Jan 162008
 
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New York Giants 21 – Dallas Cowboys 17

Game Overview: It’s usually a big stretch to say that one game wipes out 47 years of history.  But that’s exactly what transpired last Sunday.  The Cowboys first played the Giants in 1960.  A dreadful expansion Cowboys team finished that season 0-11-1.  Who was the tie against?  You guessed it?  The Giants.  The Cowboys have dominated the regular-season series 54-35-2.  Obviously, many of those losses came when the Giants were at the nadir of their history from 1964-1980.  But there were some very, very tough losses to the Cowboys after 1980, including (but not limited to) the late season losses in 1985 and 1993 for the NFC East Division title, as well as the 35-0 loss at Phil Simms’ retirement ceremony.

All of that was erased on Sunday.  The Giants and Cowboys had never played in a game as meaningful as this one.  Not even close.  More than that, the Cowboys were the #1 seeded team in the NFC and widely expected to be the NFC’s Super Bowl representative.  No #1 seeded team had ever lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990.  To have the #5 seed, a bitter division rival, come into your house and knock you out of the playoffs is simply devastating.  The post-game reactions from Jerry Jones, Tony Romo, and Terrell Owens were just gravy on top of all of that.

If the Giants go no farther in the playoffs, this season will be long remembered as a positive by Giants’ fans just because of this one game.  At the same time, Cowboys’ fans will only remember the pain from just this one loss.

Payback is a bitch.

As to the game itself, if you read my game preview, you know I thought the Giants would win.  But to be brutally honest, I am not really sure how they won.  I expected the Giants to play better than they did and the Giants are damn fortunate to have come away with a victory given the lopsidedness of the statistics in Dallas’ favor.

Dallas out-gained the Giants in plays (71 to 44), net rushing yards (154 to 90), net passing yards (182 to 140), total net yardage (336 to 230), and time of possession (36:30 to 23:30).  If one team so dominates a game’s stats in this fashion they almost always win the game, unless there is a significant turnover differential.  But Dallas did not turn the ball over until its final offensive play.  The Cowboys did make costly mistakes however.  There were 11 penalties for 84 yards (New York only had 3 for 25 yards), bad throws, and dropped passes.

Long-time readers of my game reviews (I didn’t do the regular season reviews this year) know that I’ve long harped on compartmentalizing games in terms of the number of possessions a team has.  This game was strange in that both teams only had eight possessions.  The Giants had four in the first half and four in the second half.  The Cowboys had three in the first half and five in the second half.  So scoring chances were at a premium.  The weird thing is that Dallas took so long to score on two of their possessions that they did not leave much time for other scoring opportunities.  Usually a team wants to control the clock, but in Dallas’ case, it worked against them in this particular game.  I don’t really buy the argument that this was some sort of scheme the Giants planned.  After all, since the Giants were blitzing early and often and playing tight man-to-man coverage, it wasn’t a bend-but-don’t-break style of defense.  I honestly think it just worked out that way.

If the Giants are to advance to the Super Bowl, they have to play much better on both sides of the ball than they did against Dallas.  I doubt Green Bay makes as many mistakes.

Offensive Overview: It was feast or famine for the Giants on offense.  As I said above, the Giants had eight offensive possessions.  They scored touchdowns on three of them (drives of 77, 71, and 37 yards).  But the other five drives ended with punts.  And two of those drives were quick three-and-outs, and two others were five-and-outs.  The Giants only held the ball for 23 minutes and 30 seconds.  The four short drives were not only a factor in this skewed time of possession battle, but so were the quick strike touchdown drives in the first half.

Quarterback: My general impression right now, and this is pure conjecture on my part, is that Eli is playing better because he is confident and he is having fun.  He seems more in charge of things on the field, more demonstrative, and more excited.  He certainly is smiling a lot more than I’ve seen him after a win.  What has caused these changes?  I don’t know.  Some have pointed to the Patriots’ game, others speculate the play calling has changed, others think he has finally begun to mature.  Who knows?  But we are seeing the development of a pro quarterback right before our very eyes.  That does not mean there will not be future horrible plays, bad games, ugly losses, etc.  Those days never end for a quarterback.  You just hope to minimize the bad.

Keep this in mind – Manning has played at a consistently high level for the past three games against three of the very best defenses in the NFL this year, and two of those were in pressure-packed road playoff games.

Manning played well.  Not perfect.  But very well.  He completed 12-of-18 passes for 163 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.  Once again, there were no picks or fumbles.  That was huge.  But Manning did not just manage the game; he helped to win it.  His 7-play, 77-yard, 46-second drive at the end of the first half will go down as one of the best drives in New York Giants’ history.  Dallas had clearly taken control of the game before this possession with their monstrous 20-play, 10:28 drive to take a 14-7 lead.  But that momentum and control quickly evaporated as Manning found WR Steve Smith for 22 yards, Smith for 11 (tack on a 15-yard face mask penalty), TE Kevin Boss for 19 yards, and WR Amani Toomer for the 4-yard touchdown.  His 19-yard strike in particular was a perfect pass.

On the game-winning touchdown drive, Manning hit Toomer for 13, Smith for 4, and Smith for 11.  The last pass was crucial as it came on 3rd-and-6.

The negatives?  Manning did miss an open WR Plaxico Burress deep on a flag pattern on the second drive of the game.  He also had two errant throws on the aforementioned 77-yard drive.  Lastly, on the 3rd-and-4 play where Manning was sacked late in the 4th quarter, Manning had Toomer all alone to his left.  He looked in his direction, but for some reason did not throw the ball.

Wide Receivers: I’ve been writing in recent weeks that the Giants need to replace Amani Toomer in the offseason and he goes out and makes me like an idiot for the second week in a row.  Toomer was the headliner at receiver once again, this time catching four passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns.  His first reception was a short curl route that he broke two tackles on en route to a 52-yard score.  His third catch was the 4-yard touchdown reception at the end of the first half.  Amani also had an important 13-yard reception on the game-winning drive.  Where Toomer also stood out to me was his run blocking, such as HB Brandon Jacobs’ 10-yard run on the first drive of the game and HB Ahmad Bradshaw’s 11-yard run on the second drive of the game.  Toomer did drop one pass.

Plaxico Burress, having problems with CB Anthony Henry, was surprisingly invisible, only coming down with one catch for five yards.  If you had told me that the Giants would have won this game with Plaxico doing that, I wouldn’t have believed you.  It looked like Burress aggravated his ankle injury at the end of the first half.

Other than Toomer, where the Giants did the most damage was with throws to Steve Smith against nickel CB Jacques Reeves.  Smith had four catches for 48 yards.  Two of those catches were crucial on the 77-yard touchdown sprint before the half, including the 22-yarder that started the drive (Smith did a nice job holding onto the ball too despite a big hit).  And Smith had another extremely important catch for 11 yards on 3rd-and-6 on the go-ahead touchdown drive in the 4th quarter.

Running Backs: Brandon Jacobs finished the game with 54 yards on 14 carries (3.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown.  It looked like he would have a bigger day as the Giants ran the ball well early in the contest.  Jacobs’ first carries went for 5, 10, 5, 0, and 9 yards.  But after those first two drives, Jacobs had a harder time with his runs going for 0, 1, 8, 4, 2, 1 (TD), 6, 3, and 0.  Note to Brandon:   I love you big guy and I know you hate Dallas just as much as we do, but please don’t slam the ball into the clock again.  That could have drawn a costly penalty.

Ahmad Bradshaw finished with 34 yards on six carries (5.7 yards per carry).  In stating the obvious, the Giants have found themselves a really nice football player in Bradshaw.  He’s not very big, but he is instinctive, tough, and elusive.  Bradshaw cuts well to daylight and won’t back down from contact.  It is interesting to note that Bradshaw is seeing increased playing time, even early in football games now.  He entered the Dallas game on the second Giants’ possession.  He first made a 6-yard gain (running over SS Roy Williams) on a quick throw from Manning on 3rd-and-1.  Then he broke off runs of 11 and 8 yards.  However, he did come up short on 3rd-and-2 and the Giants were forced to punt.  On the go-ahead touchdown drive, he had a real nice 8-yard run down to the 1-yard line that set up Jacobs for the touchdown.  It is interesting to note the Bradshaw was in the game on the Giants’ last offensive attempt to run out the clock.

Madison Hedgecock did not play as much as he did against the Buccaneers but his blocking remained strong.  For example, he made a key block on Bradshaw’s 8-yard run in the red zone.

Tight Ends: There was only one throw to Kevin Boss, but it was a big play in the game – a 19-yarder down to the 4-yard line with 11 seconds before the half on 3rd-and-10.  The Giants scored the tying touchdown on the very next snap.  The Giants also shift Boss out wide at least a couple of times and took one shot deep to him in the end zone.

Interestingly, the Giants used more two tight ends this week than the 1-TE, 1-FB formation that they had used against the Buccaneers.  This probably had to do with facing the 3-4 defense of the Cowboys and outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis.  Because of this, Michael Matthews saw the field quite a bit (despite playing with a dislocated shoulder).  I tried to watch Boss closely.  At times, he did a nice job of blocking down on his man on outside runs, such as Bradshaw’s 11-yard run.  But other times, he had problems.  For example, he couldn’t handle LB DeMarcus Ware or LB Anthony Spencer on two Jacobs’ runs that was stuffed.  Sometimes the Giants have him lined up in the slot too to block pursuing linebackers.

Offensive Line: The offensive line played better than they did against Dallas in New York, but there were some rough moments against a very tough front seven of the Cowboys.  There were three sacks, but Manning was only hit one other time.  The run blocking was inconsistent.  There was one nice play where Boss blocked down on the end while LT David Diehl and LG Rich Seubert pulled to their left to lead Bradshaw for a good gain.  But this drive later stalled when Diehl and OC Shaun O’Hara (who gutted it out on a sore knee) couldn’t keep their respective opponents out of the play on a failed 3rd-and-2 running play by Bradshaw.  RG Chris Snee looked good pulling on one play on Bradshaw’s 8-yard run down to the 1-yard line, but he also missed Ware on one pull on a run by Jacobs that was limited to a 2-yard gain.

As for the sacks and pressure, Seubert gave up a 10-yard sack on 3rd-and-7 in the second quarter.  Diehl and Seubert also got confused on a stunt where Manning got hit as he threw.  McKenzie, who gutted the game out on a bad ankle, got beat cleanly to the outside for a costly 9-yard sack when the Giants were threatening in the third quarter.  The last sack was more of a coverage sack.

Giants on Defense: Even though the Giants only gave up 17 points, I thought the defense played poorly for much of the game.  The Cowboys had three offensive drives in the first half and scored touchdowns on two of those drives, once marching 96 yards in nine plays and then 90 yards in 20 plays.  It wasn’t bend-but-don’t break; it was bend-and-break.  The Cowboys converted on SIX third downs on the 20-play drive.  SIX!  Ironically, in the first half, I thought the depleted secondary played better than the front seven.  New York’s run defense in the first half was pathetic as HB Marion Barber gouged the Giants for over 100 yards on 16 carries.

In the second half, it looked like it was going to be more of the same.  Dallas’ opening drive of the third quarter was a 14-play, 62-yard effort with two more third-down conversions (Dallas was an unacceptable 10-of-16 on third down).  Had Romo not badly missed a wide-open Owens down near the goal line, a touchdown instead of a field goal would have been the result.  After that possession, Dallas was held to 53 yards on their last four possessions.  But again, the Giants dodged a huge bullet when a wide-open WR Patrick Crayton dropped what may have turned out to be an 83-yard touchdown catch and run.  The biggest problem was that, until the 4th quarter, the Giants were hardly pressuring Romo.  In the 4th quarter, the linebackers and defensive linemen started to pound on him.  At this point, with CB Aaron Ross out of the game with injury, the Cowboys had guys running free in the secondary all over the place but Romo couldn’t connect.  Yes, the Giants were responsible for rattling Romo, but they were also very fortunate too because, as I said, there were guys wide open.  The Giants held on by the skin of their teeth.

Defensive Line: I wasn’t impressed.  Once again, the Giants’ vaunted front could not get enough pressure on Tony Romo.  Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had to keep dialing up blitzes in order to do so, putting more pressure on the secondary.  There were some flashes.  Michael Strahan (8 tackles) got two hits on Romo as did Osi Umenyiora (3 tackles and a pass defense).  DE/DT Justin Tuck (1 tackle) and DT Fred Robbins (0 tackles) hit him once each.  But that was it for the defensive line.  And Robbins and DT Barry Cofield (1 tackle) were abused by the inside Dallas running game.

As I mentioned above, most of this pressure came in the 4th quarter, as Umenyiora in particular started to get more heat.  His pressure on Romo was a factor on Romo missing a wide-open Owens in the red zone on 3rd down, leading to a field goal instead of a touchdown.  He also rattled Romo once on each of Dallas’ last two desperate drives of the game.  On LB Kawika Mitchell’s sack, it was Strahan who originally forced Romo from the pocket.  If Tuck doesn’t hit Romo as he is throwing on Romo’s deep pass to Owens on 3rd-and-20 late in the game, Dallas may have won the game.  Owens had gotten behind James Butler on the play.

In run defense, Umenyiora made one nice play where he stretched out a play for no gain, but he also got caught too far upfield on Barber’s 20-yard run at the end of the first quarter.  Umenyiora also couldn’t make the play in run defense on a 10-yard run by Barber early in the third quarter.  Strahan got run on once to his side, but also made a nice play on the goal line.

Linebackers: Not good against the run in the first half and not good against the pass in coverage against Witten in the second half.  In the first half, the only one who made some plays was Kawika Mitchell (6 tackles, 1 sack), but even he had his problems.  Mitchell was flagged for a bad face mask penalty on the first Cowboys’ offensive play of the game.  He (along with both defensive tackles and Antonio Pierce) got blocked on Barber’s 36-yard run.  Mitchell was also blocked on the 20-yard run.  To his credit Mitchell made three plays in run defense on the 20-yard marathon of a drive (though he did miss one tackle too).  In the second half, Mitchell sacked Romo for a 14-yard loss after he had been flushed from the pocket.  However, he had some problems in coverage against TE Jason Witten.

Pierce (2 tackles) was invisible for much of the game.  In the first half, he sniffed out a screen pass that fell incomplete.  He was embarrassingly run over by Barber on one play.  But Pierce did come alive for one key series in the game.  After the Giants had gone ahead 21-17, a couple of blitzes by Pierce up the gut unsettled Romo.  One of these was absolutely critical as it forced Romo out of the pocket, where he was sacked by Reggie Torbor.  On this play, CB R.W. McQuarters had been beat badly deep by WR Miles Austin for what would have been a touchdown had Romo been able to get the ball off.

Reggie Torbor (5 tackles, 1 sack) got blocked on one play on the 20-yard drive and made a nice play in run defense on the same drive.  In the second half, he tackled Barber for a 2-yard loss and sacked Romo after Pierce had forced him out of the pocket.

Defensive Backs: It wasn’t always textbook, but for the second game in a row, CB Corey Webster (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) handled the opponent’s best receiver one-on-one.  Owens, who did not appear to be affected by his ankle injury, only managed four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.  And he was shut out completely in the second half of the game.  Most of the time, it appeared that Webster was on him, including aggressive man-to-man coverage at the line of scrimmage.  Had Webster turned around to play the ball, he would have done even better.  There was one 13-yard reception to Owens where Webster was right on him, but didn’t play the ball.  And Webster got cleanly beat on the 5-yard fade pattern for a touchdown.  Owens also beat Webster for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-7 on the 20-play drive.  But that was it.  Owens did no more damage against Webster.  Webster’s biggest snafu of the game was dropping a sure interception and possible defensive score on the 20-play drive when the receiver (Terry Glenn) fell down.  Webster also needs to play off blocks better in run defense (see Owens’ block on him on Barber’s 20 yard run).  In the fourth quarter, Owens ran a stop-and-go on Webster and Webster just got a finger on the ball to deflect it a bit and cause an incompletion.  On the very next play, Crayton caught a 16-yarder against Webster.  Webster was in good position to make a play on the ball, but Crayton fought for it harder.  Webster was flagged with a potentially costly illegal use of the hands penalty on Owens on 3rd-and-9 late in the game.  Romo tried to burn Webster deep again with a deep shot to Crayton into the end zone on Dallas’ second-to-last play, but Webster had decent coverage on the play.

CB Aaron Ross (5 tackles) gutted it out with a dislocated shoulder until a second hit on the shoulder forced him to leave the game for good.  In the first quarter, Ross made an excellent tackle on an attempted bubble screen to WR Patrick Crayton.  Ross expertly avoided the block from TE Jason Witten and hit Crayton hard for a 3-yard loss.  Even after he injured the shoulder, Ross continued to be very aggressive in run defense.

CB R.W. McQuarters (3 tackles, 1 interception) was one of the heroes of the game with his game-securing interception on 4th-and-11 in the end zone.  Earlier in the game, on Dallas’ 20-play drive, McQuarters got beat by Owens for 20 yards on 3rd-and-10 down to the Giants’ 17-yard line.  A few plays later, McQuarters did a nice job of jamming Owens at the line of scrimmage and causing an incomplete pass in the end zone.  In the 3rd quarter, Romo was able to fire a 19-yard completion to WR Terry Glenn on 3rd-and-7 against 2-deep coverage between McQuarters and Gibril Wilson.  After the Giants went ahead 21-17, McQuarters had an eventful series.  First he helped to tackle Barber for a 1-yard loss.  Then he did a good job knocking away a slant pass intended for Crayton.  However, he was beat by Jason Witten for 14 yards and a first down on 3rd-and-11 on the very next play.  Later in the drive, McQuarters was badly beaten by Miles Austin deep but Romo was sacked on the play.  McQuarters was flagged for a defensive holding penalty on later in the fourth quarter.

It was a nightmare scenario for the Giants when Ross got hurt and CB Geoffrey Pope (1 tackle) was forced to enter the game.  There is no way that the Giants wanted to rely on Pope in this game on defense, but they were forced to.  An undrafted rookie free agent who was cut by the Dolphins and a Practice Squad player, this was Pope’s first NFL game.  And surprisingly, Pope did not embarrass himself and was not exploited by the Cowboys.  However, the Giants did get very lucky on 3rd-and-13 in the third quarter.  On this play, Romo scrambled to his left and found Crayton who had been originally covered by Pope on the play.  I don’t know if he got away from Pope or if McQuarters was supposed to pick him up, but Crayton had a shot at an 83-yard touchdown catch and run if he caught that ball.  On the next drive, Glenn beat Pope bad for what should have been a first down on 3rd-and-13 again, but Romo’s pass was off the mark due to pass pressure.

I thought the safeties stunk in run defense.  And were only slightly better in pass defense.   I have no idea what SS James Butler (5 tackles) was doing on Barber’s 36-yard run.  He ran right up to Barber and tossed himself to the ground as Barber simply ran past him.  Just horrible run support!   To his credit, Butler did make one play behind the line of scrimmage against Barber.  But he also almost cost the Giants the game when he allowed Owens to get behind him on 3rd-and-20 late in the 4th quarter.  That should never happen in that situation.

FS Gibril Wilson (10 tackles, 1 pass defense) got lost contain on Barber’s 20-yard run.  On the 20-play drive, Wilson could not get over fast enough to cover Glenn on an 11-yard 3rd-and-7 completion as the corner blitzed.  A few plays later, Butler was fooled by play-action and easy 11-yard completion down to the 2-yard line was the result.  Wilson’s poor run defense continued in the third quarter on Dallas’ field goal drive.  Wilson misread Barber on one play and took himself out of the action on a 10-yard gain.  He then lost his contain responsibility on another 5-yard run.  To his credit, Wilson did knock away intended for the tight end inside the red zone later on this drive.

Michael Johnson deflected one pass way up into the air on a safety blitz.  Johnson missed a tackle on Barber late in the game after a short pass.

Special Teams: PK Lawrence Tynes did not attempt a field goal.  His last extra point attempt was very ugly and this could have proved devastating had he missed it.  His kickoffs were fielded at the goal line, 7 (squib kick), 1, and 8-yard line.  Coverage was good.  Dallas returns went for 23 yards (Domenik Hixon on the tackle), 29 yards (Chase Blackburn), 21 yards (Zak DeOssie), and 15 yards (DeOssie).

P Jeff Feagles average 37.2 yards on five punts, with two inside the 20-yard line.  However, unlike him, he also had one inside-the-20 effort bounce into the end zone.  Punt coverage was excellent as Patrick Crayton was limited to eight yards on two returns.  David Tyree downed one punt at the 4-yard line.  Making tackles on returns were Madison Hedgecock and James Butler.

Hixon returned three kickoffs – for 21, 27, and 45 yards.  Ahmad Bradshaw had one kickoff for 13 yards.  The 45-yarder by Hixon did not lead to points, but did help to change the field position battle again.

The biggest special teams play of the game was R.W. McQuarters’ tackle-breaking 25-yard punt return that helped to set up the game-winning touchdown the second half.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, January 13, 2008)
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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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