Dec 152011
 
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New York Giants 37 (7-6) – Dallas Cowboys 34 (7-6)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary

It’s been said that there are no moral victories in losing a football game, but it appears that the New York Giants took quite a lot out of the loss to Green Bay into the game against Dallas on Sunday night.  All three phases of the Giants played with great intensity and focus and never lost their heads in a thrilling come from behind victory against their bitter rivals from Dallas.  This was it, do or die.  The Giants entered Dallas on a 4 game losing streak, but could have won 3 of them.  It appeared from the outset that New York was determined not to make it a 5th straight loss.

What made this game especially gratifying was the fact that Dallas was playing at near full health going into the game while the Giants were still using bailing wire and bubble gum to shore up their offensive line and defensive back 7.  The Giants simply weren’t accepting excuses for their situation and instead fought like hell to the bitter end.  Additionally, this was the Giants’ third straight win (undefeated) at the “Palace in Dallas”, more affectionately known as “Jerrah’s World” to the denizens on Big Blue Interactive.

The Giants were not without problems.  Once again facing a high powered offense with one of the better QBs in the league, the defense spit and sputtered at times, and at others gave up huge plays in both the running and passing games.  Communication is still an issue.  On offense, again, the Giants had major issues converting green zone opportunities into touchdowns.

Fortunately New York was able to rely on QB Eli Manning’s uncanny ability to light up the 4th quarter scoreboard and the defense was able to get to key late stops to secure the win from what appeared to be a sure loss with less than 6 minutes to go in the game.

The Giants also had their share of good fortune on Sunday night.  Dallas is an undisciplined team that takes big chances.  That mix usually doesn’t pan out.  An example of being burned by taking so many chances, Dallas blitzed constantly, and combined with LB DeMarcus Ware’s determination to beat LT David Diehl off the line Manning continuously hit his hot reads in the vacated areas.  In reward for their penchant for taking big chances, twice, Dallas was able to convert big plays (one a 74 yard completion to Laurent Robinson and the other a 50-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant) because Tony Romo was able to avoid a strong pass rush.  Romo was also uncharacteristically wild to start the game and missed several opportunities in the passing game.  On the final two Giants drives, Dallas committed three penalties enabling the drives to continue.  The biggest infraction came on DeMarcus Ware’s second offsides penalty that negated a potential drive killing botched shotgun snap that would have put the Giants in a 2nd and 22 hole at the Dallas 49 yard line.  Instead, they had 1st and 5 from the Dallas 32.  Two plays later a defensive holding call took the Giants out of a potential 3rd and 10 play to a 1st and 10.  Finally, on the drive between the two 4th quarter Giants touchdowns, Romo was unable to connect with a wide open Miles Austin on what surely would have been a 75 yard touchdown pass that would have sealed the game.  It’s said that you make your own breaks, but Dallas has for years aided in other teams breaks by committing too many unforced errors and the Giants capitalized on them on Sunday night.

Offense

The Giants offense roared to life after a month long slumber against Green Bay last week, and this week they kicked it up a notch further.  New York is still playing with a makeshift offensive line that has its problems.  Even so, the Giants running game has gotten progressively better over the past three weeks and was finally completely on track Sunday night.  Not to be outdone, the passing attack was once again lethal even with a couple of drops and  poorly executed screens.  The Giants ran up 510 total yards (400 passing, 110 running) and 28 first downs on 78 offensive plays (20 more than Dallas ran).  The Giants had nearly 9 more minutes of possession than Dallas, which was a huge key against the explosive Cowboy offense.  Both teams committed a turnover with the Giants converting a fumble recovery into a field goal while Dallas converted an interception into a touchdown.  New York suffered just one 3-and-out in the game.  On only two drives (excluding the kneel downs before each half) did a Giants possession end in Giants territory.  What hurt the offense was going 3 of 5 in the green zone, having to settle for field goals after driving inside the Cowboy’s 10 yard line twice .

Quarterback

QB Eli Manning had another phenomenal game on Sunday night.  Once again, this time with first place and in fact the entire season on the line with less than six minutes to go in the game, Manning hauled his team onto his back and drove the Giants to two touchdowns and a 2 point conversion and pulled the win out of the fire.

It was an amazing performance on two fronts.  First, though Manning wasn’t sacked, he was under constant pressure all night long.  Second, Manning overcame a devastating interception that ended a drive that seemed destined to restore the Giants’ lead before coming back with those two late touchdown drives.   In between the interception and his first touchdown of the 4th quarter, Dallas scored on a quick strike two-play drive that put them up by 12 points.

Manning didn’t flinch.  Instead, starting from his own 20 yard line, he completed 5 of 7 passes including an 8 yard touchdown pass to TE Jake Ballard in just 2:27 to set the stage for the final magic to come.  Then on the final drive, Manning completed 3 of 4 passes for 47 yards in just 1:26. The incomplete pass was a perfectly thrown 24-yard touchdown pass that was dropped by Mario Manningham.  (Another incomplete pass was erased by a defensive penalty).

On the night, Manning completed 27 of 47 passes for 400 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.  Manning’s passer rating was 90.7 (95.5 season) and his Total QBR was 77.1 (64 season).  Manning is now 4th in the league in passing yardage with 4,105.  This is his third straight season with more than 4,000 yards and he has already eclipsed his previous high with three games to play.  Manning is on pace for 5,052 yards, 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Running Backs

New York’s running game finally hit on all cylinders on Sunday night.  The unit has progressed over the past three weeks but finally had a game that could be considered fully successful on Sunday.  Brandon Jacobs vowed to “stand tall” for his team mates after being booed in the Giants’ win against Miami 7 weeks ago.  It needs to be said that he’s been walking the walk and not just talking the talk these past several weeks since Ahmad Bradshaw was injured.  It’s been a work in progress, but Jacobs and the running game has been getting progressively better since the debacle against Philadelphia.  On Sunday, Jacobs carried 19 times for 101 yards, a robust 5.3 yards per carry average.  Jacobs got the bulk of the carries because HB Ahmad Bradshaw was benched for the first half due to breaking team curfew rules.  Jacobs ran with power all game, and scored on two 1-yard runs.  It was by far Jacobs’ best game of the season.  Jacobs also continued to do an outstanding job of chipping on the outside pressure and picking up the blitzes.

D.J. Ware got the defacto start because of Bradshaw’s benching, but only got 2 carries for -1 yard.  Ware did catch 3 passes for 19 yards including a nice adjustment to catch a ball that was deflected on a bubble screen.  Frankly, that bubble screen has become a dangerous play for New York.  It didn’t work at all last week and this week twice the ball was deflected and one was intercepted off the deflection.

Ahmad Bradshaw entered the game in the second half and carried 8 times for just 12 yards.  Late in the game, the Giants relied on Jacobs and not Bradshaw, going with the hot hand.

Fullback Henry Hynoski had arguably his best game of the year as well.  Not only did he catch 2 passes for 8 yards, he was instrumental in opening the holes on the two plays in which Jacobs scored.  Hynoski was very good at getting to the second level and maintaining his blocks.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

New York’s receiving corps was at full strength with the return of Mario Manningham.  Mario had a rough night, catching just 2 balls out of 8 thrown his way as well as dropping a sure touchdown pass earlier on the final Giants touchdown drive.  Fortunately for Manningham, 1 of the 2 catches was a 47 yard touchdown reception off a blown Dallas coverage.  Manningham’s other reception was a clutch catch on a 4th-and-3 play to convert a 1st down.

Victor Cruz was doubled much of the night, but still was able to haul in 6 passes for 74 yards.  Cruz also dropped back to back passes but was let off the hook on the second one, a 3rd and 10 which would have netted the first down, when Dallas was called for defensive holding.  Cruz had a crucial catch on 3rd-and-1 on the first 4th quarter touchdown drive.  On the play, Manning was under intense pressure and seemed to throw up a prayer.  In reality, Cruz was open 23 yards down field and though the ball hung in the air for an inordinate amount of time, it was never in harm’s way.  Cruz amazing season now has him ranked 3rd in the NFL with 1,150 receiving yards.  Only Wes Welker and Carolina’s Steve Smith have more receiving yards this season than Cruz.  Cruz is 9th in the NFL with 68 receptions.

WR Hakeem Nicks had a banner night on Sunday, catching 8 of 11 passes thrown his way for 163 yards.  Early on, Nicks had the hot hand and kept the chains moving for the Giants.  Nicks isn’t all that far behind Cruz, ranking 13th in the NFL with 65 receptions and 9th in the NFL with 1,023 yards.

Now, for the first time in their history, the Giants have two wide receivers with more than 1,000 receiving yards in the same season and there are still three games to play.  It’s safe to say that very few people, if any, thought that the first duo to accomplish this feat would include Victor Cruz.  Truly, this season has been nothing short of remarkable for the second-year, undrafted wide receiver out of UMASS who lost his entire rookie season to injury.

Although Cruz’s season has lately overshadowed the emergence of TE Jake Ballard as a receiving threat, it’s not because Ballard’s production has waned.  On Sunday,  Ballard was instrumental in the comeback and finished with 4 catches for 52 yards and a touchdown.  Ballard has amassed 589 yards (12 best in the entire NFL among TEs) on 37 receptions to go with 4 touchdowns.  Already, with three games left to play, Ballard has more yards and 5 less receptions than TE Kevin Boss ever had in a season for the New York Giants.

TE Travis Beckum was targeted twice, once on a fade route in the end zone, and caught 1 pass for 11 yards.

Not to be lost on the receiving corps was the very good job that they did in the blocking game.  On a running play to Jacobs, commentator Chris Collisworth pointed out the outstanding job Hakeem Nicks was doing blocking down field but what he missed on that play was the job Beckum did.  Though it didn’t result in any extra yardage because Jacobs was tripped up from behind after good yardage, Beckum absolutely blew up the linebacker who was engaging him in coverage, and after putting him on the ground, Beckum continued and took out the safety.  If Jacobs had broken the tackle, he had a free run to the end zone due to Beckum’s effort on the play.

Offensive Line

Though they did a much better job in opening holes in the running game, it seemed that the Giants more or less survived the play of the offensive line rather than thrive behind it.  The pass blocking was horrible, especially on the left side where David Diehl is playing left tackle and Mitch Petrus is in at left guard.  Kevin Boothe had a better game in the run department this week, but his snaps (particularly in the 4th quarter) were all over the place.

This season has been a disaster for the offensive line.  No one has played to their past levels and it seems that Diehl and McKenzie might be at or near the end of their effectiveness.  That said, the Giants did run the ball with authority on Sunday.  Fortunately, they have a quarterback who is adept at moving in the pocket and delivering the ball effectively and accurately down field even under intense pressure.

Defense

The Giants defense, due to the effectiveness of the offense, did just enough to keep the Giants in the game and win it.  That’s not to say they played a particularly good game, because they didn’t.  The Giants couldn’t stop the Cowboys running game despite Dallas losing their talented rookie DeMarco Murray early in the game to injury, leaving only Felix Jones available at halfback.  Dallas ran up 139 total yards on just 24 carries, a 5.8 ypc average.  That is terrible.

To make matters worse, the Giants blew several coverages in the secondary that lead to big gains and a couple of touchdowns and nearly cost them on the last drive of the game before PK Dan Bailey had his field goal attempt blocked.  For the first time this season, the Giants allowed receivers to get behind them consistently.  Dallas completed three passes for 30 yards or more and also had a run of more than 30 yards.  Additionally, New York allowed Dallas to convert 50% of their 3rd downs, continuing a season long trend of not being able to  get off the field.

As mentioned, it wasn’t all bad.  The Giants did force a three-and-out and then a safety after two plays on Dallas’ first two series.  Additionally, after allowing two quick strike 4th quarter touchdowns the defense did regroup to get the key three-and-out on the Dallas possession prior to the Giants’ game winning touchdown drive.  The defense also forced a fumble on the drive following Dallas’ first two touchdown drives.

Front 7

Welcome to the big stage, Jason Pierre-Paul.  If football fans didn’t know him before, they sure do now.  JPP won “Defensive Player of the Week” honors for his efforts on Sunday night.  He was a veritable one-man Big Blue Wrecking Crew.  Pierre-Paul got out of the gates early with a sack (the first of two) of Romo for a safety on Dallas’ second series when he got enough of Romo to knock him off balance and stumble down in the end zone.  It was the most unlikely looking safeties you’ll ever see, as it appeared that Romo would maintain his balance and roll out of the pocket and perform his Houdini act once again.  On this night, it happily wasn’t meant to be.  JPP pressured Romo for much of the game, and additionally he led the Giants in tackles with 8.  JPP also forced a fumble by Felix Jones on a draw play that appeared to be going for big yardage, but he somehow tracked down the line and caught Jones as he was getting to the second level and just popped the ball right into the arms of S Deon Grant.  It wasn’t the last athletic play JPP made on the night by a long mark.  On Dallas’ last drive, they tried to set up a wheel route to Jones in the flat but Pierre-Paul had dropped into coverage and squared Jones up in open field, dropping him for just a 5 yard gain.  It even appeared that he’d kept Jones in bounds but the call did not go the Giants’ way.  Finally, on the Bailey game-tying field goal attempt, Pierre-Paul changed up his angle of attack and instead of rushing through the left guard, attacked the center knocking him backwards and to the right as he bulled in, jumped and blocked the kick.

DT Chris Canty had a solid night, getting good pressure on Romo from the inside for a sack and recording 5 tackles.  Canty and his running mate DT Linval Joseph were not as effective in the running game this week.

DE Justin Tuck admitted after the game that a toe injury had him feeling like he was out there on one leg, and he played that way.  For the second time in three weeks, Tuck did not register on the stat sheet in any category.  LB/DE Mathias Kiwanuka and rotational DE Dave Tollefson spelled Tuck quite a bit during the game, and Kiwanuka did have a quarterback hit and 4 tackles.

The linebackers didn’t have a particularly good game.  Michael Boley was absent for a lot of snaps in the first half, but played more in the second.  On the night he had 5 tackles, his best coming on a screen in which he fought off a solid block to hold Jones to a 5 yard gain on a play that seemed destined for big yardage.  The other linebackers, Jacquian Williams and Chase Blackburn, did little in the game.  They both did a good job of neutralizing TE Jason Witten, but were non-existent in run support.  Blackburn had but 1 tackle in the game.

Secondary

New York’s secondary was without S Kenny Phillips, and the loss was evident all game long.  Phillips isn’t a big stats guy.  He doesn’t put up a lot of tackles, he doesn’t defense a lot of passes, and he’s certainly not an interception machine.  That doesn’t mean that he’s not an effective player.  Phillips is very rarely out of position and when he’s rolling coverage to an area that area isn’t thrown to very often.  On Sunday, the Giants tried to put Deon Grant in the roll of Phillips and have CB Aaron Ross play in the big nickel over the slot receiver.  It didn’t work very well, as Ross was beaten repeatedly by Miles Austin, particularly in the second half of the game.  The Giants tried to play man under with two deep safeties and it might have worked if Ross could have covered someone.  As Eric from BBI alluded to in this thread, the Giants were trying to do what the fans have been clamoring for from DC Perry Fewell but the players have been unable to execute.

Prince Amukamara continued to be thrown in to the deep end of pool and told to swim.  He’s obviously very talented and is going to be a good player but right now he’s being fooled left and right by the better WRs in the league.  According to NFL Replay, Prince was the man who botched the 74 yard reception by Miles when he was unable to stay with Robinson as he bled into his zone.

Prince wasn’t the only DB that blew coverage on Sunday night.  Though Antrel Rolle was originally blamed by commentators for moving towards the line of scrimmage, it came out later in the week that the Giants were in Cover-3 and that it was Corey Webster who was supposed to stay with Dez Bryant on the easy 50-yard touchdown.  (Deon Grant was also supposed to play more of a centerfield position on this play but was cheating towards Aaron Ross’ side).  (Late Update: Now Corey Webster is also saying he was in the right spot.  So days after the game, no one can still agree who messed up!!!)

Not to be outdone, Aaron Ross had possibly the worst night of his pro career since the Cleveland game in 2008 trying to cover in the slot.  Ross was burned by Austin repeatedly, first for a touchdown and then later for two long receptions on Dallas’ last drive to move them into field goal range.  And the Giants are darn lucky that Romo did not connect with Austin against Ross on the 3rd-and-5 play with 2:20 left in the game or the Giants’ season would be all but over right now.

Facts are facts, the Giants cannot afford to play much longer without Phillips.  The Giants are dangerously thin in the secondary and another week like this may be the straw to break the camel’s back.

Special Teams

Again this week, the Giants’ special teams didn’t do anything special but they did win the field position battle and of course JPP’s blocked field goal was the highlight of the unit so far this season.  K Lawrence Tynes was perfect on field goals and his kickoffs were deep and largely unreturnable (six touchbacks!).

P Steve Weatherford had another good game, and Dallas managed very little in the return game.

Coaching

How about HC Tom Coughlin icing the Dallas kicker?  The percentages show that it doesn’t work more than 25% of the time, but with last week’s loss in a similar situation fresh in Dallas’ minds, it sure was a good “why not” moment to try it.  And what do you know, it worked when Jason Pierre-Paul blocked the second try.  Coughlin should also be commended for sticking to his principles and benching Ahmad Bradshaw for the first half for violating team rules.  Coughlin is nothing if not consistent and fair, and this had to be done.

No matter what people think of DC Perry Fewell, no one can say he didn’t try to change things up this week.  He sent the blitz.  He played man to man.  Unfortunately it didn’t always work and the Giants were burned several times.  In a case of be careful what you wish for because it might just come true, Giants fans almost saw their team go up in flames due to a blown man coverage on the last Dallas three-and-out and again on their final drive.

Final Thoughts

The Giants won a must-win game in Dallas, but they got a little lucky and still have many questions to be answered on defense.  If Kenny Phillips and Osi Umenyiora can return soon, Justin Tuck can muster up and play, and the offensive line can gel a bit more, the Giants can become a dangerous team down the stretch.  If not, the Giants will have most likely have to win three more shootouts to get into the playoffs.  This week they get a banged up and demoralized Washington team that has lost a couple key players to suspension.  That doesn’t mean a thing, however, as any NFC East game is a toss up, especially this season.  Washington has beaten the Giants once this season when New York was relatively healthy.  They can beat the Giants again.  If there is a let down after this game, things could get very ugly in not only the game but on the Giants team in general.  Tom Coughlin has his toughest assignment yet in getting this team ready to play this week.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, December 11, 2011)
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