Oct 262006
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New York Giants 36 – Dallas Cowboys 22

Game Overview: I’m a little bit wary of highlighting what the Giants have accomplished because I am superstitious when it comes to football and I don’t want the Giants or their fans to relax one bit. The Buccaneers and Texans have proved they are quite capable of toppling good football teams. And injuries are once again becoming an issue. But I do think it is important to take stock of the big picture.

If you asked most Giants fans before the season started if they would take a 4-2 start with games against the Colts, Eagles, Seahawks, Redskins, Falcons, and Cowboys, they would have said, “Hell yeah!” Keep in mind that four of the first six games were “away” games. In other words, the Giants have already played half their road games. Six of their last 10 games will be at home. And they are not only in first place in the NFC East, but are 3-0 in the division. And two of those three division wins were on the road against their two most formidable division rivals.

From a team perspective, let’s look at the overall picture. Through six games, who are the 2006 Giants? Offensively, they are a team that can run or throw the football. They can come from behind to win games. The Giants have an emerging quarterback who, despite continued growing pains, has dramatically increased his completion percentage and who throws a lot of touchdowns. They have a very solid, balanced offensive line and a two-headed monster at running back. They have one of the best tight ends in football and two quality wide receivers. Defensively, the Giants are still gaining cohesion and chemistry. There will be still growing pains, but the Giants defend the run well and can rush the passer. Pass coverage remains somewhat of a concern as does the injury situation after the Dallas game. Special teams have not yet played up to their capability, but the Giants have two solid kickers and their kick and punt coverage units are good. The return game needs to pick it up. This is a good football team – a well-balanced team that can score, defend, and play specials. They should not be afraid of anyone they play.

As for the victory against Dallas, it obviously was a huge, huge win. The Cowboys needed this game more than the Giants. Now Dallas has two division losses while the Giants have none. And the re-match will be in New Jersey. In the cold. Dallas expected to win this game. So did the media. The Cowboys always beat the Giants on Monday night. Troy Aikman and Rayfield Wright were given their Hall of Fame rings at halftime. The game had a playoff atmosphere to it. The Giants were supposed to be the backdrop, not the main event. The Giants did not just win, they largely dominated the game, controlling both lines of scrimmage. Dallas is not dead. After all, they are only one game out of first place. But the Giants hurt them.

Defensive Overview: All of the talk after the game was how Dallas’ quarterbacks threw four interceptions and were sacked six times, but the real key to this win was that the Giants’ run defense continues to play very well. Dallas came into the game averaging over 150 yards rushing per game. Halfbacks Julius Jones and Marion Barber were held to 59 yards on 19 carries (3.1 yards per carry). Keep in mind that 22 of those 59 yards came on one draw play by Marion Barber late in the game. Dallas couldn’t run and when they passed, mostly good things happened for New York. And when Texas Stadium went crazy when QB Tony Romo trotted onto the field, the Giants quickly shut the place up by deflecting and intercepting his first pass. Priceless! The Giants did loosen up way too much for my liking after the team went ahead 26-7. Part of that had to do with injured defensive players being out of the game, but giving up 227 yards passing in one half, even in garbage time, is too much.

Defensive Line: Another excellent game for the guys up front. The star of the show was Michael Strahan (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defense). While much attention was given to his two first-half sacks, it was Strahan’s run defense that really stood out. After all, Strahan was unblocked on his first sack and his second sack was of the coverage variety. But Strahan flashed on draw plays, runs at him, and runs up the middle. He tackled Jones for a 3-yard loss and a 2-yard loss. He pressured QB Drew Bledsoe to unload the ball quickly on 3rd-and-18. And it was Strahan who wasn’t fooled on Romo’s rollout to the right on a bootleg pass. Strahan tipped the pass and it was intercepted. Three plays later, the Giants are up 19-7. Strahan had another pressure late in the third quarter, but was surprisingly quiet in the fourth quarter as Cowboys marched up and down the field.

Losing Osi Umenyiora (hip flexor) for any lengthy period would be a huge blow. Making matters worse, Justin Tuck (foot) was also injured. Before he departed the game, Umenyiora caused an incompletion on a deep pass attempt to Terrell Owens on the play right before LaVar Arrington’s safety. On this play, Umenyiora stunted to the inside and hit Bledsoe as he threw. In the second quarter, playing at defensive tackle on 3rd-and-16, Umenyiora got to Bledsoe for an 8-yard sack (however, Umenyiora was fortunate that this was called “in the grasp” as Bledsoe did get rid of the ball). Osi was hurt on an excellent run defense play where he stuffed Marion Barber for no gain on the snap right before Sam Madison intercepted the ball at the goal line.

Mathias Kiwanuka played the entire second half. He did not have any tackles, but he got a key pressure on Romo, forcing the inexperienced quarterback to throw an ill-advised screen pass that was intercepted at a key moment in the game when momentum was starting to shift back to Dallas. Kiwanuka also had another pressure later in the fourth quarter.

Inside, the starting tackles continue to play well. Dallas could not run up the middle on the Giants. Robbins once again did a nice job of defending a screen pass, coming up with his second interception of the season (how many tackles can say that?). He also got a good rush on Romo on one play in the third quarter and picked up a garbage sack when Romo was forced into his arms by LB Reggie Torbor. William Joseph missed a tackle on a scrambling Romo, but did pick up a 4-yard sack on the play before the interception by Robbins.

Linebackers: The linebackers did a nice job against the run and helped to shut out TE Jason Witten in the first half of the game. It was a damn, damn shame to see LaVar Arrington lost for the season because he was obviously playing his best game of the season. His sack of Bledsoe for a safety early in game was a huge play as he expertly timed his blitz through a gap in the offensive line. Arrington also may have saved a touchdown on a flea flicker when he charged through two blockers to hit Bledsoe’s arm as he was unloading the ball. Arrington also made a nice tackle on an early run by Jones.

Antonio Pierce (5 tackles, 2 pass defenses, 1 interception) had an impact. He caused an incompletion by leveling the wide receiver on a slant in the second quarter. Later, he held Jones to a 1-yard gain on a run around right end in the second quarter. On Dallas’ first play of the second half, Pierce intercepted Romo’s deflected pass to set up the Giants’ second touchdown of the game. Pierce got away with one on the screen pass that was picked off as he clearly mugged Jones, the intended receiver, on the play.

Brandon Short (5 tackles) played OK. He leveled Owens after one catch in the second quarter. He held Jones to no gain on one third-quarter run. However, he did miss a tackle on a 9-yard scramble by Romo and Witten did catch a pass between him and CB Kevin Dockery for 31 yards early in the fourth quarter.

Reggie Torbor was unblocked on one blitz and his pressure caused Romo to be sacked by Fred Robbins. Chase Blackburn, for some reason, took a step forward instead of dropping immediately into coverage on the 53-yard touchdown pass at the end of the game. The indecision on his part made it an easier throw for Romo.

Defensive Backs: The Giants’ defensive backs did a real nice job against a very talented group of skill position players for much of the game. Terry Glenn was held to 41 yards on four catches. Owens only had two first-half receptions. The Giants gave up too many pass completions in the second half once they were up 26-7 however.

It was a good overall game for Corey Webster and Sam Madison. Webster made a real nice, physical tackle on an early short-yardage run that barely picked up the first down. And while Webster was flagged for pass interference against Owens on 2nd-and-goal from the 5-yard line, the Cowboys never really did much damage in his direction. This was a big-time effort by Webster against quality competition.

Madison was lined up over Owens for much of the game until Madison left with a hamstring injury. He knocked away a second-quarter slant pass to Glenn. He was then beat by Owens for a 31-yard gain on 3rd-and-7. This was Owens’ only big completion of the first half. However, on the same drive, Madison was beat by Glenn for 15-yards on a slant on 3rd-and-2. This was Dallas’ sole scoring drive of the first half. However, Madison probably made the play of the game for the Giants when he did a fantastic job of covering Glenn on a goal line route on 2nd-and-goal from 4-yard line. Madison broke on the ball and picked it off, saving sure points, possibly saving the lead, and causing Dallas to make a costly quarterback switch. This is the type of play the Giants envisioned when they essentially dumped Will Allen for Madison.

When Madison left the game in the second half, nickel back R.W. McQuarters took over his right corner spot. McQuarters played far too soft on Owens’ 8-yard touchdown catch. But he did have good deep coverage on Glenn on the ensuing drive, causing an incompletion. Unfortunately, on the very next snap, he was flagged with unnecessary roughness for hitting Owens out-of-bounds. McQuarters had good coverage again on Glenn on an incomplete pass late in the game.

Kevin Dockery was forced into the lineup when Frank Walker went down with a hamstring injury. Witten caught a 31-yard pass between him and Brandon Short early in the fourth quarter. But Dockery made a huge play in a huge game by returning a pick 96 yards for a touchdown late in the game. Although the pass was thrown behind the intended receiver, Dockery did correctly read the play and make a very good jump on the football. Just as importantly, he caught the ball – something Giants’ defensive backs are not known to do. That all said, I think it was Dockery who got beat badly on the 53-yard touchdown pass on the ensuing possession.

Will Demps (3, 1 pass defense) tackles and Gibril Wilson (4 tackles, 2 pass defenses) were pretty active in run support and did a nice job on Witten for the most part. Demps made a nice tackle on Jones early in the game to hold him to a limited gain. Demps later knocked away a 3rd-and-2 pass to Jason Witten. On the very next play, Dallas turned the ball over on downs when Owens dropped the ball (sweet!). However, a somewhat gimpy Demps did give up a 21-yard sideline reception to Witten late in the game. I am not sure of Demps’ responsibilities on the 53-yard touchdown play at the end of the game, but he was nowhere near the receiver. Wilson dropped an interception on Dallas’ second touchdown drive of the game and was beat by Witten for a 15-yard gain on 3rd-and-14 in the fourth quarter.

James Butler has a real nice hit on Owens to help cause an incompletion in the fourth quarter.

Offensive Overview: The Giants ran the ball fairly well against what had been the top-ranked rush defense in the NFL, holding the opposition to 67 yards per game. Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs ran for 154 yards on 37 carries (4.2 yards per carry). While Eli Manning only completed 12 passes, many of those completions were clutch throws in key situations, including two touchdown passes. The offensive line – particularly the tackles – had some rough moments, but generally performed well. The offense really set the tone for the evening with their quick strike on the game’s opening drive. And the Giants’ third quarter, 14-play, 68-yard march that consumed almost eight minutes of the clock and resulted in a touchdown really took the life out of the Cowboys.

Quarterback: It wasn’t a great statistical game for Manning (12-of-26 for 189 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception). Eli only completed 12 passes. But many of those passes were incredibly significant in the outcome of the football game. What really impressed me about Manning on Monday night was his presence and maneuverability in the pocket. This was as good as I’ve seen Eli feel the rush and move around to buy additional time, at the same time remaining composed. The pass protection was not outstanding.

New York set the tone for the game on their 5-play, 74-yard opening drive. Manning found Amani Toomer for seven yards on 3rd-and-4. Two plays, later, avoiding the rush from his right and stepping up into the pocket, Manning delivered a picture-perfect deep strike to Plaxico Burress for a 50-yard touchdown. In the second quarter, he lobbed another perfect deep pass to Burress for a 44-yard gain. This drive was kept alive when Manning did a nice job of moving around in the pocket until he found Barber for 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-7. At the beginning of the third quarter, Eli hit Jeremy Shockey for a 13-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-9. On the 14-play touchdown drive, Manning had a number of key completions including a 14-yarder to Tim Carter on 3rd-and-8 when facing an all-out blitz and under heavy pressure.

There were some negatives. Manning got greedy and tried to force a deep pass to a triple-covered Toomer. He fired a ball behind Shockey at the goal line for what probably should have been a touchdown (the Giants settled for a field goal instead). And Manning was very, very lucky that his second-quarter pass intended for Toomer was not intercepted in the waning seconds of the first half. That was a bad throw in a bad situation. Manning also badly overthrew Shockey on a deeper intermediate route in the third quarter.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress only had two catches, but they were huge. The first was a 50-yard touchdown reception where he out-leapt the defender to securely snag the football for the early lead. Later, he made a very difficult over-the-shoulder Willie Mayes-type catch for a 44-yard gain, setting up the Giants’ first field goal of the game. On the downside, Burress dropped two passes. Also, he seemed to lose track of the football (in the lights?) on the 3rd-and-1 shot into the end zone that was intercepted.

On a side note, what was great to hear from the broadcast was how much time Eli and Plaxico now spend with each other after practice, practicing on their own in order to gain on-field chemistry. That kind of dedication pays off.

Amani Toomer made a clutch 7-yard reception on 3rd-and-4 on the game’s opening touchdown drive. But that was it for Toomer in the first half. I spotted him making a key block on an early Tiki Barber run, but also badly missing an important block on the defensive back at the point-of-attack. Toomer had two catches in the second half for a total of 19 yards. And both were important receptions on two scoring drives.

Tim Carter had one catch for 14 yards, but it was a big one coming on 3rd-and-8 on the 68-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

Running Backs: Another 100-yard game for Tiki Barber against another top-ranked run defense. In fact, Barber was the first player to run for 100 yards or more against Dallas this season. Barber carried the ball 18 times for 85 yards in the first half and nine times for 29 yards in the second half for a total of 27 carries for 114 yards. Obviously, most of his damage came before intermission. Barber was also the leading receiver with four catches (for 32 yards). Tiki had a real nice 11-yard cutback run on the game’s opening touchdown drive. He had a 17-yard run on the next possession. Early in the second quarter, he gained 12 yards mostly after the catch on pass from Manning on 3rd-and-7. One of Tiki’s longest run of the night (18 yards) may have been his most ignored. It came on 3rd-and-16 at the end of the first half and prevented the Cowboys from getting another shot to score points before halftime. On the 68-yard touchdown drive, Barber carried the ball five times for 18 yards with his longest run being for eight yards.

That all said, it is necessary to point out that Tiki has now fumbled twice in recent weeks. And his lost fumble against the Cowboys at the Giants’ own 14-yard line right after Dallas had cut the lead to 12-7 could have proved disastrous.

Brandon Jacobs (10 carries for 40 yards) did most of his damage in the second half as he received as many carries as Barber did after the break. His only carry of the first half was a 5-yard run on 3rd-and-1. On the 68-yard touchdown drive, Jacobs had three carries and all of them were huge. First he somehow powered his way through the line and ran over SS Roy Williams for nine yards – it was an impressive statement run. Then he picked up two yards on 3rd-and-1. His most important run of the night, obviously, was his 3-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1. This play was not blocked well at all and Jacobs was hit well short of the first-down marker (let alone the end zone). It didn’t matter as Jacobs merely ran through everyone in his way. A huge, huge play in the football game. On the down side, I didn’t care for Jacobs’ effort in pass protection on the play before this run. For a back as big as Jacobs, he should hit the rusher head up instead of trying of trying to cut block him. Also, later in the game on the final field goal drive, Jacobs should have kept his feet and tried to run over the cornerback on an 8-yard pickup instead of diving for the first-down marker. He didn’t make it and the Giants had to settle for a field goal two plays later. Run over the small guy Brandon! Jacobs did a great job of running out the clock to end the game.

FB Jim Finn blocked pretty well, but he had some problems this week. I spotted one play where LB/DE DeMarcus Ware simply tossed him aside to make the play. Finn did clobber S Roy Williams on the short pass to Barber that picked up 12 yards and a first down.

Tight Ends: I thought both Jeremy Shockey and Visanthe Shiancoe blocked well against the 3-4 defense. Shockey, once again, was shut out in the first half of a game in the pass-receiving department. The Giants tried to get him the football for a touchdown on 3rd-and-10 in the second quarter, but Manning threw behind him. Manning went back to Shockey on a similar play in a similar situation (3rd-and-9 from the 13-yard line) at the start of the second half. This time, an accurate pass was thrown for the touchdown as Shockey beat Roy Williams. Shockey’s only other catch of the game was a 10-yarder on 2nd-and-2 in the third quarter.

Offensive Line: The offensive line performed fairly well against a very physical and talented front seven. The Giants rushed for 155 yards and Manning was able to complete a number of clutch passes in key situations. However, both tackles had issues with the edge rushers. LT Luke Petitgout had problems with LB/DE DeMarcus Ware for much of the game as not only did Ware out-quick Petitgout to the outside on some plays, but he also bull-rushed Luke at least two times. RT Kareem McKenzie had problems with LB/DE Greg Ellis too. One early sack and forced fumble given up by McKenzie was luckily reversed and called an incompletion instead. The first sack came as Eli was unable to find anyone open as the entire pocket collapsed around him. The second sack came when Petitgout was pushed back into Manning by Ware again. Petitgout was also flagged with his customary false start. I’ve mentioned this before, but I do love both our guards. Not only are both good football players, but they are tough guys who don’t back down. Both David Diehl and Chris Snee play with an attitude. Center Shaun O’Hara continues to be one of the most underappreciated players on this team.

Special Teams: Jeff Feagles returned to form and was a big factor in the football game. He averaged almost 49 yards per punt on his three punts, with the biggie being 54-yarder that was down at the one-yard line in the first quarter. Dallas only returned one of the three punts (for seven yards). Ryan Kuehl made the tackle.

Jay Feely hit both of his field goals from 31- and 32-yards out. However, the first was very close to being a miss. He kicked off seven times. One went for a touchback. The others were fielded at the 10, -2, 3, -1, 3, and 2 yard lines. Kickoff coverage was solid. Returns went for 19 (Justin Tuck on the tackle), 22 (Reggie Torbor), 19 (Gerris Wilkinson), 26 (Chase Blackburn), 26 (Torbor), and 24 yards (Blackburn).

Chad Morton had one excellent punt return for 17 yards and another that lost four. Kickoff returns continue to be a big problem. Morton returned four kickoffs, with his longest being only 22 yards. He had one return for a putrid four yards when the ball fell short and hit the ground before he could get to it.

Nice job by James Butler to recover an onsides kick.

Coaching: I don’t really agree with the criticism that the Giants should not have taken a shot at the end zone on 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter. If this play were executed properly and had the Giants scored, everyone would have been saying, “What a great play call! Way to go for the throat!” It was a similar situation to the 4th-and-1 deep shot to Shockey last year in San Francisco that scored a touchdown. The same people criticizing this call are probably the same that have complained last year that the Giants never throw the football in short yardage.

I thought the far riskier play was going for it on 4th-and-1 at the Dallas’ 3-yard line late in the third quarter. A field goal there would have given the Giants a 15-point lead. But Coughlin decided to go for the throat a second time and it worked. But you don’t hear anyone complaining because it worked. See what I mean?

What I didn’t care for was the play calling at the end of the first half after Madison’s interception. The Giants’ dodged a couple of bullets there by first luckily picking up 18 yards on a running play on 3rd-and-16, then having a Dallas linebacker drop a sure interception. The Giants were fortunate that the Cowboys didn’t get another shot to put points on the board. There was too far to go and not enough time for the Giants to seriously think about extending their lead. They should have simply run out the clock.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys, October 23, 2006)
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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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