One of the metrics I use in coach evaluation is how well a team plays the second time around. These are almost always divisional foes but when post-season match-ups come into play, I look at them as well. While Brian Daboll was not the Head Coach in BUF, I did take a look at how their team (and offense) fared in their respective repeat matchups year-to-year:
2018 (on a 6-10 team): 1-2 and +13 in points
2019 (on a 10-6 team): 1-2 and +2 in points
2020 (on a 13-3 team): 3-1 and +29 in points
2021 (on a 11-6 team): 4-1 and +8 in points
The Thanksgiving Day match-up in DAL marked the first time in Daboll’s Head Coach tenure they would face off against a repeat opponent. They lost to the Cooper Rush-led Cowboys Week 3 by a score of 23-16. A game where NYG had a lead in the second half, but had it taken out of their grasp because the defense did not step up when they were needed.
The initial NYG drive stalled at midfield before opting to punt on 4th-and-3 from the DAL 48-yard line. The initial DAL drive stalled on their own 40-yard line, but they kept their offense on the field on 4th-and-2. Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed by a group of defenders led by Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys 2016 second rounder who was starting against his former team for the first time. NYG was primed to strike first blood. Daniel Jones hit Isaiah Hodgins for a 24-yard touchdown, but it was called back after right tackle Tyre Phillips was flagged for illegally blocking downfield. Jones then threw two incomplete passes, the second of which was flagged for intentional grounding, pushing NYG way back into deep field goal range. Fortunately, Graham Gano sent the 57-yarder through the uprights to give NYG the initial lead.
Dak Prescott, coming off his best game of the season in Minnesota, gave NYG the ball back with an interception that landed in the hands of Rodarius Williams. The NYG offense responded with a three-and-out as the DAL defensive front, a top-five group league-wide, was easily controlling the point-of-attack. Seven of DAL’s next eleven snaps were running plays and it landed them in the end zone via an Elliott 6-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. NYG then borrowed a page from that book, running the ball on seven-of-nine plays which also ended in a touchdown, this one by Saquon Barkley on a one-yarder. NYG had the lead at 10-7.
After trading three-and-outs, DAL put together a lengthy drive that was heading toward the red zone. Prescott tried to fit one in to CeeDee Lamb but a deflection by Darnay Holmes ended up in Julian Love’s hands for the second interception of the half, matching their 2022 season total coming into this game. A sloppy final two minutes, including two penalties by DAL and one by NYG and an interception that was nullified by one of those DAL penalties eventually led to a 47-yard field goal by Gano to lengthen their lead to 6 as halftime approached.
The DAL offense was a different animal in the second half. They started off with a 14-play drive that consisted of four third-down conversions. One of them was with a lot of help from the refs on a phantom defensive holding called on Holmes. The fourth conversion was a 3rd-and-15 touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz. It put DAL up by one and wiped out over half of the third quarter clock.
The NYG offense stalled near midfield again. This time it was 4th-and-1 from their own 45-yard line. Daboll pushed the urgency, with 4:11 left in the third quarter, and kept the offense on the field. Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka called a great play, giving Jones an open look at Saquon Barkley who was all alone in the flat. A catch would have resulted in a first down and much more. Jones misfired, the ball fell to the ground, and Prescott took over on the NYG side of the field. Six plays later, Prescott connected with Schultz for another touchdown and DAL was up by eight.
Midfield continued to be a black hole for the NYG offense. They just could not get past it. Barkley couldn’t get going, the entire NYG offensive line (including Andrew Thomas) was taking turns getting beat, and the DAL train was heating up. For the third straight drive, DAL put a touchdown on the board, this time via a 2-yard run by tight end Peyton Hendershot. They were up 28-13 with under 9 minutes remaining. NYG down, by two touchdowns plus a two-point conversion, with an offense that had been averaging 18 points per game since their win in Jacksonville October 23rd.
They did end up getting into DAL territory on their next drive. There were two problems, however. They never quite went into hurry-up mode (11 plays netted 38 yards and took off 5:41 of game clock) and the final sequence went 10-yard sack, false start penalty, 16-yard gain, incomplete pass. DAL took the ball back and ran the ball over and over to get NYG to rid themselves of their timeouts. NYG did end up scoring a garbage-time touchdown with just :08 remaining on a pass from Jones to Richie James. At the very least, NYG bettors left the game happy. The onsides kick did not work and NYG dropped their 11th game to the Cowboys in their last 12 attempts.
-Daniel Jones: 21/35 – 228 yards / 1 TD – 0 INT / 88.8 RAT
The mistakes Jones made in this do not show up on the stat sheet. It was a poor start where he held onto the ball on plays where they left specific pass rushers unblocked. The illegal shift + intentional grounding that nearly pushed them out of field goal range were avoidable. The 4th-and-1 miss to Barkley was the turning point of the game. He was fortunate to not have an interception on his stat line at the end of the first half on penalty that had nothing to do with the play. And lastly, I felt he did not tuck and run on two instances where he should have. Both resulted in stops for the DAL defense. This game won’t be put on Jones but there is no denying just a couple of better plays by him would have easily altered the trajectory of the game. And the looks were there, he simply did not come through.
-Saquon Barkley: 11 att – 39 yards / 4 rec – 13 yards
For the second straight week, Barkley was contained, and it was a mix of quality defense and a scaled back version of Barkley. Is he hurt? I don’t know. If I had to money on it, I would say he is not hurt. He was not coming off the field dramatically in pain like we have seen him do in the past. He was not grimacing after hits. Mentally, Barkley looks hesitant. NYG missed out on two likely third-down conversions because of that hesitancy. On an offense like this and considering the player he is, that is a huge deal.
-The best running back play we saw in this game was from Gary Brightwell. He gained 31 yards on 5 carries and added another 18 yards on 2 catches. This was the most we have seen him touch the ball over his two seasons in the league and the results were excellent. He’s earned more touches in this offense that is searching everywhere for production. Matt Breida added 15 yards on 3 touches, 1 catch and 2 carries.
-Darius Slayton came up with the offensive play of the day. A game-long 44-yard catch that set NYG up for their first touchdown that put them up early. He was targeted 5 other times, catching 2 of them for 19 yards. Earlier in the game I made a negative note on his ball skills when it came to fighting through contact while maintaining body control down the field. In fairness, his 44-yarder was a big-time play on the ball. It is the up-and-down play by Slayton that causes evaluators to pull their hair out. The good is there, the consistency is not.
-Richie James had 5 catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. Almost all of that came in the second half. Isaiah Hodgins caught 3 passes for 31 yards and had a touchdown taken off the board by an offensive line penalty. Kenny Golladay did not get thrown to at all, nor did Marcus Johnson. They saw a combined 26 snaps.
-A better game from this group as a whole than what they put out there last week. Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick, and Tanner Hudson all caught one pass each (for 23-20-10 yards respectively). Cager and Myarick were responsible for 2 of the 3 biggest plays in the passing game. Hudson did not see any blocking snaps, but both Cager and Myarick held their own against the physical DAL front.
-On paper, this had the potential to be an ugly game for the Giants offensive line. DAL came into this one leading the NFL in sacks and top-three in every important pass rush metric. NYG was missing their starting right tackle and were on a fourth-string left guard. To make matters worse, left tackle Andrew Thomas was battling illness and appeared to be limping a bit on that bad foot of his. He paid the price against All Pro linebacker Micah Parsons, allowing 2 sacks, 1 pressure, and 0.5 TFL. Jack Anderson, the fourth-stringer noted above, allowed 2 pressures and a sack and was flagged for a false start.
-Center Nick Gates graded out as the top lineman, which isn’t saying much. His hands were heavy and accurate. I don’t see a ton of movement off the line against defensive tackles and he did struggle to get his hips in the hole a few times. I chalk that up to the lower body still working its way back.
-The right side was responsible for four pressures (2 each by Mark Glowinski and Tyre Phillips). Glowinksi also allowed a 0.5 TFL and Phillips was called for a crucial penalty that came from him aimlessly working his way downfield for no reason on a passing play. I liked what I saw out of him as a run blocker though and I wonder if there is any thought on him returning to guard when Neal comes back. Not as a starter, but as an immediate backup if needed.
-The top individual pass rush performances of this season previously belonged to Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. Those performances now sit behind rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux’s dominance he put on display in this game. 9 pressures, 1 caused hold, 1 caused TFL. This was the best combination of get off, pad level, and power we have seen out of him. He absolutely abused fellow rookie Tyler Smith on the left side all game and proved to be a menace both the inside as a blitzing linebacker and on the left side the defensive line. He did miss 2 tackles, one of which was a sack, but this is exactly what we want to see from Thibodeaux at this point. The most impressive part of his stat line is the fact he did so on just 26 pass rush snaps. In another year or two, after he continues to figure his craft out at the professional level and improve his power game, a few of those will turn into sacks.
-Jihad Ward finished with 2 pressures and 1 TFL. I like him so much more when he is in the tight spaces. His power game and feel for blockers is top notch.
-Oshane Ximines lost the edge twice on big runs in the first quarter. He also missed a tackle and did not impact the game as a pass rusher.
-Leonard Williams was back to his dominant ways. He had 6 tackles, 3 TFL, and 1 pressure. His closing speed on lateral runs is such an overlooked component to his game. He reaches guys that 95% of the league’s interior linemen cannot. The negative in his game, which has been around for years, showed up a few times in this one. He does not anchor well against runs right at him. He also missed 2 tackles.
-Dexter Lawrence had 5 tackles and a pressure. He seemed to be off his game in this one. Nothing drastic, but I caught him walking gingerly and grimacing a few times throughout and he looked out of gas on a few others. Henry Mondeaux added 3 tackles and a pressure. He offers much more than Justin Ellis, who finished with 1 tackle, when it comes to playing sudden and showing some range once off the initial contact of a blocker.
-Jaylon Smith was playing some spirited football in his first start against the team that drafted and signed him to a long-term deal. He led the team with 10 tackles, adding 1 TFL and a big 4th-down stop early in the game. His downhill explosion is still there and even though the lateness + lateral movement issues hurt from time to time, he has been a quality player for this defense.
-Micah McFadden was on the field for a career-high 48 snaps. After a poor game last week against DET, I saw more urgency with his reads, and he finished better. He had 4 tackles and 2 TFL with 1 missed tackle. The movement in coverage looked much better when looking at the All-22. He was rarely targeted, but he did his job when working the intermediate level of the route tree.
-We had a little bit of a coming out party for Rodarius Williams. I discussed him a bit after the DET game noting how often he was getting beat in his first action of the season. He responded with 2 pass break-ups and an interception, the first of his career. He did not allow a reception either (although he was flagged for a pass interference). There were quite a few people excited about Williams after the 2021 preseason, remember. Now that he is in the mix, he looks the part.
-Nick McCloud had 8 tackles without any misses. I like him in the middle of the field. He is a physical player and gets the ball carrier down at a near-perfect rate. He allowed a touchdown in coverage. Rookie Cor’Dale Flott allowed 3 completions on all 3 times he was targeted. His lack of power presence is a concern against a receiver with any kind of size. Michael Gallup tossed him around a couple times. His play speed is excellent, though.
-Darnay Holmes was flagged three times, one of which was a poor call. The issue here is Holmes has the reputation of being too grabby in coverage. He built that as a rookie in 2020 and it hasn’t gotten anything but worse. He now has 7 penalties on the year and teams know it. He also allowed 3 catches for 58 yards, being outclassed by Lamb. He did deflect a pass that ended up being an interception.
-Julian Love tied for the team lead with 10 tackles. He added two impact plays as well, a TFL and an interception. This is exactly what this team needs from Love. Be the safety net on the back end who makes tackles in space and create big plays for the defense. He did both.
-Jason Pinnock played every snap. This is valuable experience for him. He had 8 tackles, but he also missed one and allowed a touchdown in coverage. More up-and-down play for him.
-K Graham Gano: 2/2 (Made 57, 47)
-P Jamie Gillan: 4 Punts / 48.3 avg – 38.3 avg
-CB Rodarius Williams, EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, S Julian Love
-CB Darnay Holmes, OT Andrew Thomas, RB Saquon Barkley
3 THOUGHTS ON DAL
After the Week 3 loss in September, I asked how far do I see this version of Dallas going? “We have every reason to believe they will contend not only for the division, but for the conference. The defense has the upside of being special and if that offense can elevate their game just one or two levels, they have the “goods.” Here we are at the end of November, and I only feel stronger about that notion. DAL is one of three teams I can see going to the Super Bowl. The difference between this team and the previous few years is the defense. They can be lights out against anyone.
There is a good chance that was Ezekiel Elliott’s final game against NYG in a Cowboys uniform. DAL has made a habit out of restructuring his contract in recent offseasons, pushing money into future years. They did not do so this past offseason. To me, that, and the emergence of Tony Pollard who is simply a better player right now, will pave the way for them cutting him loose in a few months. 12 games, 1108 total yards, 10 TDs vs NYG.
I will be intrigued to see where Tyler Smith, their 2022 first round pick, ends up on the offensive line. He was going to be the left guard until Tyron Smith went down but shifted over and has played at a solid level for most of the year. He’s allowed 4 sacks and is second in the league with 10 penalties. This was a major issue at Tulsa as well. I think Smith’s run blocking is already on the elite level but I don’t see the upside in pass protection. I think he ends up at OG in the future.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
Two losses in five days can sting a bit more and the injuries on both sides of the ball were accelerated by the Thursday game. The positive is now schedule-based. NYG gets 10 days of rest prior to a home match-up against the Commanders, who play Sunday against ATL. With multiple players on the brink of returning (OT Evan Neal, TE Daniel Bellinger, OL Ben Bredeson), the timing of this mini-bye week is crucial. Especially considering WAS will be one of the teams NYG is contending with for a playoff spot.
The Barkley tape is the elephant in the room that everyone can see. He is not running as hard. He is showing hesitancy. And this is an offense that did not have any margin to work with. Barkley is the most important player on this offense and probably the team. If he does not play to his ability (whether it is physical or mental) – the entire scope changes. Look what happened when Brightwell came in and ran hard. I discussed this a few times last year. There was not, and is not, a bigger Barkley guy out there than me. But if the hardness in his game is back and forth, it will make for an easy decision this upcoming offseason.
One of the questions people will ask about Daniel Jones and his future with NYG will revolve around upside. Just how good can he actually be? Best case scenario, what is he? We just watched Dak Prescott throw two interceptions in the first half. He was hit just as much if not more than Jones was throughout the game. Nothing mattered. He comes out in the second half and played some of the best QB I have seen all year from around the league. The numbers did not pop off the page, but it was the complexity of his throws and how precise they were. I do not see that in Jones. Both right now and in the future.