Dallas Cowboys 24 – New York Giants 21
Game Overview: This loss hurt. A victory would have thrust the Giants solidly back into the playoff hunt; a loss would effectively end their season. With everything on the line, the Giants came up short. Again. Being swept by the Dallas Cowboys, and losing to that team for the third time in the last four contests.
Fans and media can discuss and debate how a play here or there decided this game, as I will attempt to do in this column. But it would be a mistake for team management to think that the outcome of this season was simply a product of injuries and bad luck. For while luck can certainly affect the outcome of an entire season (see Tony Romo’s overthrow of Miles Austin in 2011), good teams usually make their own good fortune.
And no one should be under false pretenses. While this Giants-Cowboys game was a critically important game, it was a contest between two very imperfect, mediocre teams. It is highly unlikely the winner of this game – in this case the Dallas Cowboys – will go onto achieve playoff glory because both teams are seriously flawed.
Ultimately, the reason the Giants lost this game is the fact that they are not good enough. They are currently 1-3 in a bad division and 4-7 in watered-down League.
As for the specifics in this particular game, a closely-fought affair was ultimately decided by the following factors:
- The Giants spotted the Cowboys a touchdown when WR Victor Cruz foolishly fought for extra yardage in a situation where he should have simply gone to the ground. It was the ninth return touchdown the Giants have given up in 11 games – three of them against Dallas.
- The Giants were 1-of-3 (33 percent) in the red zone, being forced to settle for short field goals after facing 1st-and-goal from the 9-yard line and 1st-and-goal from the 4-yard line. In a game decided by three points, those opportunities for another eight points loom large.
- While I tend to shy away from criticizing play calling because I find such an exercise to be speculative at best and self-deceit for poor execution at worst, one does get the sense that the Giants should have stuck with a running game that accrued over 200 yards even more than they did. The Giants averaged 6.7 yards per carry and there were situations in the game where the Giants had gouged the Cowboys on a back-to-back runs only to go back to the pass. “We’re a balanced team. We play for balance,” said Tom Coughlin after the game.
- Fans and media would not be criticizing that attempt for balance had those efforts been successful. Hindsight is easy after a loss but the Giants only managed to accrue 154 net yards passing against the NFL’s worst pass defense. The Giants only averaged 4.8 yards per pass play (in other words, the Giants averaged almost two more yards per run than pass). $21 million Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle could barely dent the League’s worst pass defense while castoffs Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs ran wild.
- Poor discipline. The Giants committed 11 penalties, including three personal foul penalties. And one of these erased a Cowboys’ turnover on a drive that ended with a Dallas touchdown. Also, while there is debate over whether the pre-game trash talking ultimately impacted the game or not, it certainly did not help. And it does reflect poorly on the organization and a team that had little reason to crow coming into this game. “They talked and they talked and they talked,” Dallas CB Orlando Scandrick said after shutting down Cruz. “I’ve never in my life heard a team that was 4-6 talk like that. We were 5-5, and we knew we had no room to talk…They have a great coach. I don’t have any earthly idea why he let them talk like that.” It’s hard to argue with Scandrick, who took care of business on the field.
- Finally, while the defense held the Cowboys to just 17 points and 4-of-11 on third-down conversions, three of those third-down conversions came on the game-winning drive on the last possession of the game: a 19-yard gain to WR Dez Bryant on 3rd-and-7, an 8-yard gain by Bryant on 3rd-and-5, and a 13-yard gain by WR Cole Beasley on 3rd-and-10. With the game on the line, the defense came up short in crunch time.
So there you have it. If Cruz doesn’t hand the Cowboys seven points… if the Giants score on one more red zone opportunity… if the Giants ran the ball more… if the passing game wasn’t so impotent against the NFL’s worst pass defense… if the Dallas turnover isn’t erased by a personal foul penalty… if the defense had forced a punt or turnover on the last drive… if…if…if…
Not good enough.
Quarterback: 16-of-30 for 174 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. No killer mistakes. But not good enough. Not against this defense. Eli continues to force the ball to Victor Cruz, such as the failed 4th-and-6 play, when Cruz isn’t open. Eli didn’t lose this game, but did he do enough to win it?
Wide Receivers: Against this defense, a major disappointment. No one had more than three catches. Victor Cruz foolishly handed the Cowboys seven points and was invisible for most of the contest, struggling to get open against Orlando Scandrick. Cruz caught only two passes for 27 yards. Rueben Randle was targeted seven times, but only came down with three receptions for 64 yards.
Then there is the saga of Hakeem Nicks. Before the game, Nicks said he would play. After the game, Nicks said he could have played. But he didn’t…in the biggest game of the year…and he was missed. If Coughlin was trying to protect Nicks or punish him, he picked a bad spot. Jerrel Jernigan saw 33-of-62 offense snaps. He was thrown at seven times, but only caught two passes for 24 yards. Nicks was missed. Jernigan had a tremendous opportunity to make a statement and came up small, looking like another poor draft decision by Jerry Reese.
Louis Murphy made a nice adjustment on his 4-yard touchdown reception.
Running Backs: The irony is that the strength of the offensive football team in the biggest game of the season was a running back who has been waived/released eight times in his career and was coming off of a broken leg, and another whose knee is so bad he is having trouble playing back-to-back games. But Andre Brown (21 carries for a career-high 127 yards) and Brandon Jacobs (nine carries for 75 yards) ran roughshod over a Cowboys’ defense that seemed to want no part of them. FB John Conner abused Cowboys’ linebackers with his lead blocking.
Tight Ends: Brandon Myers had 56 offensive snaps, Bear Pascoe 17, Larry Donnell 1, and Adrien Robinson has yet to play in a game this season. Myers caught three passes for 39 yards, none bigger than his 27-yard touchdown on 4th-and-3 when two Cowboy defenders allowed him to get up and run into the end zone. I didn’t care for the play call on 1st-and-goal from the 9-yard line where the Giants, including Manning, flowed to the right and the Giants hoped to catch the Cowboys’ napping on a throw back to Myers on the left. I thought this was the wrong time to get cute. I also didn’t care for the formation where the Giants got stuffed on 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter. Instead of Myers being in a down position, tight to the right tackle, he had to attempt to block the linebacker, standing up, from a wider split. The linebacker shot past Myers to help disrupt the play.
Offensive Line: The offensive line did a reasonable job, especially considering the fact that OC Jim Cordle was forced to leave the game with a season-ending knee injury. Kevin Boothe shifted seamlessly to center and James Brewer was inserted into the lineup at left guard. The Giants rushed for over 200 yards. Eli was sacked twice and officially hit only three times. David Diehl, although he gave up a sack to DT Jason Hatcher, had probably his best game of the season and mauled the Cowboys on a number of short pulls to the weakside. Both tackles played well. James Brewer held up well, especially in pass protection. He did whiff on his man on the failed 3rd-and-1 attempt.
Defensive Line: It’s hard to be too hard on a defense that held the potentially explosive Cowboys’ offense to just 17 points. But the Giants played their worst run defense in weeks, allowing Cowboys running backs to gain 106 yards on 17 carries for 6.2 yards per carry. The defensive line did sack Tony Romo four times: two by Cullen Jenkins, one by Justin Tuck, and a shared sack between Mathias Kiwanuka and Linval Joseph. Kiwanuka’s roughing-the-passer penalty on Romo that erased a turnover was one of the deciding plays of the game. I’m sure everyone has their own opinion on the play, but I thought it was ticky-tack call.
Jason Pierre-Paul only played 27 snaps and was a non-factor as Tom Coughlin said his shoulder injury was clearly an issue. It’s that type of season for the Giants – just as JPP started to look like his old self against the Raiders, he hurts himself falling to the ground a play later and now seems destined to remain a non-factor for the remainder of the season.
The bulk of the snaps went to Kiwanuka (61), Tuck (59), Jenkins (43), and Joseph (42). Mike Patterson had 17 snaps, Johnathan Hankins 10, and Damontre Moore none.
Linebackers: Jon Beason (65 snaps, 4 tackles) picked the wrong time to have a quiet game. He missed some plays against the run and was victimized on occasion in the passing game by both Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray. Jacquian Williams tied for the most snap counts (65) but only had four tackles and no impact plays. Keith Rivers only had 17 snaps and one tackle. TE Jason Witten only had four catches for 37 yards, but two of those were for touchdowns. Witten had four touchdowns in two games against the Giants this season. Running backs DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar hurt the Giants with five pass receptions for 66 yards.
Defensive Backs: The defensive backs performed pretty well for most of the game. In the first half, the only wide receiver to gain any yards was Dez Bryant, who had three catches for 50 yards. The rest of the receptions were to the Witten, Murray, and Dunbar. S Antrel Rolle had a nice interception on a dropped pass by Bryant (Rolle’s fifth interception on the season). Witten did get free of Terrell Thomas on his 20-yard touchdown reception, however. Early in the third quarter, Thomas forced WR Cole Beasley to fumble. Will Hill recovered the loose ball, but the play was wiped out by Kiwanuka’s roughing-the-passer penalty. Two plays later, Rolle committed another borderline personal foul penalty, setting Dallas up on the 6-yard line. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-2, Witten scored to make the game 21-6. Dallas did nothing until the last drive of the game.
Thus, up until the last drive, the defensive backs really had done a very nice job on the Cowboys. But when CB Trumaine McBride (groin) left the game with an injury, the Giants moved Terrell Thomas outside from nickel back and moved Rolle to nickel. The Cowboys instantly began to attack Rolle with success, converting on three third-down situations and moving into easy field goal range. One wonders how the game might have gone had McBride not gotten hurt. C’est la vie.
Special Teams: The special teams unit performed very well against one of the best special teams units in the NFL. In windy conditions, Steve Weatherford had a 51.6-yard net average on five punts. That was the highest net average for a Giant with at least five punts since the NFL began tracking net average in 1976. He had punts of 68 and 67 yards. Josh Brown hit his two short field goals and Dallas was limited to 21.7 yards per kickoff return and 3.8 yards per punt return – well below Dallas’ averages.
Rueben Randle returned a punt 16 yards on his only opportunity. Michael Cox averaged 23.3 yards per return on three returns, including a long of 30. Jerrel Jernigan had one kickoff return for 15 yards.
In a nutshell, the Giants out-played the Cowboys on special teams.