Dallas Cowboys 30 – New York Giants 10
A 2-10 team could not have had more attention than what the Giants had coming into their home, week 14 match-up against the middle-of-the-pack Dallas Cowboys. Eli Manning made his first start back after a one-week hiatus for the first time since 2004. This was the result after ownership opted to fire Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese which was inevitable but possibly accelerated because of how they handled the Manning benching. With the NYG throwback uniforms being worn and a crowd that was fully behind Manning at the start, the game had an intense feel to it for the first time in months.
There was an odd, uncommon start to the game. Both teams put together marathon drives, 16 plays for DAL and 17 for NYG. They both resulted in 3 points respectively and before we knew it, the game was into the 2nd quarter. Dallas was shooting themselves in the foot with multiple offsides penalties by their defensive line and failure to capitalize on two NYG fumbles.
Spurred by a 35-yard pass to Evan Engram, NYG marched down to the goal line on their 3rd drive of the game. In true calm, cool, and almost relaxed fashion, Manning hit Rhett Ellison for a 1-yard touchdown on a play-action rollout to the right. NYG led 10-3 against a Cowboys team that has been mightily struggling to find their offensive identity without their suspended running back Ezekiel Elliot.
The sparse NYG crowd came to life but it was short lived. Dak Prescott hit Dez Bryant on a short slant and an aggressive mistake by cornerback Brandon Dixon, who went all in on trying to deflect the pass, led to Bryant spinning free post-reception with nothing but green in front of him. It was a 50-yard touchdown that evened the game at 10 with under 2 minutes left in the half and that ended up being the score at halftime.
The 3rd quarter saw DAL and NYG trade possessions a few times, with Damon Harrison dominating the Cowboys offensive line and Sean Lee impacting the game on every possible level against the Giants’ offense. The most accurate kicker in NFL history, Dan Bailey, missed his second in three chances as the end of the quarter came to a close. On 3rd-and-2 near midfield on the ensuing NYG possession, Sterling Shepard dropped a pass (adding the NYG first place ranking in that category). After forcing a 3 and out, NYG had 3rd-and-2 again approaching midfield and this time it was Roger Lewis who came up with the drop. The NYG receivers helped to set up what ended up being one of the ugliest quarters of the 2017 season.
Prescott hit Giants killer Jason Witten for a 20-yard touchdown up the – you guessed – middle of the defense with 7:45 left. All was not lost and NYG was still very much in it. Poor play calling and execution led to an NYG punt despite being in DAL territory. DAL faced a 3rd-and-3 and even though their thought process was to get the clock to 0:00, they went with an empty backfield approach. One quick slant later to RB Rod Smith and the NYG defense was trying to catch him from behind but to no avail. DAL took the commanding 23-10 lead (failed extra point).
As if that wasn’t enough, Manning threw his first of two interceptions into the waiting arms of Sean Lee. DAL was able to put the ball in the end zone one more time, shoving the knife a little deeper, via a 15-yard run by Smith. DAL keeps their playoff hopes alive and NYG falls to 2-11.
- Eli Manning: 31/46 – 228 yards – 1 TD/2 INT. The two interceptions at the end of the game have an asterisk next to them. It was desperation time and he had to force things. The drops by Shepard and Lewis were killers and, at this point, both inexcusable but expected, ironically. Manning didn’t have a lot of “minus” throws and he just doesn’t have time to go through a lot of reads. This truly has become the worst situation in the league for any QB to work with from what I have seen.
- Wayne Gallman: 12 att/59 yards, 7 rec/40 yards. Career high in rushing attempts, rushing yards, catches, and receiving yards for the rookie. I think he needs to be the feature backfield presence on this team from here on out. His vision and decision-making, combined with his athletic ability, make him a big-play threat this backfield hasn’t had in years. He did fumble early but it was luckily recovered by the offense.
- Orleans Darkwa: 10 att/29 yards – 2 rec/15 yards. Darkwa had 2 poorly graded blocks and also fumbled early in the game, with his teammates falling on it. His presence as a tough inside runner was still there and he didn’t drop any passes, so good for him there.
- Shane Vereen: 6 att/23 yards – 3 rec/24 yards. A lot of Vereen’s production comes in garbage time and/or on rushing plays when the NYG offense is facing 3rd and 10+. It is clear he won’t be a part of the picture after 2017.
- Roger Lewis: 7 rec/46 yards. I knew Lewis was going to get more and more opportunities from Manning after their big play a few weeks ago. He led the team with 11 targets, the next leading target count among WRs was 3. His drop was a big one and he continues to show what I talked about in August, solid tools but minimal skills.
- Sterling Shepard: 2 rec/16 yards. His impact on the game was never really felt, as he was only targeted 3 times. Shepard had a huge drop on 3rd down that took the wind out of the NYG sails.It was really disappointing to see him have trouble getting open against single coverage. He has not capitalized or risen to the occasion since Beckham and Marshall have been injured.
- Evan Engram: 4 rec/54 yards. Watching the all 22 tape, this was the most double coverage Engram has seen all year. They were often bracketing him, a move I am surprised defenses didn’t do earlier in the season. He had the biggest play of the day for NYG, a 35-yard reception where DAL completely forgot about him in deep coverage. Engram added a drop and is among the league leaders in that category.
- Rhett Ellison: 4 rec/20 yards – 1 TD. Ellison continues to be Mr. Reliable when targeted, as he has been all year. His 1-yard touchdown catch was actually pretty high-difficulty and impressive.
- Tackles: Ereck Flowers righted the ship after a rough game last week in Oakland. He was the highest graded NYG blocker, well above the average mark. One encouraging sign other than simply not getting beat as often in pass protection, is he has really limited the penalties. His technique is still very shaky but it doesn’t always have to look pretty. Bobby Hart was back in the stating lineup, as Chad Wheeler was out with a concussion. He received a lot of help against Demarcus Lawrence. I wouldn’t call this a good game for Hart, but he only allowed 1 pressure and didn’t make any major mistakes that we were used to seeing.
- Interior: Brett Jones and Jon Halapio both took a step back against the very average Cowboys DTs. Jones mightily struggled in pass protection when left alone for the second straight week, and Halapio allowed 3 pressures and was flagged for a hold. John Jerry didn’t get a lot of push in the run, and was inaccurate on trap blocks, missing his target twice. He hasn’t been good at making adjustments on the fly all year and that is a part of the job that is becoming more and more essential in the NFL.
- Tackles: The glaring positive of this entire team over the course of the year is Damon Harrison. We are getting a treat in watching this guy play – the top DT in the game. His dominance against the inside run is almost assumed now but what stood out Sunday were the hustle plays he made near the sideline and down the field. You simply don’t see the big guys like him with that much range. Having him around is absolutely huge for the future of this team. Dalvin Tomlinson and Jay Bromley split duties next to him and both had quietly effective games.
- Ends: Jason Pierre Paul had 5 tackles and a pressure. His impact on the game remains woefully inconsistent and near non-existent on 3rd downs. Olivier Vernon was outclassed by Tyron Smith, the top OT in the game. He finished with 1 tackle and a foolish roughing-the-passer penalty. When he can’t out-quick the blocker, his hand game just isn’t good enough to give a guy like Smith a problem.
- Kelvin Shepard and Calvin Munson were #1 and #2 in tackles on the day (10 and 9) but both had really bad beats on multiple occasions. Shepard is a between-the-tackles run defender only, as seen when he was assigned to cover RB Rod Smith in the 4th quarter on 3rd down and couldn’t stay within 3 yards of him on a quick slant. Munson has been improving as the year goes, but he hasn’t been getting off blocks at all. He really struggles there. Both of them and Devon Kennard had negative grades in coverage, with the glaring mishaps coming from Shepard (mentioned above) and Devon Kennard on Witten’s touchdown.
- Ross Cockrell and Brandon Dixon continue to dominate the playing time, as both were in for every snap. Cockrell continues to look better and better each week. I think this guy needs to be in the long-term picture. He had two very high-level PDs. Dixon added 2 PDs of his own, showing physical and aggressive play. He got a little too aggressive on the 50-yard TD pass to Bryant, however.
- Darryl Morris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were each on the field less than half the plays but were very solid when they were in.
- Eli Apple remained inactive, and his hole is being dug deeper and deeper.
- Landon Collins and Darian Thompson both graded out as average. Collins had a nice impact on the running game, notching a TFL and forcing the DAL ball carriers to re-direct. His feel through traffic is outstanding, excellent instincts. Thompson missed 2 tackles, neither of which were overly complicated. His lack of long speed was put on display a couple times as well.
- K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 – Made 39. Rosas only had one shot in this game, and he came through. He really hasn’t had a full dose of action to give NYG a real idea if he should be here long term or not.
- P Brad Wing: 8 Punts – 43.4 avg/33.9 net. Wing wasn’t sailing the ball high enough and it gave DAL a few clean returns. He leads the NFL in punts this year and has appeared to take a step down in terms of quality.
- DT Damon Harrison, CB Ross Cockrell, RB Wayne Gallman
- OC Brett Jones, OG Jon Halapio, DE Olivier Vernon
3 THOUGHTS ON DAL
- I said something similar after the week 1 matchup, but the impact a LB like Sean Lee has on the game week in, week out is as strong as any top-tier defender in the league, and I mean that. This guy impacts the game in so many ways, in so many situations. And the thing about having a LB like this is that it is incredibly hard for an offense to avoid him. He is everywhere. Take notes and apply, new front office.
- This was a major confidence booster for the DAL offense. Their numbers without Ezekiel Elliot vs. their numbers with him have been atrocious but Rod Smith has been getting discussed for awhile now. It looks like he has things figured out and the talent is taking over. This team has the capability of getting hot from here on out and doing damage if they can sneak into the playoffs.
- I was very high on the DAL draft this past year and two main reasons for that were CBs Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie. Those guys can ball. Their impact on the game will be very strong for the next few years.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
- I am working on a list of coaches who I think NYG will be looking hard at. One common thing I am looking for is a guy who players really respond to, get behind, and will bleed for. I think that has been a major missing link with this team in recent years. Look at how PIT players play for Tomlin among other things. Vikings for Zimmer, Seahawks for Caroll…etc.
- Get the ball to Gallman as much as possible over these next 3 weeks. I think it is important to get as much information on him as a player as possible. Saquon Barkley is going to be available when NYG is on the clock and unless you fall in love with a QB in the process, he has to be in the picture at least. If Gallman can be the guy, then that idea lessens. But you need to know.
- I really do think NYG has something in Cockrell. I have watched every one of his snaps from the All-22 tape over the past few games and he’s been steady and impressive on all levels. There is a lot he does well, very little that he doesn’t do well.