Dec 182008
 
 December 18, 2008  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
Dallas Cowboys 20 – New York Giants 8

By Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Summary: Texas Stadium has not been kind to the New York Giants over the years, and this past Sunday was no different.  The Cowboys and their unusually large defensive front 7 simply manhandled the Giants up front, and tossed Eli Manning around like their kid brother in the backyard.  Despite equally strong pressure from the Giants’ front 7, Cowboy signal caller Tony Romo (despite taking some brutal shots) and rookie HB Tashard Choice were able to make enough plays to hang 20 points on the defending champs and keep their playoff dreams in sight.  I found myself wanting to turn away from the action at a few points, simply unable to watch Eli get whipped down to the turf again against a relentless pass rush.  Make no mistake, the Giants’ OL got absolutely abused from the opening whistle and it lasted all game long.

Truth be told, both defenses played outstanding football for most of the game, but when it mattered most, Dallas QB Tony Romo and his gang made the plays the Giants were unable to.  The teams combined for six punts on six possessions in the first quarter, until the Cowboys were able to put together a 4-play, 58-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead.  Up to that point, the Giants’ furious and relentless style of defense paid dividends until a 22-yard screen pass to HB Tashard Choice caught the Giants flat footed and a 34-yard pass from a scrambling Tony Romo also exploited the Giants’ aggressive defenders.  Back came the G-Men on a 66-yard drive that resulted in a John Carney FG and the deficit stood at 7-3, which it would until the fourth quarter.

Again it was the Giants’ aggression that backfired on a 23-yard delayed handoff to Choice that put the ‘Boys on the Giant 15-yard line and in position to take an 11-point lead on another Romo TD Pass.  The lead was one they would not relinquish despite an odd 5-point swing in which Romo was sacked for a safety and Eli Manning threw three straight incompletions from the Dallas 29 that resulted in another Carney FG and a more manageable 5-point deficit for the Giants.  Any hope of a comeback was squashed when Tashard Choice again gashed the Giants for 69 yards on a 66-yard drive (20 yards in Dallas penalties was responsible for that statistical anomaly) that ended in a 38-yard TD run for the rookie runner from Georgia Tech.

Quarterbacks: Eli Manning was, well I will leave that to Merriam Webster:

Main Entry:
1flat
Function: adjective  Inflected Form(s): flat·ter; flat·test
Etymology:
Middle English, from Old Norse flatr; akin to Old High German flaz flat, and probably to Greek platys broad
1 a: lying at full length or spread out upon the ground : prostrate b: utterly ruined or destroyed c: resting with a surface against something
2 a: having a continuous horizontal surface

More specifically, see definition 2 for a summary on how Eli’s day went as he WAS a continuous horizontal surface for most of the game in Irving Texas.  The very first play of the game was a portent of things to come as OLB DeMarcus Ware planted Eli on his keester without delay.  After a 2-yard effort by HB Derrick Ward, Manning was hurried into a bad throw by DL Chris Canty who blew past RG Rich Seubert.  Manning’s second drive of the day made its way into enemy territory, but save for an 11-yard curl to WR Steve Smith, Manning was unable to complete passes 4-of-5 times but benefited from a 32-yard pass interference penalty on CB Terrence Newman.  In Eli’s defense, one pass was tipped at the line, Steve Smith let a 3rd down pass bounce off his hands, and HB Derrick Ward flat out dropped another on a dump off.

Eli’s third drive was an uneventful 3-and-out in which the Super Bowl MVP waited a bit too long on 2nd and 11 and was dumped for a 6-yard loss by LB Bradie James.  Some progress was finally made on the next drive as Eli was 5-7 for 61 yards, including another clutch completion on 3rd and long to Steve Smith that put the Giants in FG range.  Manning’s next drive was a bust as he badly misfired on a deep sideline pass to Smith and had his very next pass pulled back by an offensive PI penalty on Smith.

The second half was not much kinder as Eli threw what is thankfully a rare silly interception right to CB Terrence Newman.  Manning led Newman to his man the whole way and just made a bad throw.  Eli was again mince meat on his next drive going horizontal on back to back plays but going 2-2 for 33 yards when he had time to pass, which was not all that often as the game wore on.  Overall, Eli finished up 18-35 for 191 yards, no TDs and 2 INTs, but this one is NOT on him.  Manning hung in against an onslaught all night long, and just had no time to throw and when he did his receivers didn’t seem to realize how little time he actually had to get the ball away.  Bad night for the Ole Miss Rebel, but give Eli credit, he stood tall all game long and made no excuses for his play.  There were times when may have held the ball too long, but upon closer inspection he was damned if he did (release quickly and his WRs weren’t ready) and damned if he didn’t (release it quickly enough to let his guys run their routes).

Running Backs: Derrick Ward must have felt like it was Martha and the Vandellas day in Irving, because he had nowhere to run to, and nowhere to hide all day long.  (That was for my older BBI fan base who continually gripes about “The Good Old Days” and how all of us new Giant fans are spoiled.  I love you old farts).  Ward, as always, ran hard, but only managed 64 yards on 14 carries and was a non-factor in the passing game.  Ahmad Bradshaw, aside from a 16-yard screen pass in the third quarter did nothing again.  There was one hard-charging 7-yard run in the second half, but against this defense, there was simply no daylight to be had.  I don’t know if it was his stint in the big house, but #44 looks awfully out of sync this year, and save for one run, has done nothing of note in his sophomore campaign.

Wide Receivers: Steve Smith had an up and down night, but got on the stat sheet early, hauling in a nice 11-yard pass from Manning on the Giants’ second possession which we will examine a bit later on.  Smith did drop a 3rd down pass from Manning on the same drive with the pass glancing off his hands at the first down marker, but redeemed himself on his next try by picking up a tough five yards over the middle on a rope from Manning.  On his “drop”, the pass was a bit high, but it was more than within Smith’s reach and with a lagging passing game every chance is going to be critical.  Smith again hurt the offense with a push off on CB Anthony Henry, negating a 20-yard completion that had the Giants in Cowboy territory late in the first half, but it must be said that he made a great move and made a nice grab on the play.  Amani Toomer is slumping when the Giants need him to lead his WR corps past the loss of Plaxico Burress.  Toomer’s first chance off of a deflection bounced off his hands and the 13 year pro only managed 32 yards on 3 grabs.  Domenik Hixon made his first grab late in the second quarter and did manage to again lead the team in receiving with 60 yards on 6 catches including a great grab on 2 and 13 early in the second half in which he had CB Orlando Scandrick hanging off him like a desperate Cougar at happy hour.

Tight Ends: Michael Matthews got my attention early by making a terrible block and half-assed effort on OLB Anthony Spencer on a counter that forced HB Derrick Ward inside for a minimal gain.  Kevin Boss, your NFC Pro Bowl alternate (ha ha I was right!), managed to thwart Spencer on the very next play, a 9-yard gain by Ward on 2nd and 7 but only managed 1 catch for 23 yards on the day.  Boss’ lone grab was a nice one though, as Boss ran a quick hitch, turned upfield and stiff-armed LB Bradie James on his way to a 23-yard gain on the Giants’ first scoring drive of the night.  Boss had a minor brain fart on a short slot route on the same drive, failing to see a blitz and turn around so his QB could have a target sooner.

O-Line: Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the Amazing Karnack:  “The envelope please…Ishtar, Three Men and a Little Lady, or anything by Michael Bay.”  
“Name three things I’d rather watch than the Giants’ OL give up 8 sacks.” HIYOOOOO!

Only Ed McMahon handing me a check could make this pain go away, and since no bankrupt former TV icon is at my door, I’m assuming the pain is going to linger.  It took all of one play to see how the Giants’ blockers would fare on Sunday against DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis as Ware blew past LT David Diehl like he was standing still.  Diehl was victimized again, this time by OLB/DE Greg Ellis as the first half wound down.  Not since “Teen Wolf” have I seen a group of five players stand around in disbelief as someone whizzed past them time and time again.  Not to be outdone, LG Richie Seubert was blown back into Eli’s face two plays later to force an errant throw and a quick 3 and out.  It has since been revealed that Seubert was beyond infirmed during the game and upon further review it showed.  Seubert NEVER gets blown back in the running game but was tossed into Ahmad Bradshaw’s face near the end of the first quarter.  Seubert even looked shaky pulling on a 4-yard run by Ward in the second quarter and again completely missing DT Jay Ratliff early in the second half.  That should have tipped EVERYONE off that #69 was feeling like a big #2 all night.  RT Kareem McKenzie was treated like a nerd in the hallways too, as Ware shoved his way past him for a sack in the second quarter.  McKenzie was then injured on Diehl’s second sack victimization and did not return.  His replacement Kevin Boothe, who I have raved about in previous games, had just as much trouble as his predecessor.  Boothe gave up back-to-back sacks in the third quarter, single-handedly killing a drive as Anthony Spencer and Greg Ellis took turns abusing the former Raider.  Boothe was also woefully late getting out on a bubble screen to WR Mario Manningham, and then followed that up with a false start to turn a 3rd and 4 into a 3rd and 9.  Rough night for Boothe, but he’s capable of better and has shown it when called upon.

FILM ROOM REWIND: orrrrr…Why I love Steve Smith, by Joey in VA.  Normally an 11-yard catch on a pointless drive is nothing to examine, but Steve Smith’s route deep inside Giants’ territory thwarted an aggressive coverage scheme by Wade Phillips’ defense and prevented disaster early in the game.  1st and 15 from the Giants’ 5, early in the first quarter – Smith seemingly hauled in an innocuous 11-yard gain to give the Giants some breathing room on 2nd down.

Upon closer inspection though, I noticed that Smith ran deeper than the CB on his side, who was covering the flat, and instead of breaking on his short out route (I know it was an out despite John Madden’s assertion that it was a curl, because Smith broke down, turned and planted his right foot to make the out cut), Smith slid inside on a curl route, cut inside the DB and gave his QB a lane to throw to.   Instead of continuing his route against an aggressive coverage that was designed to bait the QB into a late out throw to where the CB broke, Smith instantly read the coverage, knew the risk of the out and sat down in the hook or curl zone where ILB Bradie James was slow to cover.

In a two-WR set, ordinarily, the OLB will cover the flat and the CB will sink upfield with the outside WR, but the Cowboys’ coverage counted on a quick throw and attempted to bait Manning into an easy turnover deep in his own territory.  Smith saw the coverage once he dropped his hips to make the break, and turned a potential disaster into an 11-yard gain.  A minor play, but an illustration of Smith’s incredible field awareness and chemistry with his QB Eli Manning.

Front 7: Author’s Note: Given the varied fronts and personnel packages the Giants use under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll be looking at the front 7 as a whole initially rather than separating the D-line and Linebackers.  Hybrid roles such as LBs playing in a 3 point stance make analyzing the front 7 as one unit more cohesive.  It may change as we move forward or from game to game.

Despite playing again without stalwart DT Fred Robbins, the Giants’ defensive line played a strong game against a much bigger Dallas front.  The issue though was the LBs, who were unable to keep HB Tashard Choice and TE Jason Witten in check.  MLB Antonio Pierce had another shaky game in coverage, giving up an early short completion to Marion Barber on a check down and failing to cover FB Deon Anderson’s 1-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter.  Pierce only notched 2 stops on the night and his fellow LBs were nowhere to be seen all night long.  DLs Renaldo Wynn and Jay Alford came up HUGE on the Cowboys’ third drive, notching back-to-back sacks after Dallas had a 2nd and 8 at the Giants’ 27, and the Cowboys were forced to punt.  Joining the sack attack on the Cowboys’ first drive of the second quarter was DE Mathias Kiwanuka who sidestepped a chip block by FB Deon Anderson, and slipped past mammoth LT Flozell Adams for a sack.  Fellow DE Justin Tuck again played well finished with 5 stops and a half sack, and single-handedly stuffing a big 3rd and 1 run just inside Giants’ territory on the Cowboys’ second possession of the second half.  Tuck and Kiwi each scored a point…sorta, splitting a safety midway through the fourth quarter and almost coming up with a TD, if not for a heads up play by Tony Romo to knock the ball out of bounds.

Defensive Backs: The defensive backs also played relatively strong games, despite a few hiccups.  In fact safeties James Butler and Michael Johnson led the Giants in tackles, combining for 9 total stops.  Butler made the game’s first stop on a Marion Barber run that was stuffed for one yard and on the Boys’ second drive again shot in and dropped the dread-locked runner for a 3-yard loss.  CB Terrell Thomas made his presence felt early on the Cowboys’ second drive as the rookie from USC came free on a corner blitz to force an errant Romo throw and a second straight 3 and out.  Thomas blitzed again on the next drive on 3rd down and flattened Romo, but not before Mrs. Simpson was able to get off a first down pass to WR Patrick Crayton.

One of the hiccups came on the Cowboys’ first scoring drive, in which a scramble by Tony Romo prevented Butler from getting the proper depth over the top and forced Thomas to leave his man, WR Patrick Crayton, who slipped past everyone for an easy 34-yard TD catch.  Hiccup #2 had to be on Choice’s 23-yard delayed draw that moved the Cowboys down to the 15-yard line.  It was a nickel package on the field, and Romo fooled the DBs with a fake jump pass, but Butler and Johnson were late to recover and CB Aaron Ross got steamrolled by WR Terrell Owens.

Special Teams: I will just assume Pro Bowl voters read this column weekly and feel badly for my dismissal of special teams, hence the naming of P Jeff Feagles and K John Carney to the annual “classic” in Hawaii.  Carney was again perfect on FGs with a long of 47 yards and Feagles averaged 43.0 yards per kick with a long of 59.  The return and coverage teams were again adequate but by no means special.  I move to rename this Boring teams until we trade for Devin Hester or teach someone to act like Phil McConkey and get 2 yards per return but get creamed every time and not fumble.

Coaching: This week it’s Kevin Gilbride’s turn on the paddle (“Thank you sir may I have another?”), as his offense churned out another sub 250 yard performance, hung his QB out to dry with 8 sacks and uncharacteristically telegraphed his plays a few times.  One play that galled me was a 1st and 10 run on the Cowboy 32 that went for -1 yards because Derrick Ward was lined up NINE yards behind the ball.  It’s not 100%, but if a HB is alone in the backfield, 9 yards back from the ball, you can bet your big foam finger that it’s a running play, and once the Dallas LBs saw it, the play was shot.  Into the third quarter, Ward was again 8-9 yards behind the LOS and was dumped for a 2-yard gain, then when he was up next to Manning one play later, Dallas blitzed (knowing it was a pass) and Manning just barely got a pass off to move the chains.  Later in the same drive, Ward was AGAIN 8 yards deep in a 3-WR set and was dumped for a 3-yard gain.  What drove me NUTS, was on the next play, from the same set, Gilbride called play action and Manning hit Steve Smith for a 19-yard gain but that was the exception rather than the rule.  It was just plain mind boggling to watch.  Granted the running game was not going well, but the play pass DID hold the LBs long enough to get Steve Smith open.

Passing from those run sets and running from those pass sets is what made the Giants’ offense so difficult to defend before this mini-slump, but Gilbride is back to tipping his hand with his formations.  Not to invoke the spirit of the G.I. Joe cartoons, but I can almost HEAR the Cowboy defenders saying…”Now we know…and knowing is half the battle”.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did call a solid game and Tony Romo was on the deck as often as Manning was.  The key difference though, is that Romo, and HB Tashard Choice made plays against the blitz at key times and the Giants were unable to.  Spags teaches an aggressive defense which we all love but when the blitz fails to get home this is what can happen, especially against team with so much offensive talent.  Overall I like what Spags did, but reluctantly just have to tip my hat to Dallas play caller Jason Garrett and his uber tough QB Tony Romo.

JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – Much to my chagrin, I will award the JPoG to an enemy player.  Let me preface it by saying I detest the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, Terrell Owens, Valley Ranch, South Fork Ranch and Ranch dressing.  Tony Romo was flattened four times officially and on the turf far more than that against the Giants’ pass rush, but was able to go 20-30 for 244 yards and 2 TDs despite suffering a back injury and looking like the Tin Man at times when on the run.  Having suffered with back pain, I know that even going to the john can be an issue, but Romo managed to gut it out and lead his team to victory.  Most impressive though, was Romo’s awareness on the crunching sack turned safety in the fourth quarter, which could easily have been a TD had the Dallas QB not swiped the ball out of bounds right before DEs Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck closed in on it.

I know the distaste most fans have for Romo, but give the man his due this week, he earned it, and he earned a shiny pink #1 Nick Lachey Jersey for efforts.

JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – Stand up Offensive Line, you win.  Not only did the Giants fail to score an offensive TD, but they only managed 218 yards total offense and saw their QB planted like it was Arbor Day.  The Dallas DL was simply too big, too fast and too relentless and the OL was on its heels all game long.  Yes Kareem McKenzie got hurt and Richie Seubert played ill, but 8 sacks????  Sorry guys, I can’t give you a pass on that one.  For your efforts, you all get vintage L.A. Thunderbirds roller derby jerseys for playing you were wearing skates.

Personal Note: It may only matter or make sense to a handful who read this, but I want to dedicate this week’s effort to my former co-worker and pal Mike Shaffer, who suddenly passed away on the job on Wednesday, December 17th.  You hear it a lot, but Mike was honestly one of the nicest and most hard working guys I ever dealt with.  Mike would have been a Giant fan favorite; he was a diligent, lunch pail type of guy who everyone could count on to get the job done right, he would do anything to help anyone out, and most importantly did it all without complaint.  Every Monday morning, Mike would come by and ask the same thing, “How’d your Giants look?” and if the Yankees ever lost to his Orioles, I’d hear about it no matter what their records were.  You will be missed Mike, may you rest in peace.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 14, 2008)
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