, and that step was all T.O. needed. A three-step drop and no help from the safety who was again, coming up to cover the slot and the Cowboys had another TD.
Everyone on the Giants’ defense could have played better, even Gibril Wilson, who had a spectacular interception, and made several nice tackles on the day. If Wilson, or Aaron Ross were to wrap up Patrick Crayton on his TD catch just before the half, the score at the break might have been 14-13 Giants.
Ross, by the way, got beat a few times, but for the most part had a pretty good game knocking down a few passes that otherwise might have been first downs or big gains. He was also on the stupid penalty offender list when he was flagged for an illegal hands to the face penalty that sustained a Dallas scoring drive. Kevin Dockery also did a decent job in coverage.
No doubt about it Ahmad Bradshaw is special. Too bad the zebras saw a clumsy Cowboy fall down on his 83-yard kick return and flagged Kevin Boss for a hold. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game. Lawrence Tynes’ kickoffs are still less than good and although he made both of his field goal attempts, I still feel my stomach do flips before an extra point.
To Sum It Up…
What can you say? Once again the Giants had an opportunity to make a statement in a big game and they shot themselves in the foot. Yes there were the two “phantom” holding calls that probably took 11 points off the board. However, the Giants were also the beneficiaries of several stupid Dallas penalties that sustained drives that eventually led to points.
Could they have won this game? Without a doubt. Should they have won this game? No. All things considered, this game was lost at the line of scrimmage. You’re not going to win many games when you’re pushed around up front. No matter who your Quarterback is, or who he’s throwing to. In addition, the Cowboys’ game plan was superior. On D, they focused on stopping the run and taking away Plaxico Burress. On offense, they knew the Giants would be worried about Witten so they used him as a decoy and had him help keep Romo on his feet.
On the bright side, (if there is one) the Giants have yet to play a complete game this season. They have historically been notoriously bad after a bye. I have no idea why they refuse to burn those red jerseys. They are for the most part healthy. And if Manning to Shockey continues to be a staple of the offensive scheme they could be primed for a solid second half of the season. I hope that Burress’ added discomfort with his ankle is just the result of playing on it for the first time in two weeks. I hope that Steve Smith comes back relatively soon. And I hope that if they get a chance play Dallas again, we put a LB spy on Romo and have the Des play QB contain up front. And put Ross on Owens’ side.
But they shouldn’t be looking that far ahead. The bye week hangover and those hideous red unis are now behind us. If they can stay healthy and put it all together, they can finish strong and be a very dangerous team come playoff time. Let’s just hope they don’t screw it all up in Detroit on Sunday.