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New York Giants 29 (6-2) – Dallas Cowboys 24 (3-4)

By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary:

The New York Giants outlasted a desperate Dallas Cowboys comeback attempt on Sunday to hold on and win a thrilling contest, 29-24. New York looked to be on the verge of a blowout at Cowboys Stadium when they roared to a 23-0 lead in the second period as Dallas continually self-destructed with the ball. The Cowboys, however, came all the way back and took the lead 24-23 heading into the final quarter. Finally, two more fourth quarter Cowboys turnovers and two more Lawrence Tynes field goals put the Giants ahead for good.

Despite leading the division and knowing that the Eagles and Redskins had already lost, the Giants needed this game to avoid surrendering an NFC East tie breaker to the rival Cowboys. As it turns out, the Giants have distanced themselves from the East and have once again finished the first half of the season with a record of 6-2. This is the third straight year and sixth time under HC Tom Coughlin that the Giants have ended the first half at 6-2. As we all well know, that guarantees nothing. The Giants have been known for second half swoons, including a 3-5 finish last season.

As for this game, the best word to describe it was “crazy.” New York had no drive over eight plays for the entire game, and had no drive take more than 4:26 off the clock. In fact, every drive but the one noted was of 3:09 or less in terms of time of possession. They simply couldn’t sustain drives. Dallas didn’t fare much better, turning the ball over four times in the first half with three interceptions and a fumbled punt. The Giants turned those miscues into 20 points and the 23 point lead. Dallas got going late in the second half and scored on four straight possessions spanning into the third quarter (not including the kneel down before half) to take the lead.

With the Giants settling for three field goals including two from inside the green zone early, the Giants only had 23 points despite scoring five times (once on defense). When they got the ball back at their own 40 yard line following a Dallas punt with 11:37 to go in the first half, New York seemed poised to deliver a knockout punch. Instead, HB Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled the on the first play of the possession, which seemed to change the momentum. New York held Dallas on that drive, but the Cowboys defense continued to stymie the Giants offense and when they got the ball back on their next possession, the comeback began.

By the time the Cowboys had taken the lead, the air seemed to be completely out of the Giants balloon and fans had to wonder if they could come back and take this game. On the series following the Cowboys touchdown to take the lead, Eli Manning was picked off when Victor Cruz was hit as he was making a catch for a first down. The ball took a fluky bounce off the legs/butt of Dallas CB Gerald Sensabaugh and reserve safety Danny McCray made a heads up play to corral the ball before it hit the ground. All the momentum had shifted to Dallas, and they were looking to deliver a knockout punch of their own.

Well momentum is a funny thing, because the Giants got some of it back on the next play as DT Chris Canty planted QB Tony Romo for a sack and 12 yard loss. Dallas couldn’t recover their footing on that drive and had to punt the ball away. QB Eli Manning, the reigning fourth quarter comeback king of the NFL, then marched the Giants into field goal range even after a holding call put them in a first and 20 hole. Though he didn’t convert it into a first down, the 18 yards he was able to recapture allowed K Lawrence Tynes to kick from 43 yards out instead of longer or not at all.

On their next drive, Dallas again began marching down the field until RB Felix Jones fumbled on a first and 10 play from the Giants 48 yard line. New York recovered the ball with just 6:40 left in the game. The Giants ran Bradshaw four straight times, and on a third and eight play, Manning hit Domenik Hixon with a short pass on a crossing pattern that didn’t result in a first down. Manning’s pass seemed a bit off, giving Hixon no chance to get to the sticks. Tyne’s fifth field goal of the game gave the Giants a 5 point lead with just 3:22 left after the ensuing kickoff.

Dallas got two more cracks at retaking the lead and winning the game. Dallas was able to drive deep into Giants territory, thanks to continuous passes to TE Jason Witten and a costly penalty on Jayron Hosley that nullified a nine yard sack by Justin Tuck that would have left Dallas in a third and 19 hole at their own 46 yard line. The defensive holding call was horrid. First, Hosley never held WR Kevin Ogletree and second, all contact came within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Later in the drive, from the Giants 19 yard line on second and one and three time outs remaining, Dallas elected to keep throwing. On second down, Romo missed a wide open Witten in the flat near the sidelines as he threw it out of his reach. On third down, Romo tried to hit Ogletree in the corner of the end zone and the refs originally threw a flag on CB Prince Amukamara for pass interference, but the flag was picked up after a conference. There was no interference on the play, though Ogletree did push off. Then on fourth and one, under heavy pressure, Romo threw the ball up for grabs and S Stevie Brown came down with another interception at the Giants 17 yard line.

Following the interception, the Giants ran three times with Bradshaw, inducing Dallas to exhaust their time outs. On third and three, it appeared that Bradshaw got a horrible spot. The ball was placed at least a half a yard short of what he actually gained, but there are no challenges allowed with less than two minutes remaining and the booth didn’t intervene to re-spot the ball. To me, it was unclear whether he got the yardage or not, but it’s clear that he was closer than where the refs spotted the ball. The Giants punted, giving Dallas one more shot at pulling the game out of the fire.

Tony Romo drove the Cowboys into Giants territory, and on second and six from the 37 yard line, heaved up a prayer that was almost answered. The Giants appeared to have bracket coverage on WR Dez Bryant with S Tyler Sash underneath and Webster over the top with safety help from Michael Coe if needed. Webster bit on the out and go route, falling into a trail position. Coe had perfect position and read the play correctly, but somehow was unable to defend the pass and Bryant went up and came down with the apparent touchdown. It turned out, however, that when he came down his right hand hit first, with his fingers just out of bounds. Pass incomplete. The Giants had dodged a bullet. Romo then got off three more plays in just 10 seconds with two going to the end zone. A miracle if I’ve ever seen one. Following the 400th (seemingly, it was really 18) catch by Witten for 10 yards and a first down at the Giants’ 27 yard line, Romo tried to hit Austin at the five yard line, which would have ended the game had he caught it. Under pressure on the last play of the game with just 1 second left, Romo heaved the ball out of the end zone and the Giants had their victory.

The Giants had just 293 net yards on the day, gaining 103 on the ground and a net of 190 (192 gross) through the air. Amazingly, New York made just 11 first downs all day including a horrific 3-15 on third down. Dallas gained 434 net yards, with just 19 coming on the ground. Dallas grossed 437 through the air. The Cowboys went 7-14 converting third downs and were 1-2 on fourth down. Two other telling stats: the Cowboys ran 83 offensive plays to New York’s 58 and Dallas converted three of four trips into the green zone into touchdowns while the Giants converted just one of four. The time of possession was closer than one would think, with Dallas holding a 4:36 advantage. To show just how inept the teams were at sustaining drives, Dallas had the ball on 15 occasions and the Giants 14.

The statistic that mattered most, however, was turnovers. The Giants forced six and the Cowboys forced two. New York turned five of the Cowboys turnover into points, 23 overall. The Cowboys didn’t turn either Giants turnover into points.

Quarterback:

Eli Manning had a lackluster day on Sunday, completing just 15 of 29 passes for 192 yards, no touchdowns and one unlucky interception. His passer rating was 58.4 and his Total QBR was 48.2. Statistically, it was Eli’s worst game of the year. That’s not to say that Eli played poorly, as there were a number of drops by the Giants receiving corps.

Dallas played the game much like they did in the opener, playing cover two and double teaming Cruz and Nicks on the outside. Still, Manning tried to get the ball deep outside the numbers but for the most part it just wasn’t there. Manning’s longest completion was on his second pass, a 56 yard hookup with WR Rueben Randle for 56 yards on the Giants’ first drive. Randle looked like he was catching a punt on the play. Manning’s best pass may have been a perfect 29-yard strike on a skinny post to Nicks on the first play of the game-winning field goal drive.

Manning was also victimized by a drop by Martellus Bennett which would have set up a first and goal situation. Additionally, Manning was hurried and hit by the Cowboys quite often. Though he was only sacked once (and it was more or less a slide two yards short of the line of scrimmage to avoid a hit), Manning was hit a half dozen times.

Despite the coverages he was seeing, Manning went to his wide receivers 21 times, his tight end 6 times, and his running backs just twice.

Running Backs:

HB Ahmad Bradshaw once again got the brunt of the work at tail back, carrying 22 times for 78 yards, a 3.5 ypc average. Bradshaw is only practicing sparingly again with foot injury issues, and I believe it’s hurting him. As hard as Bradshaw runs, he seems to have again become impatient. There were holes for him to hit that he simply missed or didn’t trust. It’s a problem that needs to be corrected.

Bradshaw looked like he had a sure touchdown on a direct snap on a third and two play from the Dallas 19 yard line. The call was perfect, as it was away from LB DeMarcus Ware and Bradshaw had RT Sean Locklear, Bennett, Hixon and G Chris Snee in front of him to lead the way. Unfortunately, WR Hakeem Nicks, assigned to crash down on linebacker Anthony Spencer, missed his block. Spencer had no effect on the play, but Nicks turned into the backfield to chase Spencer causing C David Baas to trip over him. As such, Bass was unable to sustain his block on NT Jay Ratliff who stopped the play for no gain.

HB Andre Brown saw his first action since coming back from his concussion and carried three times for 21 yards. Brown was targeted twice in the passing game, one on a designed screen after he set up wide but luckily dropped the pass because he would have lost yardage. Brown did score on a one yard touchdown run, the only offensive touchdown on the day for the Giants.

Rookie HB David Wilson got a couple carries for one yard.

Interestingly, despite the double bracketed coverage on the receivers set up outside (mainly Cruz and Nicks), the running backs weren’t involved in the passing game either on screens or flare outs from the backfield. A surprising strategy since Dallas’ star middle linebacker, Sean Lee, is out for the season with an injury.

FB Henry Hynoski had his hands full all game trying to block for the running backs. It’s my belief that Bradshaw did not follow him often enough, but against the front four of Dallas it wasn’t only Hynoski who had his hands full.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:

WR Victor Cruz had a rough day on Sunday. Despite the double coverages and obvious holds, Manning still threw to him a game-high eight times. Cruz caught just two balls for 23 yards, and dropped at least three passes, not including the one on the big hit from Gerald Sensabaugh.

WR Hakeem Nicks had a little better day than Cruz, catching four of seven passes for 46 yards. Nicks also had a couple of drops, two of which came on third down.

WR Rueben Randle caught two passes, the first was the 56 yarder mentioned above and the other was a nifty 12-yard grab on the game-winning field goal drive on a back shoulder fade from Manning. Randle’s 68 yards led the Giants in receiving.

Domenik Hixon caught all three balls thrown his way, but he may have cost the Giants a first down when he juked back towards the line of scrimmage for no apparent reason instead of immediately turning up field after catching a nice ball over the middle.

TE Martellus Bennett seemed to be underutilized considering the coverages the Giants were seeing. Manning threw to Bennett six times and Bennett caught four but for only 29 yards. As mentioned, Bennett dropped a pass that would have set up a first and goal at the Dallas two yard line.

Offensive Line:

New York’s offensive line was under siege in the passing game, which is one reason Bradshaw didn’t see any action in the passing game. Bradshaw stayed in to block all day. C David Baas had his hands full all day with DT Jay Ratliff, leaving little room for Manning to step up. Ratliff got at least one good hit on Manning. Manning seemed to be outside the pocket much more than usual on Sunday. The Giants tackles, Sean Locklear and Will Beatty, did an good job on both Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. Ware was credited with a sack, but again it was more a give up play by Manning than a sack by Ware. Spencer wasn’t credited with a QB hit all day. That said, neither played particularly well in the ground game.

The guards seemed to have their hands full with getting to the second level on running plays, but in the end, most of the Giants best runs were through the A gap between the guard and center. The problem was even when the backs got through the line, the linebackers and safeties were there waiting for them.

Defensive Front 7:

The Good: 19 yards allowed on the ground. That’s astounding. The Bad: 437 yards allowed through the air. That’s also astounding.

The Good: Four interceptions and one fumble recovery. The Bad: Forgetting about a guy named Jason Witten, who lit up the Giants with 18 receptions (which is three more completions than Eli had all game to everyone on the team).

The Good: Four sacks and a ton of pressure on Tony Romo. The Bad: Allowing an eye-opening six plays of 20 yards or more and 7 of 14 third down conversions and a fourth and goal conversion.

Face it, it was one step forward and one step back day for the Giants defense and every unit was culpable. For the most part, the Cowboys running game was a non-factor. Despite Romo throwing three interceptions in the first four drives, the Cowboys stuck with the pass and put it on Romo’s shoulders to win it. To emphasize the point, Dallas ran the ball eight times for minus one yard in the second half (Felix Jones 5 for -2, Romo 1 for 1 and Phillip Tanner 2 for 0). Romo dropped back 39 times, passing on 36 and was sacked three times in the second half. He completed 23 passes after the break.

The front seven played well against Romo, recording eight official hits and four sacks, but Romo was definitely hit more than eight times. The Giants did something they rarely do against Romo, and that’s keep him in the pocket. The Giants got tremendous pressure from DT’s Linval Joseph and Chris Canty. Canty was disruptive all day and got his first sack of the season. He was also credited with three QB hits. Joseph had two sacks, was credited with two QB hits, and stuffed Jones behind the line on a running play.

The Giants DEs also played well. Jason Pierre-Paul had a sack and the pick six. On the interception, I still have no idea what Romo was doing. He had Witten literally all alone in front of him for an easy first down, but for some reason went to the check down. Chris Canty finally got a little pressure on him and JPP read the play perfectly and made a great catch. Pierre-Paul also made an outstanding play on a third and 22 play in which he chased down RB Phillip Tanner after a dump off which gained 13 yards. JPP was completely fooled on the play fake by Romo on the fourth and goal play in which Romo rolled out and scored.

Both Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora played well on the ends making sure that Romo stayed in the pocket. That, as much as anything, is what caused Romo to have no way of getting away from the DTs.

LBs Keith Rivers, Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn were among the Giants leaders in tackles on Sunday. That isn’t necessarily a good thing, however, as most of them came against Jason Witten after he caught a ball. Blackburn had a great stuff on a second down goal line play, coming up to drop RB Phillip Tanner for no gain at the one yard line. Early on, it appeared that the Giants were intent on covering Witten with Boley and that was just no contest. New York, for the most part, did not blitz in the first half, and when they did, Romo burned the Giants about two-thirds of the time. When the Giants only sent four in on Romo, Witten released into the pattern. Witten stayed in to block on only seven of Romo’s 66 drop backs on the day. Surprisingly, New York did nothing to try and slow Witten down at the line of scrimmage, instead just giving him a free release. Finally, late in the game, New York tried to change things up by putting S Michael Coe on Witten but there was still no stopping him.

Secondary:

New York’s secondary had an up and down game. Again, the Cowboys attempted to throw on 66 of their 83 offensive plays. That alone is going to ensure that the secondary gets burned a time or two. The problem was that the Giants got burned a lot. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant had 243 yards receiving, and that’s on top of the monster day from Jason Witten (167 yards). Prince Amukamara, Corey Webster and Jayron Hosley all got burned time and again by both Austin and Bryant.

Webster had an early, physical tackle on Bryant and then an interception which led me to hope that he’d take Bryant out of the game mentally. It didn’t happen, as he was burned three times later in the game by Bryant including the near touchdown in which he bit on the out route.

As for Hosley, he had another rough game, committing three penalties (one, outlined above, was a bad call) and he gave up a number of receptions as well.

Amukamara had an off game against Austin in particular. I mentioned above that on a number of occasions the Giants blitzed Romo and he made them pay. On four straight plays Romo went to Austin over Amukamara on the Cowboys’ first touchdown drive. Austin caught the first three for a total of 39 yards. The fourth was overthrown in the corner of the end zone. Amukamara also started the second half badly by committing a 20 yard pass interference penalty on Dallas’ first play from scrimmage. Later on the drive, Austin again beat Amukamara on an inside post for 15 yards down to the Giants one yard line.

Antrel Rolle also had his problems in coverage, particularly when put on Witten. Rolle was only in on two tackles all day, but more importantly, he didn’t seem to be in position over the top on several plays. The Giants had to use safeties Tyler Sash and Michael Coe late in the game due to Rolle getting injured, and Coe almost made the biggest gaffe in the game when he was unable to locate the ball on the near Bryant touchdown despite being in perfect position to do so.

That leaves us to S Stevie Brown, who is continuing to play in place of injured S Kenny Phillips. Brown has stepped in and again had a huge impact on the game. He got the Giants defense going when he broke on the inside route being run by Dez Bryant, picked off the ball and set the Giants up for their second field goal. In the fourth quarter, he recovered a Felix Jones fumble after he almost missed it in his effort to “scoop and score” and then picked off Romo again with just over a minute remaining to end a Dallas threat. And think about this for a minute. After Rolle went out with a head injury on the second-to-last Dallas drive, Brown was the most experienced safety on the field for the Giants. It will be very interesting to see what happens when Phillips is ready to return.

Special Teams:

The special teams arguably were the difference in this game. First, Lawrence Tynes hit all five of his field goal attempts and the punt return team forced a fumble on Dez Bryant. Mark Herzlich was the man with the hit, and the resulting fumble recovery by Michael Coe led to another Giants field goal.

Both the kickoff and punt return teams had average results, and Wilson hasn’t broken a really good return in a couple of weeks now. It still feels like Rueben Randle is eventually going to break one in the punt game, but so far he’s been unable to get untracked.

Both return teams did allow one decent return each.

P Steve Weatherford’s last punt was critical. He hit it out of bounds with no chance for a return, leaving Dallas with 70 yards to go with just 44 seconds left and no time outs.

Coaching:

I’m not sure why the Giants didn’t try to get the ball to the backs and tight ends more than they did, but I think they should have tried to attack the middle of the field more than they did. Additionally, I felt Bradshaw again left yards on the field and would have given a bigger load to Andre Brown. People clamoring for David Wilson should well remember that in 2007, we didn’t hear or see much from then rookie Ahmad Bradshaw until the last two weeks of the season. It’s the same with Wilson, I assume. He’s still learning and will get his chance when the staff feels he’s earned it.

Speaking of coaching, I am happy that Dallas HC Jason Garrett decided to throw three straight times with one yard to go, more than a minute to play, and three time outs in his pocket from the Giants 19 yard line. If he converts that first down on a running play, they have at least four more shots from no worse than the 18 yards. Thanks, Jason!

Final Thoughts:

As noted, the Giants now have the inside track to the NFC East crown. We are only at the half way point in the season and once again the Giants are 6-2. Inevitably, there will be talk of a second half swoon. If it’s coming, we all know the media will be all over it. I don’t believe it will happen this year. Frankly, I don’t see the schedule as all that dire compared to what others are saying. Looking at the schedule, there isn’t a single team that doesn’t have their own sets of problems and each of them can be beaten by the Giants. Instead of the Giants being afraid of them being on their schedule, teams like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New Orleans and Atlanta should be worried that the Giants are on their schedules.

Each of the other NFC East teams have tough schedules as well, particularly since they all have so many NFC East games left.

Pittsburgh is up next, and their defense is ripe for the taking. The Steelers have changed up their strategy and are running more and throwing shorter passes. TE Heath Miller could be a big headache because he plays very much like Witten does. The Giants have a couple more injuries to deal with, including to Rolle (concussion), Rivers (calf) and Blackburn (hamstring). Mark Herzlich has been waiting for his chance and this week he will get it. It looks like Phillips may be back this week which would help greatly if Rolle can’t go. That’s enough for now though. I want to savor another day of beating the Cowboys and Redskins back-to-back before thinking about Big Ben and the Steelers.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 28, 2012)
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