Oct 132004
 
New York Giants 26 – Dallas Cowboys 10

Preface to My Game Review: I have received quite a few e-mails in recent weeks criticizing me for not being more optimistic about the Giants’ fast start this year. These people do not understand my overall approach when it comes to the team. BBI members who have been with the site since its inception in 1995 know that I have usually always tried to maintain a balanced overview of the state of the Giants. When the Giants lose, I usually argue that things are not as bad as they appear; when they win, I usually point out the flaws. Yes I am guilty of an occasional meltdown (this usually happened once per season under Jim Fassel’s regime), but I would like to think that I try to keep things in perspective.

So, if the Giants keep winning, you won’t hear an inordinate amount of praise from me. Likewise, if the Giants start to lose some football games, I am not going to jump off the bandwagon either. This is who I am and this is how I’ve covered the Giants since 1995.

Game Overview: Last week I said the Giants-Packers game was not as close as the score indicated. This week the game was far closer than the score would make it seem. The Giants were out-played by the Cowboys for much of the first half and three dumb Dallas penalties were directly responsible for the Giants’ first touchdown of the game in the third quarter. A roughing the passer penalty on the Cowboys also kept the Giants’ first field goal drive alive. In other words, 10 of the Giants’ points may not have occurred had it not been for dumb mental errors on the part of the Cowboys.

The bad news is that there were plenty of areas where the Giants didn’t play well. The run defense was shoddy. There were too many penalties on the offensive line. The Giants are still not making big plays in the passing game down the field. The good news is that the Giants are winning despite these correctable problems. The Giants can and should get better as the season progresses and that is an exciting prospect. The only dark cloud on the horizon is that the injuries are starting to mount somewhat. People can argue that losing Shaun Williams, Omar Stoutmire, Barry Stokes, Tim Carter, and Wes Mallard are not big losses. But they WILL become big losses if and when injuries strike again at safety, the offensive line, wide receiver, or linebacker.

But back to the game. This was a huge win for the Giants. Texas Stadium was as loud as I can remember a regular season game being. This was a huge game for the Cowboys too. The Giants took their best shot – in their house – and beat them. The Giants are now 2-1 in the NFC East with three more division games left to play.

Offense: One thing that surprises me a bit is when Giants’ fans wonder why the offense is not more productive when the team faces one of the better defenses in the league. It’s an attitude that seems to suggest that there is any talent on the other team, that games are not generally evenly-matched contests. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Cowboys went to the playoffs last year and remain a dangerous team to play against BECAUSE of their defense. As I said in my game preview, they have a very good front seven and an impact player at free safety. I was personally amazed at the play of MLB Dat Nguyen against the Giants – this guy was constantly around the football and disrupting plays. Give the Cowboys’ defense credit folks.

I thought the Giants would win this game if HB Tiki Barber and QB Kurt Warner did not turn the football over. This was also the publicly stated goal of the Dallas defense. Barber and Warner did not turn it over and that is a big reason why the Giants won.

What was interesting was how aggressive Tom Coughlin remained late in the game with his play-calling, calling a couple of deep passes that fell incomplete. This could have backfired on him, but it didn’t and the Giants put the game away instead of having to sweat it out late in the 4th quarter. The Cowboys defended the Giants’ screens pretty well until late in the game when Barber broke his 55-yard reception.

Quarterback: As usual, Kurt Warner did not put up big numbers (18-of-33 for 217 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) and his completion percentage (55 percent) was down the week. But Warner remained very composed against an aggressive, attack defense that tried to rattle him and the entire Giants’ offense. Warner was often spotted pointing out potential blitzers and I was impressed with the way he once again stood tall in the pocket with a lot of bodies flying all around him. Warner made a nice pass to Amani Toomer for 18 yards on 3rd-and-15 on the Giants’ first drive of the game. Warner threw a perfect deep pass in the end zone for Tim Carter on the Giants’ second drive of the game that should have been a 33-yard touchdown, but Carter dropped the ball. Two plays later, Warner hit Ike Hilliard for 15 yards on 3rd-and-5 despite being pressured from his blindside. This helped to set up the Giants’ first field goal.

The Giants’ offense did not get moving again until late in the second quarter when Warner hit Jeremy Shockey for 19 yards (called back due to holding), Shockey for 9 yards, Hilliard 16 yards (with a lot of pressure in his face), and Barber for 4 yards. These plays moved the Giants within field goal range again to cut the score to 10-6.

I wasn’t real happy with Warner after the Giants’ touchdown drive in the third quarter. Warner took one sack when he should have thrown the ball away. He also fumbled the ball when sacked by on another play, but fortunately the Giants recovered and Dallas was flagged with a personal foul penalty. But Warner did throw a really nice fade pass to Shockey for the touchdown on 3rd-and-goal. Warner helped to set up the third field goal with passes of 12 to Toomer, 8 to Shockey, 5 to Barber, and 7 to Barber. Two key passes on the final field goal drive were the 16-yard out to Toomer on 2nd-and-10 and the 8-yard out to Toomer on 2nd-and-6 despite a heavy blitz. Warner was flagged twice, once for delay of game and once for a false start.

Wide Receivers: Losing Tim Carter (no catches) could hurt a lot. Jamaar Taylor has the ability to adequately replace him as the deep threat (and has a chance to be a lot better than Carter), but now the Giants’ depth situation at wide receiver becomes very thin. An injury to Toomer or Hilliard could make things ugly.

Carter apparently broke his hip on the post-route that should have resulted in a 33-yard touchdown had Carter not dropped the ball. Carter later almost caused an interception when he slipped out of his cut on a square-in.

Toomer caught six passes for 66 yards, but I thought he would have a bigger game against the rookie Jacques Reeves. Toomer did come up with 18-yard reception on 3rd-and-15 that turned around the field position situation. But Toomer also fumbled away the ball in the second quarter on a WR-screen pass; this helped to set up Dallas’ field goal. Toomer did make a number of important catches in the second half such as his 12-yard out on the third field goal drive and his 16- and 8-yard outs on the final field goal drive. Toomer also had a good block on Barber’s long 58-yard run.

Ike Hilliard only caught 2 passes for 31 yards, but both were important plays on each of the field goal drives in the first half: the first a 15 yard reception on 3rd-and-5 and the second a 16-yard reception on 2nd-and-11. On the latter drive, Hilliard was ruled to have dropped a pass that should have been ruled a fumble that he recovered himself. There was one run early in the game where a linebacker ran through Hilliard’s attempted block on a running play, but Hilliard did get an effective block on Barber’s 3-yard touchdown run.

Running Backs: HB Tiki Barber (23 carries for 122 yards, 1 touchdown; 5 catches for 76 yards) is having what looks like a career year. He is running well both inside and outside of the tackles and he seems to come up with a huge play in every game (two against Dallas). Barber and the Giants’ offense could not get untracked in the first half as Barber was limited to 23 yards rushing in the first half. Barber also dropped a pass in the first half. However, in the second half of the game, Barber exploded. Barber broke off a superb 58-yard run on the Giants’ first touchdown drive. On this run, Barber demonstrated outstanding vision as he cut his run back to a big hole to his left, broke a tackle, and then slowed down to help set up Toomer’s downfield run block. Barber’s runs of 4, 5, and 7 yards helped to set up the final field goal drive (the latter run was all Tiki as he cut away from the point-of-attack). Then Tiki put the game away with his 55-yard reception off a WR-screen. A few plays later, he picked up 8 yards on 3rd-and-6 by cutting his run back up inside. On the very next play, he powered into the end zone off the right side of the line. Barber’s blitz pick-ups were excellent.

Things didn’t start off well for Jim Finn in the run blocking department as a saw MLB Dat Nguyen run right through him to stuff Barber on the first drive of the game. He also completely whiffed on LB Al Singleton on the next drive. But after these snafus, it was mostly a positive performance for Finn in the blocking department in the second half of the game. Finn got a good run block on the defensive tackle on Barber’s 58-yard run. He also got an excellent block on Tiki’s 3-yard touchdown run.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (5 catches for 44 yards) continues to see his role grow in the passing offense. His numbers would have looked even better had he not had a 19-yard reception erased due to a penalty. The first offensive play of the game was also a Warner-to-Shockey pass for 19 yards. Shockey’s big reception was his shortest, however. On 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line, he ran a nice fade route, subtly pushed off of All-Pro FS Roy Williams, and scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Visanthe Shiancoe was flagged with a false start. He did get a nice block on one Barber run that picked up 5 yards off left tackle (as did Shockey).

Offensive Line: After seeing a series of heavy blitzing teams such as the Eagles, Redskins, and Cowboys, the Giants offensive line has seen a lot of complicated stuff thrown at them in a short period of time. The results have not always been pretty, but the line has mostly held together and the first five games have been a tremendous learning experience for them. Dallas came out aggressively and blitzed quite a bit from every angle. What made matters more difficult was that the crowd was so loud that the Giants often had to snap the ball on a silent count. The biggest problem remained the penalties as LG Jason Whittle, LT Luke Petitgout, and RT David Diehl were flagged with false starts; Petitgout was flagged with holding.

The Giants were not able to run the ball much at all in the first half as Barber was limited to 23 yards on the ground. The Dallas linebackers are very fast and flow quickly to the point-of-attack. There were two Barber runs in the first half where OC Shaun O’Hara, RG Chris Snee, and Diehl got good blocks. There was also a left side run where Petitgout got a good block. Whittle got beat pretty badly by DT La’Roi Glover on another Barber carry.

In the second half, O’Hara got an excellent block on the linebacker on Barber’s 58-yard run as Whittle and Petitgout likewise walled off their men. In the 4th quarter, I spotted good run blocks from Petitgout (twice), Diehl (twice), O’Hara (twice), and Whittle (twice). One of Whittle’s blocks was a good pulling effort on Tiki’s 3-yard touchdown run. O’Hara got a good run block on the 8-yard run on 3rd-and-6 that preceded this play (as did Diehl).

There were some breakdowns in pass protection up front. On the Giants’ first drive of the game, Diehl got beat to the outside on 3rd-and-4 by DE Greg Ellis and Ellis’ contact on Warner forced an incompletion. On the next drive, Dallas blitzed three men on two Giants (Diehl and Snee), yet Diehl did not pick up anyone. A few plays later Petitgout got pushed back into Warner by the right end and then Snee gave up a pressure that forced an incompletion on 3rd-and-10. On the Giants’ third drive of the game, Petitgout got beat and gave up a sack. Snee gave up a pressure late in the first half. Snee also got run over on the play where Warner was sacked and fumbled the ball (Snee recovered the fumble). In the 4th quarter, Snee failed to pick up a free blitzer.

Defense: The Giants gave up too many rushing yards (166). However, part of this can be explained by the game plans of the Giants and Cowboys. The Giants chose to call defensive alignments that were pass defense-focused. For example, I spotted quite a few defensive sets where the Giants had defensive backs playing linebacker. The Cowboys also chose to cross the Giants up by spreading out their offense and then running the ball against the undermanned middle. These explanations are not mean to excuse the poor run defense of the Giants, but merely try to explain that there were extenuating circumstances for it.

Coming into the game, the Cowboys were the #2-ranked passing team in the league. But the Giants shut down their pass offense (112 net yards). I found it interesting that when Bill Parcells was asked by the Dallas media why the Cowboys did not attack the Giants through the air more, he said it was because the strength of the Giants’ defense was their pass coverage and pass rush.

During the Giants 4-game winning strength, the strength of the team has been their defense and the strength of the defense has been the secondary.

Defensive Line: I don’t think it was a terribly impressive game by the defensive line. What I think is interesting – be it because of the new schemes or the perception or reality of Michael Strahan’s run defense ability – is that teams are no longer afraid of running in Strahan’s direction. In the first half, the Cowboys were able to pick up some decent games with strongside runs with Strahan getting effectively blocked on these plays. But there was also one impressive play on Dallas’ touchdown drive where Strahan played off a block and made the tackle. Strahan (5 tackles) came up with a big pass pressure that forced an incompletion on 3rd-and-3 on Dallas’ opening drive of the second half. He also forced another incompletion on 2nd-and-7 in the 4th quarter with a strong pass rush. Strahan was flagged with a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

Keith Washington (2 tackles) was pretty much controlled by LT Flozell Adams. Dallas was able to pick up sizeable chunks of yardage by running left, including HB Eddie George’s 24-yard run in the first quarter and a series of runs early in the third quarter. Osi Umenyiora (2 tackles, 1 sack) made one nice play against the run late in the third quarter and then on the very next play sacked Vinnie Testerverde on 3rd-and-6. This was a big sack as the Dallas place kicker fell short on his 52-yard field goal effort.

None of the defensive tackles really stood out. Both Norman Hand and Fred Robbins each did make one nice play against the run. Robbins stuffed one FB Darian Barnes run for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter and Hand did so against George in the second quarter. Hand also got one decent pass rush. However, these two were not particularly stout against the run on Sunday (Robbins left the game early in the first half). On George’s 24-yard run, Robbins took himself out of the play by slanting hard to his left (I don’t know if this was the design of the defensive scheme or a mistake by Robbins). The Giants also got hurt a few times when they stunted their defensive tackles and this helped to open up the middle of the defense on runs.

William Joseph played a lot after Robbins left the game. He did force a fumble (mistakenly credited to Strahan), but he too had some problems disengaging from the Dallas offensive line. To be fair to Joseph, there were a few plays where he was asked to play nose tackle and the ends were split out wide…in other words, he had a lot of ground to cover and a lot of enemy blockers to face. But Joseph got pushed aside in some traditional sets too such as when RaShard Lee picked up 14 yards up the gut in the second quarter. Lance Legree played a lot too and really got man-handled by LG Larry Allen.

Linebackers: Right now these guys are doing better in pass defense than they are in run defense. MLB Kevin Lewis (5 tackles) doesn’t see the field when the Giants put in their nickel and dime packages, but he did come up with two excellent plays against the run. He stuffed George for a 2-yard loss on 4th-and-goal. This was a huge play in the ball game. He also made a nice play when pursuing George on a run around right end that he tackled for a 1-yard gain. However, Lewis was blocked effectively on a few between-the-tackle runs.

The good news with SLB Carlos Emmons (4 tackles) is that when I watch him in pass coverage, I love the way he aggressively and forcefully jams the receiver at the line of scrimmage. The bad news is that Emmons is still getting run at (effectively blocked at the point-of-attack) and on Sunday, he missed a bunch of tackles. One came on an important 3-and-8 play where Emmons missed WR Terry Glenn and this allowed Glenn to pick up the first down (Dallas scored a touchdown three plays later). Emmons got one pass pressure early in the game, but the biggest play he made in the game is when he forcefully tackled TE Jason Witten short of the first down marker on 3rd-and-7. Dallas went for it on 4th-and-1 and failed. This latter play was the biggest of the ball game but it was set up by Emmons’ sure tackle.

WLB Barrett Green (4 tackles) had problems with runs at the point-of-attack too, including getting taken out by the fullback on a few inside runs. Green was flagged with an illegal contact penalty but his coverage has been generally very good. The big play he made in the game is when he forced Witten to fumble and he then recovered this fumble. This set up PK Steve Christie’s 51-yard field goal right before halftime.

Defensive Backs: Another superlative effort by the defensive backs. Dallas came into the game one of the league leaders in passing offense, yet the Giants held them to 112 net yards passing. Granted some of this was due to the fact that the Cowboys chose to run more than pass, but when Dallas tried to pass, they were not very successful.

In my opinion, the big reason why the secondary is playing so well right now is that Will Allen and Will Peterson are blanketing the primary receivers. Fans and media types are criticizing Allen for dropping two interceptions that would have been returned for touchdowns (and rightfully so), but that does not diminish the fact that he is taking his man completely out of the passing attack. Allen nearly scored on Dallas’ first offensive play of the game as he quickly jumped on a short Testeverde pass to the tight end in front of him, but he couldn’t hold onto the ball. In the second half, Testeverde threw a backwards pass to Keyshawn Johnson who then tried to hit RB Ritchie Anderson down the field for a big play, but Allen easily broke it up. Anderson just got a finger on the ball to make it a tougher catch for Allen, but had Allen caught the ball, he would have scored. Allen made the biggest play of the game when he tackled FB Darian Barnes short of the first down marker on 4th-and-1.

The only pass play of note Peterson gave up was a play where he was too far off Keyshawn Johnson. Johnson easily caught the ball in front of him and broke Peterson’s tackle for a 24-yard gain. Peterson also gave up a 9-yard slant, but that was it. Peterson finished the game for the defense by easily intercepting a deep pass intended for WR Antonio Bryant. Peterson still does need to fight off blocks by wide receivers on running plays better.

How good did Allen and Peterson do? Johnson, Glenn, and Bryant were limited to seven catches.

Of course, Terry Cousin and Frank Walker deserve a lot of credit too, especially when Dallas went to multiple wide receiver sets, which was often. Walker had excellent coverage on Johnson twice in the endzone early in the second quarter. The first pass fell incomplete, the second went for a touchdown, but Walker couldn’t defend what was an extremely well-thrown football.

Gibril Wilson (5 tackles, 1 sack) remains a very active and impressive rookie. He sacked Testeverde once on a safety blitz and was right there as well on Umenyiora’s sack. Wilson did have some problems against the run when Dallas smartly called running plays when New York had a nickel or dime package in the game as Wilson was playing the linebacker spot. Wilson did make a nice tackle on Anderson in the flat after a short pass in the fourth quarter.

Brent Alexander (4 tackles) has been credited many times by Coughlin for making sure that Wilson is in the right position. He made a nice play in run defense against the Cowboys, but he sometimes has problems tackling runners in the open field.

Special Teams: I’m glad Tom Coughlin did not listen to the Giants’ fans calling for Steve Christie’s head last week. He went 4-for-4 on his field goal efforts and his 51- and 47-yarders were big-time kicks (and right down the middle). His kickoffs were fielded at the 15, 27 (a squib kickoff), 11, 12, 7, and 26 (deliberate short kickoff).

Kickoff coverage was not sharp. The first kickoff was returned 36 yards to the Giants’ 49-yard line (Curtis Deloatch and Steve Christie on the tackle). The next was a squib return for 25 yards that Dallas almost broke (Frank Walker on the tackle). The other returns went for 24 (Deloatch), 22 (Jack Brewer), 18 (Brewer and Deloatch), and 0 (Brewer). Tom Coughlin singled out Deloatch’s play after the game. Brewer also remains very active on special teams.

Jeff Feagles punted three times for a 42.7 yards-per-punt average, with one effort inside the 20. Dallas punt returns: fair catch (Brewer down in a hurry), 6 yards (Kevin Lewis), and 11 yards (Mike Cloud).

The Giants’ return game was not productive. Coughlin seems to have moved to Mike Cloud from Willie Ponder due to ball security issues, but I am not sure this is the right move. Cloud is not a good kick returner. On his first return, he abandoned his blocking. He did better on his two other efforts, but he looks too slow to me to ever break a return. Cloud’s returns went for 18, 26, and 24 yards.

Mark Jones was not able to do anything this week. The two punts he returned went for 5 and –1 yards.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 10, 2004)
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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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