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Romeo Okwara, New York Giants (December 11, 2016)

Romeo Okwara – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 10 – Dallas Cowboys 7

Overview

This was the New York Giants most important victory since the 2011 NFL season, ironically the last time the Giants swept the Dallas Cowboys. Despite winning six out of their last seven games heading into this contest, many were predicting doom and gloom for New York down the stretch after the team’s 24-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dallas Cowboys were supposed to make mincemeat out of the Giants and celebrate their division title on New York’s home field. Making matters worse, all of the Giants Wild Card challengers won earlier in the day.

As good as this feels, the jubilation from the victory must be short lived. The nine wins have not guaranteed a playoff spot and the Giants have three difficult games coming up, including two division match-ups on the road. But being 9-4 overall and 3-1 in the NFC East is much, much better than being 8-5 overall and 2-2 in the division with three games to go.

The game was an old-fashioned, defensive slug match with both teams combining for only 25 first downs, 520 total net yards, and 17 points. There were six turnovers and the Giants and Cowboys were a combined 3-of-29 on third down. Not counting the final turnover on downs, neither team reached the red zone.

Fans will long remember this cold night game with a dusting of snow on the field. And the ghosts of the Giants defensive past must have watched with pride.

Giants on Offense

Despite the thrilling win, we should not lose sight of the fact that the New York Giants offense is playing like crap and getting worse. In a game of immense magnitude, this was a PATHETIC effort across the board on offense. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 10 points
  • 12 first downs
  • 260 total net yards
  • 2-of-14 on third down
  • 3.1 yards per rush
  • 23 percent of the offense coming on one play

This is the fifth time this year the Giants have been held to under 300 yards of offense. And I will keep beating this dead horse until proven otherwise – the Giants offense is completely dependent on the big passing play. Other than Odell Beckham’s 61-yard score, no other play gained more than 19 yards.

The offense should be ashamed and embarrassed. If the Giants are going to make a serious run this year, the offensive players had better get their collective heads out of their asses. And pronto.

Quarterback

Eli Manning played like shit. And he’s getting worse. This is the third game in a row Manning has passed for under 200 yards. Yes, the offensive line stunk. Yes the running game was under-productive. But Manning has been encumbered with those issues in previous seasons, including the 2011 title run. In the first half, Manning was 10-of-16 for 80 with two lost fumbles (one where the ball simply slipped out of his hand on what should have been a 24-yard touchdown to Roger Lewis). He also threw one deep pass that should have been intercepted. In the second half, he was 7-of-12 for 113 yards. And 61 of those yards came on a slant pass for the team’s only touchdown. The other six passes accrued just 52 yards. Worse, on one of the Giants few scoring threats, he threw an interception at the Cowboys 15-yard line with 9:40 left to play when a field goal or touchdown would have been huge. And the Giants were VERY lucky the Cowboys dropped two more throws that could have been picked off, including one in Giants’ territory with 2:52 left to play.

Running Backs

You can’t say the coaches were not persistent. Not counting two kneel downs, the Giants ran the ball 31 times in 62 offensive plays. That’s the very definition of balance. The problem was that both Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins each only gained 45 yards on 15 carries. Bobby Rainey had the other carry for 5 yards. In total, the Giants gained 95 hard-fought yards (3.1 yards per carry). Shane Vereen returned but only played three snaps before suffering a concussion. All four backs were targeted in the passing game, but their efforts only amounted to 26 yards on five catches (5.2 yards per catch). Perkins was flagged with another false start. He also fumbled on the team’s field goal drive and was fortunate to recover.

Wide Receivers

Tell me if you heard this before? It was Odell Beckham and not much else. Beckham was targeted nine times, only catching four of those passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. While his superlative 61-yard catch-and-run on the slant pass proved to be the game-winning score, Beckham also dropped two passes. The first should have been a 31-yard touchdown pass late in the 1st quarter.

Sterling Shepard caught three-of-four passes thrown his way for 39 yards. Shepard’s primary contribution was his 14-yard reception on 4th-and-3 that set up Robbie Gould’s 39-yard field goal. Victor Cruz was a non-factor with one catch in four targets for four yards and one drop. He could have helped out Manning on his interception by coming back for the ball. Roger Lewis was targeted once but he did not have a catch.

Tight Ends

Ever since he arrived on the scene in New Jersey, Ben McAdoo’s offense has favored the tight end over the fullback. And for six years, McAdoo was the tight ends coach in Green Bay. But you would be hard pressed to find a more unproductive group of tight ends in the League. Will Tye and Jerell Adams combined for four catches for 30 yards (7.5 yards per catch). These two do give a good effort when blocking.

Offensive Line

Not good. The Giants ran the ball on half of their offensive snaps and only averaged slightly more than three yards per carry. And while Eli Manning was officially hit only four times, he was under duress too much against a team not known for pressuring the passer. Bobby Hart’s holding call sabotaged the opening drive of the game. Manning was sacked three times in the first half. Right guard John Jerry failed to pick up the stunting end on the first sack. The second “sack” came when the ball slipped out of Eli’s hand just as a free blitzing linebacker was about to hit him. Left tackle Ereck Flowers appears to be regressing and was badly beaten for a sack-forced fumble turnover on the final sack of the first half. He also failed to spot a blitzing linebacker on the play where Manning was hit late and then allowed another hit on Manning on the same drive. To his credit, Flowers did regain his composure and played better in the second half. Left guard Marshall Newhouse was flagged with a holding penalty that wiped out a 21-yard run by Paul Perkins. And as pointed out by Cris Collinsworth, Newhouse missed his pulling block on the inside linebacker a couple of times on running plays.

Giants on Defense

THIS is New York Giants defense. The NFL’s 4th-ranked offense was held to:

  • 7 points
  • 13 first downs
  • 260 total net yards
  • 1-of-15 on third down

Dallas’ 15 offensive drives resulted in:

  • 1 touchdown
  • 1 missed field goal
  • 1 turnover on downs
  • 3 turnovers
  • 9 punts

Dallas’ longest gain of the night was their 31-yard touchdown pass. No other play gained more than 18 yards. There were three sacks, eight quarterback hits, five tackles for losses, two interceptions, nine pass defenses, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Dez Bryant was held to one catch for 10 yards and a fumble. Jason Witten only caught four passes for 26 yards. Wow! And beyond all of the stats, with the game in the balance throughout the 4th quarter, the defense didn’t break. Hell, it didn’t even bend. Ben McAdoo put the game in their hands and they won it. This was old fashioned Giants football!

Defensive Line

Perhaps the Giants best defensive performance in years was accomplished without DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants were down to only three defensive ends as Owamagbe Odighizuwa (knee) was also inactive. In stepped undrafted rookie free agent Romeo Okwara, making his first NFL start in perhaps the most important game of the regular season. The result? Okwara, despite a bit of a rough start, finished the game with a team-leading 8 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 sack, a team-high 3 quarterback hits, and 1 pass defense. Are you kidding me? DE Olivier Vernon (5 tackles, 1 QB hit) didn’t put up the same numbers against top-flight left tackle Tyron Smith, but Vernon gave Smith issues as the game wore on and Dak Prescott felt his presence. Reserve Kerry Wynn chipped in with two tackles. Vernon was flagged for being offsides.

Inside, Damon Harrison (4 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) and Johnathan Hankins (2 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss) helped hold down Ezekiel Elliott to a “quiet” 107 yards on 24 carries. And the line did a good job of making sure Prescott did not hurt the defense with his feet (only one carry for one yard). Hankins was flagged with a defensive holding penalty.

Linebackers

Based on the first-half numbers, it looked like Ezekiel Elliott was in store for a huge night. He carried the ball 15 times for 86 yards in the first half, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. But in the second half, Elliott was held to a paltry 21 yards on nine carries. More impressive was a pass defense that held Giant-killer TE Jason Witten to four catches for 26 yards, Elliott to no catches, and Lance Dunbar to just three catches for 12 yards.

Devon Kennard, New York Giants (December 11, 2016)

Devon Kennard – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Devon Kennard had a big night with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for losses, 1 sack, 1 pass defense, and 1 forced fumble. Keenan Robinson had 6 tackles and a pass defense. Jonathan Casillas was credited with 5 tackles and a sack. Kelvin Sheppard had three tackles.

Defensive Backs

In a game where many players stood out, Janoris Jenkins deserves special recognition. He held Dez Bryant to one catch for 10 yards, forcing a fumble after that catch that helped to seal the game. Bryant was targeted a Dallas team-high nine times and that lone catch came late in the 4th quarter. Jenkins picked off another pass intended for Bryant in the 2nd quarter. And his 4th-and-10 breakup of Prescott’s last pass effectively ended the game.

As a unit, Cowboys wide receivers were held to 10 catches for 127 yards. Terrance Williams was left all alone for an easy 31-yard touchdown in the 1st quarter. (Landon Collins accepted blame for the blown coverage and it looked like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had initial responsibility for Williams). Williams’ other four catches gained just 45 yards. Slot receiver Cole Beasley caught four passes for 41 yards. Both Eli Apple (2 tackles, 1 pass defense) and Rodgers-Cromartie (5 tackles, 2 pass defenses) had strong games. Leon Hall tracked down a poorly-thrown Prescott ball for a key interception and 29-yard return. Coty Sensabaugh (2 tackles) has quietly contributed to this team as has undrafted rookie free agent Andrew Adams (3 tackles). Landon Collins was credited with 6 tackles, 1 QB hit, and a fumble recovery late in the game. He was often singled up on Witten and he kept him largely quiet.

Giants on Special Teams

A major factor in this victory was the punting of Brad Wing, who punted nine times, averaging 43.2 yards per punt (42.9 yard net) on a cold night. Five of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line with two downed by Dwayne Harris at the 3-yard line. The Cowboys returned three punts for a total of three yards. One of Robbie Gould’s three kickoffs resulted in a touchback. Dallas only gained a total of 28 yards on their two kickoff returns.

The Giants kickoff return game was not much better as both of Bobby Rainey’s efforts gained only 20 yards each. Odell Beckham returned four punts for 22 yards, the longest being 12 yards. But he also muffed a punt that he fortunately recovered. Dwayne Harris returned one punt for four yards. B.J. Goodson was flagged with an illegal block on one punt return.

(Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 11, 2016)
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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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