Dallas Cowboys 36 – New York Giants 31
Game Review: Apoplexy at AT&T – Like most of you, I would love to chalk this one up to some bad bounces, tough breaks and a summer of Eli Manning and his WRs not having the time to practice but I simply can’t. Since taking over the play calling and installing his downfield heavy but still run and shoot offense, I have rarely been critical of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Three NFC East titles, two super bowl wins and offensive records obliterated will do that to a fan of this team, especially one who appreciates Gilbride’s ability to adjust in-game and give his QB the blue print to victory more often than not. What we witnessed on the evening is simply mind boggling from an offense with a 10 year veteran QB with 2 Pro Bowl caliber WRs, a dynamic HB and a third WR on the verge of becoming a bona fide threat. Simply put, Kevin Gilbride failed in the New York Giants season opening debacle in Dallas and his QB, while game as always, and proved that he’s still prone to silly mistakes, poor mechanics and game killing plays.
Against former Cowboy defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s attacking, multiple look 3-4, I would expect an early screen pass to slow down the overweight Gandalf’s aggressive schemes. The key with Ryan has always been slowing down the rush, and keeping the front 7 honest but the Tampa 2 is a different animal. Inexplicably, Gilbride planned to attack a sound conservative Tampa 2 with an array of head scratching play calls. From the first snap, it was clear that Gilbride either hadn’t watched film of Monte Kiffin and his base 4-3, or decided that he was smarter than everyone in the building. With a young OL starting two new players in LG James Brewer and RT Justin Pugh, Gildbride decided that slowing down a 4-3 base defense meant fooling all everything DE DeMarcus Ware instead of attacking the woefully thin Cowboy interior that was without anchor Jay Ratliff and was using the 254lb Ware as a rush end from the right side. Instantly, Ware proved why he is the best defender in the division by reading a poorly executed screen and picking off an ill-advised Eli Manning screen pass to HB David Wilson. One screen play down, one disaster – check.
Eli and company appeared to have cleared the first hurdle, with Hakeem Nicks cutting underneath the 2 Deep zone for a 57 yard gain but four plays later, on a 1st and goal from the 8 yard line, David Wilson was in the middle of mistake number 2, coughing up the ball and killing a chance to take the lead on a night when momentum would swing wildly both ways. The beefed up Giants defense stepped into the breach again though, forcing a 3 and out and giving Eli and company a new set of downs from the Giant 38 only down by 3 after the 2 big mishaps. Manning must have been getting football on his phone, and not wanting to miss a minute, so he allowed his defensive mates another chance to take the field by tossing the ball right to S Will Allen. Still refusing to let the offense down, the Giants D again rose up, with ex-Steeler Ryan Mundy channeling his inner Stevie Brown on a deflected interception, only to channel his inner James Brown 91 yards later and flail to the ground short of the goal line.
With the score knotted at 3-3, Dallas finally got its bearings on offense, chewing up 7 minutes over a 14 play drive that ended with a second Dan Bailey FG and a narrow 6-3 lead. The mistakes just kept on coming with FB Henry Hynoski dooming the Giants next drive with an illegal shift penalty on first down that resulted in a 4-play 3-and-out and another failed series. Nine plays later the Giants defense finally broke on a 9 play 71 yard drive that put the home team up 13-3. Eli and company would not go quietly after three early turnovers and a stout defensive effort. Three plays after falling behind by 10, Manning found his favorite deep target Victor Cruz alone on a 70 yard bomb that pulled the G-men within 13-10, where it remained until after halftime.
After a Cowboy three and out, you could almost hear a chorus of “I’m rubber you’re glue, bounces off me and sticks to you” being sung by David Wilson, Da’Rel Scott and Trumaine McBride. The three combined to cough up the ball 3 more times, leading to 21 more easy Cowboy points and a late rally that fell short despite another desperate fourth quarter charge by Eli and Victor Cruz. With 8:47 to go in the contest and down just 30-24 after falling behind by 17, the Giants defense rallied to stifle the Dallas Cowboys on consecutive drives and you could almost hear the oddly tight skin on Jerry Jones’ neck cracking under the pressure of another Giant miracle right in his big backyard. Fortunately for anyone within 10 feet of the 87 year old bodied, 40 year old brained and 1,000 year old skinned Cowboy owner, the Giants rally fell short as a screen pass (two screens and two disasters, check and check) bounced off of the arms of reserve RB Da’Rel Scott into the arms CB Brandon Carr who returned the ball 49 yards and pushed the Big D bulge to 36-24, effectively ending the “Apoplexy at AT&T”.
Quarterback: Two Super Bowl MVPs and numerous fourth quarter rallies will always endear Eli Manning to the Big Blue Faithful, but it’s his maddening ability to make boneheaded plays early in the game must have remotes flying in more TV rooms than just mine. After a so so pre-season in which Eli seemed off, his first play from scrimmage was a nightmare, dumping the ball to DE DeMarcus Ware and putting the G-Men in a 3-0 hole just minutes into their opener. As he is wont to do though, Eli eventually overcame another turnover of his own and two by David Wilson to get the Giants within 6 with just under 9 minutes to play. As ugly as this game got for the former Rebel, it was sprinkled with some hope in the form of a few haymakers to Victor Cruz, a 57 yard crossing route to Hakeem Nicks and even a 100 yard game from 3rd WR Rueben Randle. The killer though, despite 4 TDs and 450 yards is that game ended and began on the same play against the precise type of defense you DON’T want to run that play on. Despite the heroics to make it a game, Eli has to be smarter with the ball, especially on screens to RBs who not yet demonstrated any capacity to step up in a real game. His final pick to Carr could have been avoided if he had not thrown it so quickly and to Scott’s outside shoulder with a traditional cover 2 press behind it in which the CBs play the short third and are in prime position to make those plays.
I have to put those two screen failures directly at his feet, despite my agitation with the screen passes against this defense. Eli simply made two very careless plays that led directly to 10 points and ultimately the difference in the game. You can lay this at Wilson’s feet, Coughlin’s red face, McBride’s surprisingly springy humerus or bury it somewhere in the push broom that Gilbride manicures so precisely but in the end, when you’re the leader, the highest paid player and have appeared with a Banana in place of your manhood on SNL you make the plays when it counts.
Running Backs: Blessed with world class speed and athletic ability, HB David Wilson can somehow engage his body to launch his 205lb frame into the air for a standing somersault but cannot call upon that power to hold on to a 15 oz. football. Wilson finished his first game as a starter the same way he started his first game last year, on the bench lamenting turnovers and watching his team lose a very winnable game. He doesn’t care about us according to the Twitterverse so why waste any time on him?
FB Henry Hynoski missed most of OTAs and camp with a knee (presumably he has two) and it showed in the opener. Not to absolve David Wilson, but his first fumble came on the heels of a badly missed Hynoski block. Shortly after missing a block, Hyno looked like a legendary strong man on his first reception attempt, with the football playing the role of the cannonball. Apparently, Gilbride decided he hadn’t gone to the Hynoski well enough. After Mundy’s INT, at the Cowboy 8, Hynoski ran an what appeared to be FB pass disguised as a dive, but he didn’t touch DE George Selvie on his way out to sell the fake and Selvie ran down Eli Manning and pushed the Giants further from the goal line yet again. David Wilson whiffed on Selvie for good measure, but inside the 5 yard line, I am not asking my 205 HB to take out a 270LB DE in a phone booth as my FB skips past unaware. This is another example of why this team bogs down in the red zone, poor execution from plays that don’t play to our strengths.
HB Da’Rel Scoti was a gamer, pressed into action after Wilson coughed up fumble #2, but Scott’s failure to catch an Eli Manning screen play ended the game on an ugly note.
Wide Receivers: WR Hakeem Nicks is back. On the Giants second possession, the former Tar Heel took a quick slant 57 yards to the Cowboys 23 yard line. Nicks took advantage of the soft cover 2 and was able to race through it untouched, setting up the Giants after a miserable opening drive. Victor Cruz’s new contract comes with renewed expectations and #80 made his money with 3 TDs and 118 yards on only 5 catches. Cruz ignited the Giants finally with 1:05 left in the first half by running a go route right between the hash marks where CB Morris Claiborne bailed expecting safety help and his safety incorrectly assumed Cruz was headed down the sideline. Great route, great play call and great throw by Manning there to keep the Giants in the game going into the half. WR Rueben Randle also had a 100 yard game, which has you fantasy nerds digging up your waiver wires but three 100 yard WR efforts and 0-1 isn’t a result I’d be too happy with.
Tight Ends: New TE Brandon Myers didn’t sit down in the zone on his first target from Eli, causing an early misfire in the red zone but made up for on a 3rd and 11 with a terrific catch from Manning that fell 2 yards short of a TD. Myers ended the game with some garbage time yardage ended up with 66 yards and TD but his blocking was woeful, an ordinary effort from an ordinary player.
Offensive Line: Do I have to? Really? I praise LT Will Beatty all pre-season for his heads up play and he makes the cardinal sin of the screen pass from an OL standpoint on play one. Generally, the screen is run between defenders, the key being that the 1st defender on the edge has to be taken wide to create a throwing lane before the OL can release downfield to block. You can almost see Beatty realize that as he scuffled back to try to slow down DE DeMarcus Ware as he was shooting the B gap right into Eli’s lap but that small lapse doomed the entire play. LG James Brewer got his first start and allowed penetration on David Wilson’s first fumble, again not an absolution of Wilson but the margin for error on our red zone plays is razor thin and we saw a domino effect of Brewer, Hynoski and Wilson all botching the play. Not wanting anyone to feel too sad, C Kevin Boothe also botched his block on Wilson’s ill-fated fumble. With no one over his nose, Booth had to scrape off the DT and get to the second level to seal pursuit from the DBs and LBs, but inexplicably Boothe sort of amoebaed around until three defenders shot past him, realizing he was just there to say hi and not actually make a block. Brewer also gave up a quick pressure to DL Jason Hatcher that doomed a 3rd down play, but the new LG was adequate enough, albeit against a slew of backups at DT. Overall not a terrible effort by the OL, but it’s clear the timing isn’t there on running plays just yet and this group needs time to gel. RT Justin Pugh played solidly, not great, but I expect more from the right side in the coming weeks.
Defensive Line: Subway pitch man Justin Tuck put down his 5 dollar foot long (the sandwich you sickos) long enough to disrupt Tony Romo on the game’s first defensive series. Tuck lined up at LDT and tossed RG Mackenzy Bernadeau aside to rush the throw and hold the Cowboys to a field goal after starting on the Giant 15. The defensive line wasn’t able to get a lot of shots on Romo, but it appeared the plan was to contain him in the pocket and play disciplined gaps up front. There were a handful of stunts, but for the most part the front 4 were there to contain the edges and disrupt the pocket where possible. Give Romo and his mates credit though, 49 passes and only 2 sacks resulted from an abundance of shotgun formations and 3 step drops designed to get the ball out quickly and not let the Giants talented front take over the game. Overall the DL acquitted itself well, holding Romo to 263 yards and Murray to a very tough 86 on the ground. My biggest gripe is that I saw very little of our 6-5 and plus DEs getting their hands in the air when it was clear they were playing to contain Romo in the pocket and not let him have the edge to sprint out and extend plays.
The long awaited return of JPP didn’t bear fruit until a 4th quarter sack of Tony Romo, as Cowboy LT Tyron Smith was able to neutralize the former all pro single-handedly most of the evening. Again, it appeared that the play side DEs were instructed to hold the pocket and keep Romo in it, but even on those plays, Smith was adept enough to negate JPPs reach simply by getting his hands outside of Pierre-Paul’s shoulder pads and keeping him from using his wingspan to cut down Romo’s passing lanes. Credit Smith and his OL coach for that going on most of the evening, it’s not easy to keep rangy DEs like JPP and Mathias Kiwanuka from batting down there share of balls, when it’s clearly in their plan of attack to do so. Tom Brady’s throwing through a forest comment in Super Bowl 46 must have reached someone’s ears in Dallas. I don’t do it often, but hell of a job scouting what our DEs to well and making a point to almost totally negate it through the game. The bigger DTs made it tougher sledding for Cowboy backs, but no real impact plays from the trio of Joseph, Patterson and Rogers save for a late sack.
Linebackers: The Giants LB corps just reminds me of a party that no one really hated or no one really liked. You show up, see a few people, make note of some guys wearing jerseys in the 50s who just kind of hang around for 2.5 hours. That’s real football science for you kids! All terrible analogies aside, I see no impact at LB, not in the running game, and with a few Jacquian Willams passes defended aside nothing in the passing game. New MLB Dan Connor didn’t do much before bowing out with a stinger. Give Williams credit on the Romo Malachi Crunch that gave the Cowboy QB an apparent boo boo that had his wife upset, Jerry Jones frantic and NJ Governor and now traitor Chris Christie looking very heavy and overly tan for a man of his corpulence. Number 57 launched himself at RT Doug Free (who coincidentally looks like a Dave Attell on steroids) and gave Kiwi a clean shot at Tony Romo. Replacement Mark Herzlich led the front 7 in stops but it was his lax coverage on TE Jason Witten that allowed the Cowboys first TD.
Defensive Backs: Give credit where credit is due, and as a unit the Giants much maligned secondary played on hell of a game on Sunday night. Even without turnover machine Stevie Brown, the DBs were able to slow down the Cowboys fast break offense that features four legitimate game breakers who can beat you if you stop any of the others. Holding Dez Bryant to 22 yards on 4 catches and keeping Miles Austin to a 7.2 yard average is an impressive performance especially when coupled with the Giants inability to hold on to the football. Starting safety Antrel Rolle may have saved an early TD with an outstanding open field tackle on DeMarco Murray after the Giants blitz left him all alone in the flat against the dangerous ex-Sooner. Rolle has been vocal all off season about improving this defense and backed it up on Sunday night with 5 stops and generally sound coverage all night on a dangerous Dallas receiving corps. Rolle did however badly miss an open field stop on TE Jason Witten on a 3rd and 11 that allowed the Cowboys to convert but don’t forget that the other guys get paid too. New S Ryan Mundy started off with a bang, getting plowed by HB DeMarco Murray after a punishing 11 yard run, but made up for it with a 91 yard interception return and collapse.
CB Prince Amukamara played a little too soft on WR Miles Austin, allowing an early slant and first down, but Amukamara did a great job of re-routing a Cowboy WR, tipping the ball into the waiting arms of Ryan Mundy who apparently can only run 91 yards without oxygen. Nickel Back Terrell Thomas returned from a 2 year absence and almost took one to the house, jumping between Romo and his intended target to knock the ball harmlessly away. Thomas tackled well and competed all night, if he stays healthy it will be a huge boost to this group. CB Corey Webster presumably flipped a coin, it landed on heads and he decided this year he’d be good. Had it been tails like last year, there’s no telling which #23 we would see. Lined up over Bryant a good portion of the night, C-Web was smart, physical and sound, not missing tackles and staying in Bryant’s back pocket most of the night.
Special Teams: CB Trumaine McBride had the biggest special teams play of the night. Not big as in, “My that’s a big engagement ring”, more like “I remember thinkin to myself. Wow, that’s O.J. Simpson, he has a big f#*&in head man” (Charlie Murphy). Not even a melon like OJs is enough to make you get over the football bouncing off of McBride’s arm like it was an ejector seat from the old G.I. Joe cartoons. Kicker kicked, punter punted whoopee, we lost – I hate special teams when we lose.
Cram it in your cramhole award: Each week I will make fun of an opposing player, coach, owner, fan or all of the above depending on how much I’ve had to drink while writing this. This week, the award goes to…“He’s faking…hey ref..he’s faking..see he’s faking” – Cowboys idiot Jason Witten after DL Cullen Jenkins got his arm stepped on and had to leave with a burner. Maybe Cullen was faking it, but maybe you looked like the dork in class who rats out someone on the playground for putting dirt down your shorts instead of getting even. For record, I have not once put dirt down anyone’s shorts (that anyone can prove here, at Aquinas Catholic School or otherwise).