Sep 072012
 
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Dallas Cowboys 24 (1-0) – New York Giants 17 (0-1)

By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary: The New York Giants began their 2011 title defense at home amidst the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the Super Bowl Champions and became the first team since this format began to lose.  You have to call a spade a spade:  The Giants just didn’t look ready to compete in a regular season game on Wednesday night.  Unforced mistakes occurred on every facet of the team.  Luckily for the Giants, Dallas was equally inept during most of the first half.  Credit the defense, they certainly contributed to keeping Dallas at bay for their first four drives, but after that the wheels fell off.

Promising early drives were thwarted by dropped passes, untimely sacks, a turnover, and poor green zone execution.  Later, the Giants offense was able to move but other than the first drive of the third quarter, they had seemingly no continuity.

On the defensive side of the ledger, once Dallas began to make hay with the short passing game New York seemed like they simply couldn’t find an answer to stopping the running game OR the passing game.  Injuries were part of the problem as Dallas QB Tony Romo, who played a very solid game despite his bad early interception, abused CB Justin Tryon after CB Michael Coe was lost with a hamstring injury.  Another factor was a somewhat anemic pass rush that couldn’t capitalize consistently to get pressure on Romo despite facing a suspect Dallas offensive line.

As has been discussed in the media and on The Corner Forum, the refereeing left quite a bit to be desired.  Dallas certainly had their share of non-calls that went their way (New York could have been called on a couple of blatant holds), but it really seemed that Dallas got away with hold after hold after hold both on the offensive line and in the secondary.  It looked like old fashioned football in the secondary, where corner backs were allowed to freely contact players after five yards and pass interference wasn’t even going to be considered unless it was egregious to the point where it would look life favoritism if it weren’t called.  Unfortunately for New York, several of these non-calls either thwarted their own drives or extended a Dallas drive.   This isn’t brought up to make an excuse, because there are no excuses.  You still have to tackle and you still have to fight off the secondary and make the catches.

The statistics in this game were completely one sided. Dallas won the battles of total net yards (433 to 269), net yards rushing (143 to 82), net yards passing (290 to 187), and time of possession (34:07 to 25:53).  Additionally, New York only converted 4 of 12 third downs, though they did convert two fourth downs on their final drive.  On kickoffs, Dallas started on average from their own 22 and New York started on average from their own 19.  New York held the ball for less than 6 minutes in each of the final three quarters after holding it for more than 9 in the first.  The most telling stat of all, however, may be the fact that after holding Dallas to just 28 yards rushing in the first half, they allowed 115 in the second.

In my opinion, there were just a handful of plays that broke against the Giants that contributed heavily to the loss.

  1. On their second drive in which the Giants had driven from their own 13 yard line to the Dallas 29, rookie RB David Wilson fumbled and Dallas recovered.  This occurred after the defense had held Dallas to a three and out and the momentum a score there could have built was lost.
  2. On their next drive, New York drove from their own 37 to a first and ten at the Cowboy 41 yard line when Eli Manning was sacked for a 15 yard loss.  That cannot happen on first down, and the Giants were unable to recover and punted three plays later.
  3. Following a LB Michael Boley interception of Romo on the next drive which set up the Giants at first and goal at the Cowboy 1 yard line, New York lost three yards on two runs.  The fateful third and goal play was a pass to WR Victor Cruz in which he was clearly interfered with.  When no flag came, New York settled for a field goal and gave a shot in the arm to the Cowboys.
  4. The Cowboys finally put together a sustained drive late in the second period and on second and five from the Giant 10 yard line, Romo escaped what appeared to be a sure sack and when the Giants linebackers lost contain on WR Kevin Olgetree, Romo found him for an easy touchdown and the lead going into halftime.
  5. On the first drive of the second half, CB Corey Webster lost WR Kevin Olgetree on a double move and Romo hit him for an easy 40 yard touchdown.
  6. After their most impressive drive of the night in which the Giants trimmed the Dallas lead to four points, Dallas was facing a second and three at their own 40 yard line, New York had RB DeMarco Murray wrapped up for a seeming 5 yard loss and were about to put Dallas in third and long.  Unfortunately, both DE Justin Tuck and LB Mathias Kiwanuka couldn’t bring Murray down and the escape led to a 48 yard run which set up a Dallas field goal.
  7. On the next Dallas drive, despite incurring 5 penalties for 35 yards and facing a first and 30 from the Giants 34 yard line, the Cowboys scored a touchdown when WR Marvin Austin turned Tryon around six ways to Sunday and S Antrel Rolle was unable to get to the ball and knock it away.  Austin went up for the ball, came down with it between the two Giants and ran untouched into the end zone.  That put the Cowboys up 14 points with just under six minutes to go.
  8. Finally, after scoring a touchdown to get within seven points of overtime, the Giants allowed Dallas to convert a 3rd and 10 play for a first down on another slant to Olgetree in front of Tryon.  Rolle and Tuck were in bracket high low coverage as well but could not get in to affect the play.  Ball game.

Quarterback: QB Eli Manning played a respectable game.  His numbers were solid as he completed 21 of 32 passes (65%) for 213 yards and 1 touchdown and no interceptions.  Eli’s passer rating stood at 94.9 and his Total QBR came in at 53.2.  Manning was victimized by a number of drops on the night.  Manning was also hurt by the lack of any kind of running game to speak of.  Dallas was able to get significant pressure on Manning, particularly when they sent five or more rushers, which they did on 10 of his 35 drop backs (28.6 percent).  Manning was sacked three times, with all three coming when Dallas sent five or more. Even more troubling was that when Manning faced five or more rushers from the Cowboys, he completed just 42.9% of his passes.  On the night, Manning was hit 5 times.  Eli did his best to get the Giants into position to tie with a rousing 12-play, 79-yard touchdown drive but was unable to get the chance to send the game to overtime when the Giants could not stop Dallas on the fateful third and 10 play.

Running Backs: HB Ahmad Bradshaw had a tough go of it on Wednesday night.  The Giants had come off a year in which they were dead last in rushing and there was little evidence that anything is about to change.  Bradshaw finished with respectable numbers, carrying 17 times for 78 yards (4.6 ypc average) and a touchdown.  His long run of the night was a 33 yarder on a quick hitting draw that was one of only two decent runs on the night.  The other was his 10 yard touchdown run, which was the only effective run to the outside all game.

Bradshaw had 10 carries for just 19 yards in the first half, including losses of two and one yards on consecutive plays following a first and goal from the Cowboy one yard line.  Both plays were lateral runs that never had a chance.  When you subtract the runs of 33 and 10 yards, Bradshaw gained just 35 yards on 15 carries, a 2.3 ypc average.

There was a seriously disturbing statistic that involved Bradshaw and the running game.  Ten of Bradshaw’s 17 attempts came on first down, and on those downs he gained just 30 yards.  Eight of those attempts gained 3 yards or less for a total of 15 yards.  The other two attempts were the 10 yard touchdown run and a five yard run.  As such, the Giants were unable to consistently get into manageable distance on second and subsequently third downs.

Bradshaw also caught two passes for 15 yards and did a very good job helping in pass protection.  Once a liability, Bradshaw is now outstanding at picking up and maintaining blocks on blitzes.

Rookie HB David Wilson had two carries on the night.  The first was a three yard gain and the second was the fateful fumble described earlier.  It didn’t appear to me that Wilson was carrying the ball particularly badly; rather it appeared that LB Sean Lee made a good play by sticking his paw in while making a tackle and knocked the ball out of his arm.  That was it for Wilson, who never saw the field again in the backfield.  Trust is everything, and last night he lost whatever he’d gained early.

FB Henry Hynoski made a few good lead blocks, particularly on the Bradshaw touchdown run.  The Giants used a quick handoff to Hynoski for a first down on a third and one in a preseason game, and I thought they might use that more in short yardage situations with HB Brandon Jacobs now plying his trade in San Francisco.  I was somewhat surprised not to see them try it on the first and goal from the Cowboys one yard line, as it seemed an opportune time to try that play.  Hynoski was only targeted once in the passing game, catching the ball for a one yard gain.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: The Giants had their full complement of receivers for the game, though Hakeem Nicks was clearly not at 100% after hardly practicing this entire year.  Nicks caught just 4 balls out of 6 targeted his way for 38 yards.  Nicks has stated he still has some pain, and he was obviously rusty as he was unable to disengage from the defender on many routes.

On the other side, WR Domenik Hixon just doesn’t seem to be the answer.  He made a tremendous catch on a deep pass for 39 yards, going up high to snare a ball slightly overthrown and between two defenders.  It was a tremendously athletic play.  The issue with Hixon is that he seems to get ‘caught in his route’ too often.  What I mean by that, and you could see on isolation replays, is if the route doesn’t develop, he’s stuck in it and seems to give up on it.  Hixon also seems tight out of his breaks, not fluid at all and not very quick.

WR Victor Cruz had a rough night dropping three catchable balls.  Cruz was far and away the most targeted Giant in the passing game, seeing 11 balls thrown his way.  Cruz caught a team high 6 for a team high 58 yards.  The first two drops were crucial because they came on third down.  The third drop was on a touchdown drive (the ball that hit Cruz in the facemask) and didn’t affect the drive.  The problem seemed to be a lack of concentration on the ball in flight.  The first drop was a classic trying to run before you catch it scenario.  The ball was a bit behind him, and it clanged off Cruz’s hands.   Cruz also committed a false start penalty.

I did not see WRs Ramses Barden or Rueben Randle enter the game, but I may simply have missed them on the field.

TE Martellus Bennett had a fantastic first game with the New York Giants.  Bennett caught 4 of 6 passes for 40 yards and a touchdown (despite being held).  One of Bennett’s best plays was early on when he was lined up against LB Anthony Spencer.  On the snap, Bennett stayed in to block but Spencer dropped off into coverage.  After a second or two, Bennett stepped into the flat, clapped his hands to get Eli’s attention, and took a short pass for a 10 yard gain and a first down.  Bennett did miss a wide open pass that may have been a tad overthrown on a third down that would have extended the drive just before Dallas scored their first touchdown.

The surprising thing was that the Giants didn’t try to work the middle of the field with Bennett more often than they did.  It was clear that no linebacker on the Dallas team was able to cover Bennett, and the Cowboys were playing a lot of press coverage on the outside with two deep safeties.  That usually leaves the middle wide open.  Bennett’s real worth to the Giants this year may be in pass protection.  He was constantly brought in motion to whatever side LB DeMarcus Ware was lined up.   Bennett was up and down in the run blocking game.  He did allow Ware to slip off his block and make a tackle on Bradshaw on one of the poor first down runs detailed earlier.

Bear Pascoe caught one pass for 6 yards, but more importantly was unable to seal the edge (Anthony Spencer) on Bradshaw’s first attempt from the one yard line, and Spencer escorted Bradshaw out of bounds for a 2 yard loss.

Offensive Line: The offensive line was a liability in the running game in 2011 and though changes have been made, there seems to be little indication that it’s any better now.  With newcomer Sean Locklear starting in place of the injured Will Beatty at LT, the Giants knew they were going to have to give him a lot of help with the TE and FB.  Locklear really wasn’t that bad.  The biggest problem from a pass protection standpoint was a poor outing by new RT David Diehl.  Diehl had no answers for Ware.  I mentioned the first down sack that put the Giants in a 2nd and 25 situation.  On that play, Diehl (with no help) immediately lost Ware inside which caused Eli to flush to his right.  That put him in the sites of the blitzing FS Gerald Sensabaugh, who Eli was able to avoid, but Ware was right there to bury him.

The next biggest problem is that continued dismal results of the running game in between the tackles.  It’s essentially non-existent.  The trio of Kevin Boothe, David Baas and Chris Snee is simply not playing well together.  Last season, there were excuses given for Boothe (low expectations because he’s a backup) and Baas (new to system, injury issues) and Snee (just didn’t have a good year).  There are no more excuses.  Either these guys can play or they can’t.  Right now, they can’t.  Boothe missed several blocks at the second level and on the second and goal play, he literally tripped over Sean Locklear’s foot and went down in a heap as he was trying to lead Bradshaw outside to the left.

Defensive Front 7: The Giants defensive front has endured some injuries this summer at the tackle position.  Overall, however, the Giants came in to the game healthy and early on the line was stout both against the run and in getting pressure on Romo.  Though the Giants only had two sacks (Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard), they were able to get pressure and disrupt the Cowboys passing rhythm.  DE Jason Pierre-Paul was extremely active and disruptive, recording 4 tackles (one for a loss on a Murray draw) and getting pressure against Romo.  DE Justin Tuck also had 4 tackles, but he combined with DE Osi Umenyiora and JPP to obtain the horse collar on the sack sheet.

The line was terrific bottling up DeMarco Murray in the first half, but then couldn’t seem to figure him out in the second half.  On one play, Joseph took an inside move and left a hole the size of Alaska for Murray to exploit when no one stunted or came to the back side to fill the hole.

The linebacking crew was active, but they had trouble helping in the zone against the slants.  There was a lot of talk about how effective LB Keith Rivers could be at this point in his career, but he is an obvious upgrade.  His speed is amazing and he had a great game from sideline to sideline.  Rivers had 7 tackles with one for a loss.  He did miss Romo on a blitz when Romo rolled away from the pressure leaving Rivers flailing.  MIKE linebacker Chase Blackburn had 6 tackles, but seemed to be in the way or in the right spot to make a tackle rather than influencing the play.  The Giants were victimized by slant after slant, and the linebackers never caught on and filled the windows.  They never made the receivers pay for coming inside with hard hits.  With Witten effectively out of the game, Dallas’ whole strategy was to dump the ball off short underneath and it was like the linebackers never had seen the concept before.

On Dallas’ first touchdown, Jacquian Williams and Blackburn had Ogletree bracketed and in front of them when Romo started to scramble.  Both linebackers froze when Romo moved towards the line of scrimmage and Ogletree split through them and settled wide open in the endzone.

Michael Boley got into the game and had an interception on a nice read of Romo.  Boley didn’t play a lot of snaps coming off a hamstring injury.

Secondary: The Giants secondary had a very rough night.  CB Corey Webster was beaten badly a few times.  He was beaten deep twice including on a double move by Ogletree that resulted in a 40 yard touchdown.  He also had trouble with the slant.  Webster played much better in the second half, but by that time Romo was picking on Justin Tryon who had to come in for Michael Coe who left with a hamstring injury.  Tryon was just bad, as detailed above.

Rookie CB Jayron Hosley played in his first NFL game coming off a toe injury.   He didn’t figure much in the game in coverage, but he made a business decision not to block LT Tyron Smith, who made the horse tackle on Michael Boley following his interception and saved a touchdown.  Hosley led Boley all the way down the field but got out of the way of Smith instead of at least slowing him down.  I hope Fewell sees that on tape and calls him on it.

CB Michael Coe was beaten several times, but he also made solid tackles and broke up a throw intended for Ogletree that would have been a touchdown.  Unfortunately, the kid injured himself again and no one seems to know how long it will be before he returns.

The safeties were active, but none had a pass defensed.  Antrel Rolle, as he usually does, led the team in tackles with 9.  Rolle was one of the players mentioned that didn’t seem to be able to get into the passing lanes to influence the slants that were burning the Giants all night.  S Kenny Phillips made a couple of tackles but wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game as almost everything the Cowboys did was short underneath or long outside the hash marks.

Special Teams: The Giants had an average day on specials.  Kickoff return duties fell to David Wilson, who returned 3 for 71 yards.  Andre Brown also returned two kicks, but one was off a funky bounce when the ball hit and died at the three yard line.  PR Domenik Hixon returned one punt for 5 yards, but had another decent runback called back due to a clipping penalty.

The coverage teams were excellent as the Giants did not give up a significant return all evening either in the punt game or kick off game.  P Steve Weatherford had another outstanding night and K Lawrence Tynes did as well.

Coaching: I have to question not giving Wilson another chance to run the ball after his fumble, particularly when Bradshaw could not get going.  Additionally, the team seemed flat, not ready to compete in a regular season game.  As for the coverage schemes, it’s hard to believe that Fewell couldn’t get some help for Tryon or at least give Hosley a chance when Tryon was getting repeatedly burned.  The Giants have gone away from the “big nickel” and it might have hurt them in coverage on Wednesday.

Final Thoughts: The team is nowhere near as bad as they played on Wednesday, but quite frankly if the middle of the line doesn’t open holes and David Diehl cannot handle the pass rush on the right side, things can get ugly quickly this season.  The cornerback situation is troubling, but I believe they’ll get that figured out.  I’m not so sure about the offensive line.  As for the running backs, we didn’t see Andre Brown at all and Wilson for only 2 plays.  We know Bradshaw is most effective as a tandem back.  The question is, who is going to be his partner?  And it’s a little unnerving that there is no big back presence in short yardage situations.

It’s just one game, but it was a big one as the Giants are already 1.5 games behind the Cowboys in the division.  The highs and lows on The Corner Forum aren’t warranted.  Let’s see a body of work before we declare this season one way or the other.

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, September 5, 2012)
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