Sep 232009
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New York Giants 33 (2-0) – Dallas Cowboys 31 (1-1)

by The Hack for

Game Summary: The much heralded and ballyhooed Jerrah World finally opened for business on Sunday night, as the Dallas Cowboys and their ever present side show (some would say freak show) hosted the staid and low key Giants as the Pontiff of Pomposity and Pretence, Jerrah the Great, gazed glowingly down from on high at his denizen of Dallas devotees. From his luxury suite, Jerrah lovingly acknowledged his flock with slight waves, gentle nods of the head, and presumably gave a thumbs down to Head Coach Wade Phillips, indicating his team was want to smite the Giants of New York.

Lots of flash, lots of cash, lots of guild, lots of this, lots of that. Dancers. Video Screens. Moon Roofs. Stars…lots and lots of stars. In the final analysis, however, none of it mattered. And do you know why?? Care to make a guess? You, in The Corner Forum, you know, don’t you?!?! THAT’S RIGHT!!! There was a FOOTBALL game, too! And in the end, Jerrah and his denizens went home bemoaning another loss in a game everyone picked them to win, and win handily. Why? Because the New York Football Giants limited mistakes, capitalized just enough on the mistakes of the Cowboys, battled through injuries and with the game on the line, once again showed the resolve and resiliency that’s defined this team for the better part of the past three years.

The game had the feel of the old Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. Both teams threw relentless haymakers as the night went on, and though both teams were staggered on occasion, neither team was willing to give in. The momentum swings in this game were, at times, series to series. There were a total of eight lead changes throughout the game, and it was won on the very last play.

In a complete reversal of modus operandi over the past few years, the Giants did not run very effectively (especially in the first half) while the Cowboys ran the ball seemingly at will. To complete this reversal, the Giants passed the ball up and down the field while Dallas’ passing game was largely impotent. Still, it was the Giants who found a way to win despite not doing the three things that they normally must do well to win and those are getting pressure on the QB, stopping the run, and pounding the defensive line for massive rushing yards.

As stated before, this type of win builds confidence. The Giants now know they can win when they don’t have their “A” game on either side of the line of scrimmage. They’re building the confidence to pass at will rather than just when they have to. They know that their secondary, even in its depleted state, can cover up a front seven that allows a ton of rushing yards. Finally, they know they can go into an extremely hostile environment and win.

The Giants are now 2-0 and have won two intra-divisional games and the magnitude of that achievement cannot be overstated. To be the beast in the NFC East, you need to beat the other resident beasts and so far so good.

Tale O’ The Tape: The talking heads would have you believe that if not for a couple errant throws by QB Tony Romo, this game would not have been close at halftime. Actually, though the Giants did score 17 offensive points off turnovers, they still held the ball for a significant amount of time and rolled up nearly the same yards as Dallas. (The Giants offense gained a total of 46 yards on 10 plays resulting in one touchdown and one field goal off the three first-half turnovers. The other 7 points were from a defensive score.) The Giants had trouble converting third downs, and every first down (7) they made was via the pass. They only ran six fewer plays than Dallas. Once again, the real difference was red zone efficiency, in which the Giants were 0-2 while Dallas was 2-2. Not to diminish the fact that the Giants indeed benefited from the three turnovers, they would have been in this game regardless. In the second half, the Giants finally got their running game going a bit, and if the Giants were dominated in the first half, they certainly weren’t in the second. The Giants finished with nearly a 10 minute advantage in time of possession. They rolled up 423 total yards on offense, 330 passing which was nearly triple what the Cowboys managed passing. The Giants came out and had an impressive opening drive in the third quarter, but squandered a sure three points. On the day, the Giants ended up 0-5 in the green zone, while Dallas went 4-4. So dominance is what you make of it. What really happened is the Giants capitalized on just enough opportunities to hold off a powerful offense in a hostile environment that was filled to the brim with excitement and anticipation.

Offense: Once again, the entire Giants starting unit was intact for the start of the game. WR Domenik Hixon got the start over Mario Manningham this week, but was injured early and left the game for good with about 5 minutes gone in the first quarter. On the second play of the game on offense, Hixon came up limping after catching a pass but he stayed in the game for another two series. Apparently, he hurt the knee worse later in the quarter when HB Brandon Jacobs fell on it, bending it at an awkward angle.

The Giants came out passing, and passing often to start the game. The running game never got going in the first half, as they threw 18 times and ran only 11. The second half was somewhat more balanced, as NY rushed the football 15 times and attempted 20 passes.

Once again, the Giants made hay in the middle of the field, but they did take some chances and got the ball deep on a few occasions.

The Quarterbacks: QB Eli Manning had one of his best days as a professional quarterback, finishing the game 25-38 (66%) for 330 yards 2TDs and 0 INTs. Eli had a QB rating of around 110. Currently, Eli is ranked 6th in the league with a QB rating of 103.2. Eli was under very little pressure on the day, and made few errant throws. The ones he did make did not hurt the team. Two passes were close to being intercepted, one on the second drive of the game in which he tried to hit TE Kevin Boss in the flat but threw short. The ball was deflected away by CB Anthony Spencer. It appeared that Spencer could have caught the ball and waltzed into the end zone. The other near interception was on the opening drive of the third quarter, where he tried to check down to Jacobs around the Dallas 5 yard line. Manning tried to hold up but was already committed to the throw and sort of shot putted it in there, but LB Brady James couldn’t make the play on the ball. The only other blatant misses were to a wide open Steve Smith over the middle of the field where either he didn’t get the ball far enough down field or Smith rounded off the route too much, and another when scramble rules were in effect he over threw a wide open Smith near the right sideline.

Now for the good. It’s apparent that Manning is becoming comfortable with his wide outs. Last week, he targeted the WR’s 19 times. This week, he targeted them 30 times out of 39 total passes, completing 22 of them. Manning came out on fire, connecting right off the bat with Smith for a 32 yard gain. That play set the tone, as the Giants never showed any fear of throwing against the Dallas secondary. Both of Manning’s touchdown passes were beautifully thrown balls. With the run struggling, Eli’s passing kept the Giants moving the chains throughout the first half, and won the game in the second half and, specifically, the 4th quarter.

To encapsulate what Eli Manning means to the New York Giants, all one needs to do is watch the 4th quarter of this game again. Eli’s 4th quarter stats were amazing: 10 completions on 12 attempts for 113 yards, a touchdown, and two drives that resulted in field goals, the last being the game winner. Manning had to overcome a 1st and 20 situation on the last drive after LG Rich Seubert got flagged for holding. Manning had completed a 12 yard pass to TE Kevin Boss on the play. No problem, Eli just worked the field and the clock from the 15 instead of the 25 all the way down to the Dallas 19 yard line, calling the time out with 4 seconds left while flat on his back after a QB sneak centered the ball for Tynes.

That’s what separates Eli Manning from other QBs, including Tony Romo. He’s got ice water in his veins. He is not rattled. He comes back for more and more, and it doesn’t matter what the situation is. Eli Manning lives for the game, and thrives when it’s on the line. Eli Manning is an elite quarterback in the National Football League. He may never be flashy, he may never have gaudy stats, but when the game is on the lines and the ball is in his hands, Eli Manning is cash money.

The Running Backs: The Giants went into the game with third HB Gartrell Johnson on the active roster, giving themselves an emergency third back in the continued absence of HB Danny Ware. Johnson played on specials but did not get into the game on offense. Dallas came into this game with the goal of shutting down the Giants running game and dare Manning to beat them. They got half of what they wanted, as the Dallas defense did a fantastic job of plugging the middle and forcing the Giants backs wide where their athletic linebackers could run them down at or near the line of scrimmage. The Giants had four running plays that ended in negative yardage.

HB Brandon Jacobs had extremely tough sledding all night, especially in the first half when he saw the ball 8 times and gained only 8 yards. There was absolutely nowhere to go inside the tackles. The Beast finally got untracked during the first drive of the third quarter, as he gained 40 yards on the first two plays of the half. Jacobs was outstanding in pass protection, as always, as it appears the blitzers want no part of him. Jacobs was not a factor in the passing game, as he only went in to the pattern on a couple of plays and was targeted just once.

HB Ahmad Bradshaw also found the going rough early in the game, carrying just 3 times for 4 yards in the first half. He had more success in the second half as well, rushing for 33 yards on 6 carries. Once again, Bradshaw was Mr. 4th Quarter, and he was in on the final drive. The Giants didn’t attempt to get too many passes to the halfbacks, though they attempted to get a screen to the Little Beast that was snuffed out and gained no yards. The one thing that Bradshaw did very well on Sunday night, however, was the one thing most worrisome about the diminutive back. Bradshaw was outstanding in blitz pickups. Two in particular were noteworthy, the first being on a play action fake where he on a Dallas linebacker straight on which gave Manning enough time to complete a pass. The other was on the final drive where he did the same thing, planting his helmet squarely into the chest of an oncoming blitzer, again enabling Manning to step up and complete a pass. Bradshaw has improved immeasurably since last year and even the pre-season in this aspect of the game.

FB Madison Hedgecock had another rough night. Twice, the Giants tried to get the ball to him on passes, but Hedgecock looks like a dancing rhino trying to catch a football. It’s not pretty. In the running game, Madison had a tough time getting to the second level, and leading outside went nowhere as the Cowboys defense seemed to diagnose every run and cover every gap the Giants tried to run to. As such, he was not totally to blame for the lack of running space on Sunday.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Well, well, well, just look at what we have here. The Giants go into Big D and hold a little coming out party for the wide receiver corps. The Giants got bad news nearly instantly when WR Domenik Hixon was injured early in the first period. Not to worry. The rest of the receiving corps got into the act early and often. Before the season began, during his final press conference prior to opening day against Washington, Head Coach Tom Coughlin was asked about the probability of teams loading the box with eight players to stop the run and dare the Giants to try to win with their unknowns at WR. Tom chuckled a bit, and said “You’d have to expect that to a certain level. But that probably would be a good thing if they did that.” When asked to clarify what a good thing meant, Coughlin replied, “I think we’ve had some experience down the field this preseason. Certainly that would be one thing that you could do to answer that.” In other words, Tom Coughlin wasn’t worried about his receiving corps and Sunday night the receivers rewarded his faith in them with not only their first game with a receiver gaining 100 or more yards in 13 tries, they gave him the first WR tandem to record 100 yards or more each in three years. How’s that for payback?

Since the opening night of the preseason, WR Mario Manningham began to set himself apart and make his mark. Last week, he made several big plays. This week, he was one of the team heroes as he caught 10 passes (targeted 13 times) for 150 yards and a touchdown. Manningham made both CB Terence Newman and CB Orlando Scandrick look silly for most of the night. The knock on Manningham has been his perceived poorly timed speed. Timed or not, he sure shows great quickness and speed during the games. Manningham showed great speed on the deep post to get into position behind CB Terrence Newman to make the reception. It’s just two games, but Manningham has the makings of a star and could get the nod over Hixon sooner than later, especially if Hixon’s injury is worse than it seemed on Sunday night. One thing to look forward to is when the Giants finally pull the trigger on a pump and go off one of the screens that Manningham is executing so well.

Not to be outdone, WR Steve Smith also came down with 10 catches (targeted 13 times as well) for 138 yards and a touchdown. He also made CB Orlando Scandrick look like a school boy on several plays, displaying the crisp route running that’s made him invaluable over the past two seasons. Smith is also a tremendous downfield blocker, helping the running game out as often as he can. Smith also shows no fear of going over the middle. Frankly, it’s amazing just how wide open Smith can get. On his touchdown, a quick hook and go left Scandrick covering air while Smith sat wide open at the five yard line for the easy touchdown.

WR Derek Hagan only caught one pass, but it was a key 12 yard play on 2nd and 18 during final drive. That left the Giants in a manageable 3rd down situation.

TE Kevin Boss played the third offensive tackle position for the majority of the game, and didn’t get into the passing game until the final drive (he was targeted on a quick out during the second drive that was nearly intercepted) when he made a key grab to convert a 2nd and 10 into a 1st down on the final drive. Boss’ effort on the offensive line was one of the keys to keeping Manning off the carpet all game. His chips on All World linebacker DeMarcus Ware and double teams against defensive ends Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky were absolutely critical to the success of the passing game. Backup TE Darcy Johnson also played well along the line during the passing game.

The Offensive Line: A tale of two offensive lines. The Good? Easy…they kept Eli Manning clean on 38 passing plays, allowing very little pressure and consistently gave Manning a pocket he could buy time in. The line only had one penalty called against it, an extremely questionable hold by Rich Seubert on the final drive. One should also acknowledge the fact that the line did not get called for a single false start penalty despite the roar of 105,000 plus fans doing their best to deafen the players. Unfortunately, that was one half of the coin. On the flip side, the line could not do what it prides itself on greatly, and that’s to open up huge holes for the Giants dynamic duo of Jacobs and Bradshaw. To Dallas’ credit, they brought the safeties up often and with NT Jay Ratliff clogging up the middle from “A” gap to “A” gap, the Giants were never able to get their misdirection and pulls going. Most of the time the backs were forced wide where the athletic LBs from Dallas would be laying in wait for them.

Individually, RT Kareem Mckenzie tightened up his game considerably, not allowing a single pressure all night. LT David Diehl played his most impressive game so far against the Cowboys, as he combined with Boss and Jacobs/Bradshaw to make Demarcus Ware a non-factor for the majority of the game. LG Rich Seubert and RG Chris Snee also had great games in the passing game. Rarely did they allow pressure up the middle, keeping the interior of the Dallas line backed up and allowing Eli a place to step into to deliver the ball. Rookie LT William Beatty was in on one play at LT when Diehl lost his shoe. Welcome to the NFL rook…meet DeMarcus Ware! Actually, Beatty did a good job and Ware was a non factor on the play.

So is the glass half full or half empty? After two games into the season, and the Giants have yet to produce anything like the running game that they showed last season when they were the number 1 unit in football. The Giants will need to get this situation resolved if they truly want to be in the class of the contenders. On a full side, however, after 2 weeks the Giants have the 6th highest rated offense in the league thanks to the success in the passing game.

One final note about the offensive line, they didn’t have any opportunities to convert short yardage as there were no situations that warranted the package so the jury will be out on that subject for at least another week.

The Defense: The Giants were still missing a couple key starters in the secondary (CBs Derrick Dockery and Aaron Ross), though they did get WLB Michael Boley back into the fold. Two components of the rotation, however, DT Chris Canty and SLB Chris Sintim were also out. Compound these issues with the fact that both safeties, SS Kenny Phillips and FS Michael Johnson were banged up coming in and this looked like a recipe for disaster.

Just like the offensive line, this was a tale of two games for the defense. On one side, the Giants completely dominated the Dallas passing attack despite not putting any significant pressure on QB Tony Romo. Pressure was certainly applied, but not to the extent that is usually required to rattle the QB. Frankly, Romo looked rattled for the entire game. He threw early, he threw off his back foot, he was high with the ball, he threw with too much mustard. The back seven played well against the pass, but were lost in run support. The same could basically be said for the front seven as well.

The Giants returned to a familiar situation from the preseason, which was the inability of the starting unit to contain the running game. Although the Giants dominated the Dallas passing game, giving up just 127 yards on 13 completions against 29 attempts with 3 interceptions, they allowed the Cowboys to gash them for 251 yards on 29 carries. That’s nearly a 9 yard per carry clip, boys and girls. That ain’t gonna get it done.

It’s easy to speculate on what happened. It could be that the Giants assumed that the Cowboys would go after their depleted and banged up secondary and never adjusted to the run. That would not explain the DL and LBs being constantly out of position and shooting the wrong gaps. It also doesn’t explain away shoddy tackling and poor angles.

Front 7: The only player missing in action this week along the front was DT  Chris Canty, sitting out with a calf strain. Following an impressive game in which they held the Redskins running game in check, these guys spit the bit this week.

Displaying equal opportunity failure, the Giants front 7 used a combination of poor gap discipline, over pursuit, and just plain bad tackling technique to continuously allow HBs Felix Jones and Marion Barber to run through truck sized holes for incredible gains. The Cowboys use the reverse of play action, where Romo pumps outside before handing off to the draw play, leaving the DEs frozen in place and influencing the LBs outside while the big offensive linemen wall off and nullify the interior of the line as well as whatever LB or safety is still somewhat in the play. The entire defensive line, consisting of DEs Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Mathais Kiwanuka, Dave Tollefson, DTs Rocky Bernard, Barry Cofield, and Fred Robbins combined for just 8 tackles. The only real force in the running game was Kiwanuka, who had a couple nice plays behind the line of scrimmage. Other than that, they were really nowhere to be found against the run. Osi and Tuck both had huge drop offs from their previous games. Granted, Tuck missed the entire second half, but he wasn’t much of a factor prior to going out.

MLB Antonio Pierce had a solid game, though his gap discipline was woeful on occasion. On several plays, he shot the wrong gap or over pursued leaving huge gut back lanes for the RB to exploit. Pierce was in on 6 tackles. Pierce was also instrumental in changing the defense from what appeared to be man to man with a blitz on to a zone coverage that Romo never countered and ended up throwing a pick six to rookie CB Bruce Johnson. On the flip side, Romo caught Pierce in the middle of a call change that resulted in a 25 yard run by Barber as the Giants were responding to the call.

Speaking of Michael Boley, he was very active early but fell off as the game went on yet still tied for the team lead in tackles with 7. He is exceptionally fast in relation to the other LBs on the squad. He looked very good in pass coverage and was in on several tackles early in the running game. There is no doubt that Boley is not in complete game shape after missing all of camp and most of the preseason. It showed later when he began to tackle high and even took an unnecessary face mask penalty on a critical drive late in the game. Fatigue was also evident by the poor angles he was taking late that resulted in longer than usual gains.

OLBs Chase Blackburn and Danny Clark were at a loss for almost the entire game. Someone has to explain to me how your weakside linebacker ends up with only 1 tackle on the entire night. Clark got the donut. Both played well last week, but there was a precipitous drop off this week. Clark looked slow and did not react well at all to the cut back running that Dallas employed. On a positive note, the linebackers did a good job containing dangerous TE Jason Witten.

Defensive Backs: Once again with  CBs Aaron Ross and Kevin Dockery out, Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster were the starters with CB Bruce Johnson coming in for the nickel and dime packages. Once again, all three played extremely well, shutting down the potent Dallas passing attack along with SS Kenny Phillips and FS Michael Johnson. The unit locked up three interceptions, one a pick six for the rookie Johnson and two from Phillips.

The first interception by Phillips was just a heads up play on his part to not give up on a ball that appeared to hit the ground but in reality hit off Witten’s foot. Phillips should have had a touchdown on the play, but the whistle had blown. Phillips also had a tremendous tackle (one of 7, tied for the team lead) on a third down and long play where Tashard Choice had just broken through the line on what looked for the world would be another long run for a first down. Phillips came out of nowhere to wrap him up by the lower leg and bring him down, forcing a punt and preserving field position. Later, on another long run by Barber, Phillips took a horrible angle allowing what should have been a 7-9 yard gain go for nearly 50 yards.

FS Michael Johnson was in on 5 tackles, but was not very effective in the running game. Johnson was also a culprit in the bad angle/wrong gap crowd. Frankly, it was so bad that it appeared that the Giants simply thought the Cowboys were going to be elsewhere on every running play.

Special Teams: P Jeff Feagles had a full day of punting, and alas, he didn’t hit the Jerrahtron. Of his five punts, three were placed inside the 20 and only one was returned for a mere 4 yards.

What can you say about K Lawrence Tynes? First, starting from a 7 step drop, he kicks some kind of knuckler to the 15 yard line but gets away with it due to good coverage. Later, he starts his kickoffs from a near standstill and puts the ball in the end zone. As for his field goals, he hit four but infuriatingly missed a chip shot 29 yarder following a promising drive to open the third quarter that could have killed all momentum had Dallas been able to mount a decent drive to follow it. Then of course, even while being iced, he calmly kicks the game winner. Twice. So how does one stay angry at him?

For the second week in a row, the Giants lost a man in the return game when Hixon had to leave the game. Sinorice Moss was adequate as the kick off returner, though he did nothing spectacular again. Ahmad Bradshaw took over the punt return duties, and also did nothing spectacular.

The kick coverage team was very good, allowing Felix Jones just one decent return. Bryan Kehl forced and recovered the Felix Jones fumble that resulted in the second Giants field goal. It was a nice play by Kehl to stay with the play after Sinorice Moss missed his opportunity to recover the ball.

Coaching: Much discussion on BBI over the past two days was centered on the play calling of Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride, specifically within the green zone. The Giants are now 0-8 in such situations on the year. It’s difficult to pin the play calling on Gilbride, as Manning has audible authority and audibles on 30-40% of all plays. Looking at the five opportunities in the green zone, the Giants threw from the shotgun on five occasions, threw from behind center on one occasion, and ran on six occasions. That’s six passes and six runs. They converted only one first down inside the green zone. According to Eli, the blame for their failures are execution. Several people are calling for WR Ramses Barden (who only played on specials) to have a package at the goal line. It appears the coaches do not trust Barden enough yet to give him consideration. Considering the Giants have the #6 offense in the league, combined with fact that they were in the top of the league in scoring averaging 27 points a game last year, it seems safe to say that Gilbride and Manning are working quite well together and are simply going to have to find a way to get out of this green zone slump.

Great clock management by Head Coach Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning on the final drive.

Offensive Player of the Game: Another fourth quarter comeback, a stellar line score, and icy demeanor under pressure, Eli Manning is this week’s OPOG. Once again, Easy E proves to the world that no stage is too big and no task is too great for him to take on.

Defensive Player of the Game: Although no one on the defense really deserves this honor, Kenny Phillips did have three extremely important plays (2 ints, 1 open field tackle that saved a big gainer) that helped turn the game around. His first interception should have resulted in a pick six.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, September 20, 2009)
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