New York Giants 35 – Dallas Cowboys 14
By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Game Overview: The Cowboys are not officially dead. In fact, they could still make the playoffs and exact revenge on the Giants in the playoffs similar to what New York did in Dallas in January. However, for all intents and purposes, it is likely that the Giants’ 35-14 victory over the Cowboys ended the Cowboys’ aspirations of winning the NFC East in 2008.
The game was not as close as the final score. Missing QB Tony Romo and reserve running back Felix Jones, Dallas could only manage one scoring drive, and that drive was sustained by a terrible officiating call.
Offensively, not only did the Giants score 35 points, but the damage may have been much worse for the Cowboys had it not been for three sloppy turnovers by QB Eli Manning.
It was critically important win for New York, not only giving the Giants a 7-1 overall record at the halfway point of the season, but also a 2-0 record in the division.
Quarterback: It was an up-and-down game for Manning, who finished 16-of-27 for 147 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Manning was at his best on the Giants’ first drive of the game, completing 5-of-6 passes for 63 yards. This included a key 5-yard throw to WR Steve Smith on 3rd-and-4, a 15-yard pass to WR Amani Toomer, and a very nice 22-yard strike to WR Plaxico Burress. Manning’s 13-yard touchdown pass to TE Kevin Boss finished the drive. Later in the quarter, after a Dallas turnover, Manning threw his second score of the game by hitting Smith for a 5-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-3.
In the second quarter, Manning’s play fell off, though he wasn’t helped by a couple of drops either. On 3rd-and-8, Manning failed to see the play clock expire and took a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty. On the very next snap, without being touched, the ball slipped out of his hand with the Cowboys recovering at the Giants’ 16-yard line. After the defense got the football back, Manning handed Dallas their first score of the game by not only throwing into double coverage, but also not being on the same page as his intended receiver. The ball sailed into the defender’s hands and resulted in an easy turnover touchdown.
“Yeah, we had a blitz the other side so the outside linebacker is going to try to run out to the hitch, I tried to speed up and throw the ball before the outside linebacker gets out there,” said Manning. “But the corner is sitting and he is a guesser. Plaxico made the right read. The guy sat. I wasn’t looking at the corner, I was looking at the defensive end and worried about him getting in the line of flight.”
On the ensuing Giants’ possession, Manning took a coverage sack, but then found HB Derrick Ward for a 17-yard gain on 3rd-and-12. The drive stalled when Manning made two bad throws, one into double-coverage and another that sailed too high. On 3rd-and-10, he was sacked again.
On the next drive, after another Dallas turnover, Manning hit Smith for an 8-yard gain, but later missed him by throwing too high again. Manning did finish this drive on a positive note by finding Toomer for an 11-yard score on 3rd-and-6. However, this throw was a tad behind Toomer, who had to make a very nice catch on his back shoulder.
In the second half of the game, the Giants only called six pass plays. On one of these, Manning failed to protect the football after feeling frontside pressure. He was stripped and Dallas recovered the fumble. On the Giants’ final touchdown drive of the game, in the fourth quarter, Manning hit Burress for 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-4. His endzone pass to Burress later in the drive was thrown slightly behind the receiver and dropped.
Wide Receivers: Giants’ wide receivers only gained 91 yards on 11 catches. However, three of these 11 catches were for touchdowns. Burress hasn’t had a real strong game since the opener. He caught three passes for 34 yards. He had a nice 22-yard reception over the middle on the first Giants’ drive of the game, a key play on the scoring drive. In the 4th quarter, he also had a key 10-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 to keep the Giants’ last scoring drive alive. However, Burress also dropped a couple of catchable passes. The first being a pass thrown slightly behind him in the endzone. Another was on the Giants’ last possession of the game, a 3rd-and-6 drop that would have enabled New York to run out the clock.
The other starting wideout, Toomer, was also very unproductive, catching only two passes for 26 yard. However, one of these was a very nice back-shoulder touchdown reception on a pass thrown behind him.
Steve Smith (5 catches for 29 yards) is rapidly becoming Manning’s favorite target. Smith had key 5-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 on the Giants’ first scoring drive. Later in the quarter, he scored his first pro touchdown on a 5-yard catch on 3rd-and-3. Smith did drop a very catchable ball on the next possession. Late in the second quarter, he also fumbled the ball after a catch of the middle. The Giants were fortunate to recover at their own 22-yard line.
Sinorice Moss had only one catch for two yards (on 3rd-and-4). Domenik Hixon had no catches and dropped looked what to be a very accurate deep pass from Manning in the second quarter.
Running Backs: What a wealth of talent the Giants have at running back! Brandon Jacobs gouged the Cowboys for 117 yards on 17 carries (6.9 yards per carry). He ran with vision, power, and surprising niftiness for such a big man. His three big runs of the game were a 25-yarder on the third-scoring drive (a nifty cutback run across the width of the field), a 12-yard touchdown run at the start of the third quarter (with Cowboy defenders bouncing off him like ping pong balls), and a 31-yard gallop on the final touchdown drive (nice vision on the cutback).
Derrick Ward (12 carries for 63 yards) could start for many teams. He too has a nice combination of size, vision, athleticism, and power. Ward had a number of key runs in the game including a 4-yard effort on 3rd-and-1 on the Giants’ first touchdown drive, a 5-yard run on 3rd-and-2 on the Giants’ final scoring drive, and the 17-yard touchdown on this same drive on a shotgun handoff. He also looked shifty in the open field after the catch on two back-to-back receptions, including a 17-yarder on 3rd-and-12. Ward did drop a pass and allow a quarterback pressure on Manning by a linebacker that led to a 3rd-and-10 sack however.
Ahmad Bradshaw is easily the most talent third-string running back in all of football. He finished with 20 yards on five carries and helped to run some time off the clock late in the fourth quarter with a 13-yard run and a 2-yard gain on 3rd-and-1.
Fullback Madison Hedgecock is simply a joy to watch as a lead blocker. If you haven’t noticed, focus on him on running plays. The Giants will sometimes use him as a move tight end too. On the negative side, he dropped a pass (again) and was flagged with one false start.
Tight Ends: Kevin Boss is rapidly turning into a quality two-way tight end. Boss finished the game with 3 catches for 30 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown reception on the Giants’ first drive of the game. He also blocked well on quite a few of the Giants’ off-tackle and outside runs. Michael Matthews was a bit up and down in the blocking department. He also was flagged with two holding penalties, one in pass protection, the other on a run block.
Offensive Line: A near flawless performance. When a team runs for 200 yards against a chief division rival, you know you are performing at the top of your game. Manning was sacked four times, but the first of these was when Manning dropped the ball without being touched, the second was a coverage sack, the third was caused when Ward couldn’t execute his blitz pick-up, and the final one occurred when RT Kareem McKenzie got beat to the outside by LB DeMarcus Ware. Even on this latter attempt, one could argue that Manning should have done a better job of feeling and escaping the pressure. Kudos to McKenzie for recovering the fumble by Smith right before halftime. OC Shaun O’Hara was flagged with a false start.
Defensive Line: Dallas was held to 81 net yards rushing, 102 net yards passing, and 11 first downs. The Cowboys scored only once on 12 possessions. That’s about as good as it gets. Coming into the game, the big offensive threat for the Giants was HB Marion Barber. But Barber was held to 54 yards on 19 carries (2.8 yards per carry). Take away Barber’s 21-yarder in the second quarter, and the numbers even look more pathetic.
On top of this, Dallas quarterbacks were sacked four times and pressured on quite a few other pass plays. The headliner up front was once again DE Justin Tuck (6 tackles, 2.5 sacks). A formation the Giants used with great success against the Cowboys had Tuck at right defensive tackle, where he would combine with Mathias Kiwanuka to give the left side of the Dallas offensive line fits. All three of the sacks Tuck was involved in came with him lining up at right defensive tackle. Tuck’s first came at the start of the second quarter, beating the left guard. Tuck later split a sack with Jay Alford near the end of the second quarter. His final sack came early in the third quarter (Fred Robbins was right there too). The roughing-the-passer penalty on Tuck that kept alive Dallas’ sole scoring drive was a terrible call by the official.
Kiwanuka (2 tackles, 1 sack) picked up a sack late in the game on a speed rush around LT Flozell Adams. He also got good pressure, along with Dave Tollefson (0 tackles) on QB Brooks Bollinger in the end zone, coming close to a safety.
Obviously both defensive tackles, Fred Robbins (1 tackle) and Barry Cofield (5 tackles), did a great job of gumming things up inside. Robbins nailed Barber for a 3-yard loss on 3rd-and-2. Cofield also did a nice job of sniffing out a screen pass, where he and Tuck caused a 12-yard loss. Cofield and Kiwanuka also got good pressure on QB Brad Johnson on the play where CB Corey Webster picked off his second pass.
Renaldo Wynn (2 tackles) did a nice job of combining with CB Aaron Ross to tackle Marion Barber for a 2-yard loss. But he also got blocked at the point-of-attack on Barber’s 21-yard run.
Linebackers: This was probably the most active the Giants’ linebackers have been this season. Give the linebackers (and safeties) credit too for doing a nice job of covering the injured TE Jason Witten.
It was clearly the best game Danny Clark (9 tackles) has had as a Giant. Clark made a number of strong plays against the run as he tackled Marion Barber on plays that gained/lost 0, -1, 2, and -2 yards.
Antonio Pierce (4 tackles) made a huge play when he forced WR Terrell Owens to fumble at the Giants’ 7-yard line right after the Giants had turned the ball over. He also did a nice job of covering Witten deep down the middle of the field on an incomplete pass in the first quarter. However, Pierce did miss a tackle on Barber’s 8-yard draw on 3rd-and-5 on Dallas’ sole scoring drive.
Chase Blackburn (1 tackle) did not make much noise, but he had one solid tackle for no gain in the red zone two plays before the Cowboys scored.
Defensive Backs: The defensive backs were obviously aided by the poor quarterback play of the Cowboys. However, the Cowboys still have dangerous receiving weapons, including Terrell Owens, Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, and Jason Witten.
Along with Tuck, the defensive star of the game for the Giants was Corey Webster (3 tackles, 2 interceptions). Webster provided super tight coverage on Owens for most of the game. Webster had solid deep coverage on Roy Williams on Williams’ superb one-handed 28-yard sideline reception. On the very next play, Brad Johnson tried to hit Owens on a slant. Webster intercepted the errant throw and returned the football 57 yards down to the Dallas 27-yard line, setting up New York’s second score. Later in the second quarter, Webster picked off another pass intended for Witten, helping to set up New York’s third touchdown. The only negative on Webster was that he was beaten for Owens for an 8-yard touchdown on a slant early in the fourth quarter (Webster was also flagged for illegal contact on the play).
Aaron Ross (5 tackles) also had a strong game, keeping his opponent largely invisible. The only negative I saw on him was that Crayton beat him on a crossing route on 4th-and-5 at the end of the third quarter for a 7-yard gain.
Nickel back Terrell Thomas, in his first significant playing time, faired pretty well. He helped to cause an incompletion when he hit Owens hard as a 3rd-and-5 pass from Bollinger arrived. But he also gave up a 15-yard completion to Crayton on 3rd-and-6 early in the game. Sam Madison had good coverage on an end zone throw to Roy Williams.
James Butler (3 tackles) picked off an errant pass on Bollinger’s first attempt, setting up the Giants’ fourth touchdown early in the third quarter. However, Butler not only somehow injured himself on the play, but he would have scored if he had not tripped over himself. Michael Johnson (5 tackles) was aggressive against the run. He also recovered the fumble forced by Pierce, almost came down with an interception, and knocked away another pass. He did miss one tackle on Barber however.
Kenny Phillips (5 tackles) and Sammy Knight (5 tackles) were fairly productive in reserve duty, with Phillips playing a lot once Butler left the game early in the third quarter.
Special Teams: There were no field goal attempts for John Carney. Jeff Feagles had a strong game, punting four times for a 38.8 yards-per-punt average and having three punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Dallas only managed one punt return for six yards.
Kickoff coverage was fairly solid with Dallas averaging 21 yards on five kickoff returns. The problem was the poor kickoffs by Carney.
Giants’ kickoff returns remain subpar. Ahmad Bradshaw returned three kickoffs, the longest being only 20 yards. Domenik Hixon returned three punts, the longest being for 13 yards.
Kudos for veteran Sam Madison playing hard on special teams coverage units. You don’t see many former Pro Bowl players do that.
On the down side, Michael Johnson was flagged with a holding penalty on a punt return and Reuben Droughns was flagged for a false start on a punt.
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