New York Giants 20 – Dallas Cowboys 19
In a game decided by the smallest of margins, there is one statistic that best explains the New York Giants defeat of the Dallas Cowboys: red zone efficiency.
- New York Giants: 3-of-3 (100 percent)
- Dallas Cowboys: 1-of-3 (33 percent)
The Cowboys dominated in terms of number of offensive plays (75 to 54) and time of possession (36:43 to 23:17), but their four drives of 11 plays or more resulted in only 12 points. Two of those drives were 15 plays each and two others did not reach the red zone. Indeed, Dallas’ sole touchdown was set up on a short field after a turnover.
On the other hand, the Giants three scoring drives encompassed 4, 12, and 9 plays. But while the Dallas scoring possessions usually resulted in field goals, the Giants were scoring touchdowns.
This was a big reversal for a Giants team that has had issues both in terms of red zone offense and red zone defense in recent years. And it was the deciding factor in the game.
Giants on Offense
Dak Prescott threw for more yards than Eli Manning. The Giants out-rushed the Cowboys. Few people would have expected those results. Part of the reason for the depressed Giants offensive numbers is that the Cowboys maintained possession for so long in this game. They ran 21 more plays and had the ball for 13 more minutes. To put this in proper perspective, Dallas had the ball for almost an entire quarter more than the Giants!!!
But New York was more efficient. While the Giants only had three offensive possessions in the first half, two of those ended with touchdowns.
The second-half was the problem as the Giants began the third quarter with an interception that set up Dallas’ sole touchdown. They followed that up with three first downs and three punts.
The offense redeemed itself late. First came the 9-play, 59-yard, game-winning touchdown drive with 6:13 to go in the game. Then came a 7-play, 40-yard drive that picked up two first downs. While this possession only took 2:52 off of the clock, it flipped the field and forced Dallas to expend all three of their timeouts. Both would prove decisive in a game decided by seconds with a Cowboys place kicker fully capable of nailing a 60-yard field goal.
If you had told me that Eli Manning would only pass for 207 yards, then I would have been sure we would have lost the game. But the key here was his efficiency. Three of Manning’s 18 completions were for touchdowns. After the Cowboys dominated much of the first half with two marathon drives that ate up more than 16 minutes and ended with field goals, Eli made that moot in three throws: a 14-yard pass to Sterling Shepard, a 45-yard deep throw to Odell Beckham, and a 15-yard touchdown to Larry Donnell. Bing, bing, bing. Giants up, Dallas lead gone. Psychologically this was a devastating result and a bit reminiscent of the first half in the 2007 playoff game against the Cowboys.
The impressive element of the second scoring drive – the one right before halftime – was that Manning and the Giants overcame two holding penalties. Manning was 8-of-9 on this drive (with one drop) and finished the possession with a 9-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-3 with seven seconds to go.
Manning did throw one interception at the start of the third quarter, but the blame for that mistake was placed on Shepard who did not come back for the ball. Manning’s worst series was late in the 3rd quarter when he was fortunate a lateral pass didn’t result in a turnover and then he later unnecessarily rushed a 3rd-and-3 incomplete pass that was well off the mark.
Once again, Manning brought his team back with a 4th-quarter game-winning drive. Eli was 4-of-6 on this drive, including the 3-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz on 3rd-and-goal.
At least for one game, Tom Coughlin’s three-headed running back committee was shelved. Only two backs touched the football. Rashad Jennings ran the ball 75 percent of the time with 18 carries for 75 yards (4.2 yards per carry). Shane Vereen had six carries for 38 yards (6.3 yards per carry). Overall, the Giants were surprisingly productive in the ground game, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and out-rushing the Cowboys. Vereen also had three receptions for 23 yards, but also dropped a pass that stalled the first drive.
Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz were all on the field for 50 snaps or more. Tavarres King (6 snaps) and Dwayne Harris (1 snap) were afterthoughts. Despite the lack of big passing numbers, the Big Three were all important factors in the victory.
Shepard gained 14 yards and Beckham blew past CB Orlando Scandrick for a 45-yard gain on the Giants first touchdown drive. Beckham later caught a 6-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 on the Giants second touchdown drive. Cruz was a big factor on this drive with three catches, including a 23-yarder over the middle where he took a pop. Shepard finished up this possession with an incredible 9-yard touchdown reception despite a lot of contact from the Cowboys corner.
Shepard had a 20-yard reception on the game-winning touchdown drive in the 4th quarter. And of course Cruz had his dramatic moment with the 3-yard game-winner on 3rd-and-goal with just over six minutes to play.
Shepard gave up on his route on the play where Manning was intercepted.
With no traditional fullback on the roster, we are seeing more and more of Will Tye and Larry Donnell lining up in non-traditional tight end spots such as in the backfield. Both Donnell and Tye did a good job of run blocking for the most part although Donnell had issues late in the game. In the passing game, linebackers have problems with Donnell’s combination of size (especially height) and overall athleticism, as indicated on his 15-yard touchdown reception. But Donnell heard an earful from Ben McAdoo after he couldn’t make a play on an incomplete 3rd-and-5 pass over the middle. Donnell was also flagged with a false start. Tye caught all three passes thrown in his direction for 16 yards.
In an interesting late twist, check out this Corner Forum post by BBI poster cnewk on Brett Jones lining up at fullback late in the game. cnewk also did a nice overview on Donnell’s ups and downs as a run blocker.
As expected, against a subpar opponent, pass protection was solid. Manning was sacked twice, but one of those sacks was a coverage sack and the other on Rashad Jennings. These were the only two times Manning was officially hit. The running game was better than expected as the Giants actually out-rushed the Cowboys, gaining 113 yards on 24 carries for an excellent 4.7 yards per carry. New York’s best runs were right up the gut…power football…and everyone across the board did their job, including the much maligned right-side of the offensive line. The line did a nice job on their last drive, leading Rashad Jennings to 40 yards on seven carries against a defense loaded up to stop the run. In the 2nd quarter, John Jerry was flagged with a bogus holding penalty while Justin Pugh’s holding infraction looked a tad more guilty.
Giants on Defense
Dallas had three first half drives, with an astounding 38 plays and 22 minutes in time-of-possession. All three drives resulted in points. However, none resulted in touchdowns. (Though the Giants were lucky WR Cole Beasily dropped what should have been a TD on the first drive). In the second half, the defense failed to make a stand after the Giants offense turned the football over at their own 35-yard line. Seven plays later, the Cowboys scored their only touchdown of the day. The last five Dallas possessions resulted in one field goal, three punts, and the clock expiring. The important point is the Cowboys were held to under 20 points. When the Giants do that, they usually win.
The Giants did not force a turnover or sack the Dallas rookie quarterback. But the Cowboys longest play of the day was only 21 yards. The Giants were very sound in their fundamentals. Only two defensive penalties (one accepted) and they hit and tackled very well throughout the game.
The pains in the ass in the game were tight end Jason Witten and slot receiver Cole Beasley – who combined for 17 receptions (targeted an astounding 26 times) for 131 yards. Fortunately, these two only averaged 7.7 yards per catch. All of the other Cowboys only caught eight passes total.
No sacks and officially only three quarterback hits – two by DE Jason Pierre-Paul and one by DT Johnathan Hankins. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott was far too comfortable in the pocket, often times experiencing no pressure whatsoever. That said, the Giants began to get more heat on the quarterback as the game wore on in the second half. JPP gave the right tackle some issues and DE Olivier Vernon caused a holding penalty on one rush (and another holding penalty on a running play).
The Giants held potentially one of the NFL’s most-dangerous running attacks to 101 yards on 30 carries (3.4 yards per carry). Even better, they held top draft pick RB Ezekiel Elliott to 51 yards on 20 carries (2.6 yards per carry). Pierre Paul (6 tackles), Hankins (5 tackles), DT Damon Harrison (5 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss), and Vernon (4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) were all impressive in run defense. And even the reserves got into the act as DE Owa Odighizuwa (17 snaps), DT Jay Bromley (16 snaps, 2 tackles), DE Romeo Okwara (13 snaps), and DE Kerry Wynn (5 snaps, 1 tackle) all saw action.
Despite playing with a rib injury, team captain Jonathan Casillas (58 snaps) led the team with 10 tackles. Casillas made an excellent tackle on RB Ezekiel Elliott after a short pass on 3rd-and-goal to force a field goal. He did get beat by TE Jason Witten for eight yards on 3rd-and-7 on the second FG drive. In the 4th quarter, he had nice coverage on the slot receiver for an incomplete pass.
On the other end of the spectrum was new starting middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (59 snaps), who was only credited with two tackles. He was a non-factor. Keenan Robinson (30 snaps, 3 tackles) and Devon Kennard (27 snaps, 3 tackles) were mostly quiet although Kennard had a good series in the 4th quarter with back-to-back plays, first stopping the back at the line and then rushing the passer.
Newcomer and high-priced free agent Janoris Jenkins was one of the stars of the game as he blanketed All-Pro Dez Bryant, who only had one catch for eight yards. His only mistake was a 15-yard face mask penalty on a 3rd-and-6 incomplete pass. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who mostly played in the slot, was sometimes matched up on Bryant. One of his two breakups against Bryant was a deep shot into the end zone that was expertly defended. DRC also flashed on the blitz. He did give up a late 11-yard reception to WR Terrance Williams on 3rd-and-10.
Eli Apple (56 snaps, 4 tackles) played a lot outside in DRC’s normal position. Apple was beat by WR Cole Beasley on a crossing pattern for nine yards on 3rd-and-5 and then by WR Brice Butler for 16 yards on the second FG drive. But he otherwise kept his opponent quiet. Apple made a nice open-field tackle on a tight end screen in the 4th quarter.
Leon Hall (17 snaps) saw limited action.
Safety Landon Collins had six tackles and a pass breakup at strong safety. Nat Berhe (5 tackles) and Darian Thompson (3 tackles) rotated at free safety. Berhe had an early big hit on Elliott, but Collins was beat on the next play for a 17-yard gain by TE Jason Witten and then later by Beasley on 3rd-and-4 for six yards on the first FG drive. Berhe had a few big hits on the running back in the first half. The Giants and Collins were surprised by back-up TE Geoff Swaim being the downfield target on Dallas’ longest play of the day – a 21-yard gain. Thompson made a nice open-field tackle on Elliott for no gain two plays later. Collins was oddly locked up on Bryant out of the slot on a deep pass that almost went for a touchdown but Collins knocked the ball out of Bryant’s hands as he fell to the ground, saving four points.
Giants on Special Teams
Randy Bullock did not attempt a field goal and missed an extra point. Three of his four kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. One kickoff was returned 21 yards. This was unfortunately the play where J.T. Thomas tore his knee ligament.
Brad Wing did not have a great game. Three of his five punts resulted in touchbacks, including his last punt which only netted 17 yards. He was lucky that didn’t come back to haunt his team, though to be fair, the high snap by Zak DeOssie on this play didn’t help Wing.
Dwayne Harris returned two kickoffs, one for 29 yards and one for 17 yards. The biggest special teams play of the game for the Giants was his 17-yard punt return before the game-winning drive.