Dec 102009
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New York Giants 31 (7-5) – Dallas Cowboys 24 (8-4)

by The Hack for

Game Summary: Resiliency? We will see. Once again, with their backs squarely against the wall against a Dallas team that wanted nothing more than to embarrass and humiliate them in their home building and end their 2009 playoff hopes, the Giants fought and won a tough NFC East battle and placed themselves in position to make a serious run for the division crown.

Dallas came out of the gate fired up and as enthusiastic as they ever have. Marion Barber, Patrick Crayton, and others celebrated first downs, big gains, and trash talked the Giants early as they drove to a 10-0 lead.

Coming off a very poor showing in Denver on Thanksgiving, the Giants could easily have folded the tents and called it a year. They could have pointed to injuries, to bad coaching and game plans, to bad luck, or to simply giving up.

New York, however, had plenty of enthusiasm of their own and showed the mental toughness that marked their 2007 championship season by responding with 14 quick points at the end of the half to take the lead. The defense, starting several new players and switching up several others at key positions, showed intensity that hadn’t been seen all year. The Giants, as a whole, played with a sense of purpose that we as fans demand. Losing is one thing. Losing while seemingly indifferent to the game at hand is another.

It was nice to see the old Giants Pride on Sunday.

Tale O’ The Tape: The Giants were pretty well dominated in most statistical categories on Sunday, but this was a game where you had to pretty much ignore them for several reasons. It’s safe to say that the Giants were dominated for the first 27 minutes of the game. For awhile there, it looked like more of the same shoddy football we’d seen the past few weeks. With 3:18 left to go in the first half, the Giants had not crossed midfield. They had been out-gained 150 total yards to 38. They hadn’t been able to stop Romo, who was 16 for 20 and seemingly able to convert any distance on third down. They’d committed one costly turnover when OC Shaun O’Hara couldn’t contain huge NT Jay Ratliff who was able to penetrate and cause HB Ahmad Bradshaw to fumble deep in Giants territory.

Yes, at that point it was much of the same and there was no reason to believe that the Giants had anything in them to turn the game around at all, let alone in the next 3:18, but that’s exactly what they did as Eli Manning once again hoisted the Giants offense on his shoulders and made three key plays, including an incredibly fortuitous lateral to TE Kevin Boss while being sacked that ended up going for an 18 yard gain. When the Giants then forced a fumble and drove for the lead score and then kept Dallas off the board prior to halftime with a missed field goal, the momentum had shifted and our old Giants were back. This game felt almost exactly like the 2007 divisional championship game, as Dallas took the lead in the third only to relinquish it on a couple of big plays. After that, the defense stepped up to the challenge and held off the Cowboys the rest of the way.

So, again, statistics didn’t matter in this game. Emotional intensity was much more important, and it was good to see the Giants rise to and surpass the intensity that the Cowboys initially brought to the game.

Offense: The Giants’ offense was a mixed bag of opportunity found and opportunity lost. Two turnovers cost the Giants at least a 10 point swing, as Bradshaw’s fumble was turned into a touchdown by Dallas and Manning’s interception cost the Giants at least a field goal. On the flip side, the Giants offense converted the lone Dallas turnover into a touchdown of their own. Yet later on in the fourth quarter with a chance to ice the game, the Giants had to settle for a field goal when WR Steve Smith couldn’t hold a perfectly thrown ball in the end zone.

The offense was able to run the ball rather effectively, but never really got any continuity going as once again, after six carries on the first two drives, Brandon Jacobs largely disappeared (only seven more carries the rest of the game). It’s been said countless times, but it bears repeating: how is it that the Giants claim they want to get back to “Giants Football” and run the ball with power yet their most powerful back is missing from the game plan for huge chunks of time? Does that make any sense to anyone?

The passing game was in flux most of the day as well, as several big drops thwarted drives or cost the Giants points. On the other hand, however, some tough and crucial catches were made. It reminds one of what Eli Manning said in America’s Game: ‘We like to make things tough on ourselves. We don’t like winning the game in regulation on the easy field goal, we like to win in overtime on the 47 yarder.”

Anyway you look at it, the Giants offense did enough to win the game, but there’s little doubt with just a bit more execution they could have made it a lot easier on themselves.

The Quarterbacks: Eli Manning didn’t have stellar statistics but he was able to maneuver the Giants into situations that got them points. He missed a couple long balls to a wide open Steve Smith that would have gone for huge gains if not touchdowns, but he also was victimized by some key drops. Manning engineered two brilliant drives at the end of the first half that brought the Giants from the brink of disaster instead to a half time lead.

On the day, Manning was just 11 for 25 totaling 241 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Eli compiled a respectable 88.9 QBR and the Giants managed 9.1 yards per pass play. Manning’s most heads up play may have been his lateral pitch to TE Kevin Boss that helped set up the Giants’ first touchdown. While in the process of getting sacked (in large part due to Boss’ poor blocking on the play), Manning heard Boss yelling for the ball and pitched it to him just in time, allowing Boss to rumble for 16 yards and a crucial first down on the drive.

Eli made only one really bad decision in the game, on the deep Hail Mary throw to Manningham in the end zone on a first and 10 play from the Cowboys’ 25 yard line. Under pressure, Eli just heaved it up instead of throwing the ball away and it cost the Giants a sure field goal attempt at the least.

The Running Backs: Going into this game knowing that HB D.J. Ware was out with a concussion and that HB Ahmad Bradshaw was nursing two sprained ankles and a broken bone in his foot, the heavy betting was that HB Brandon Jacobs would be asked to carry the load. If you had bet that way, you’d have thought you were on your way to a windfall as Jacobs gained 21 yards on six carries on the first two drives. You also would’ve been dead wrong, because after that point the Giants ran just 14 more times (not including the two kneel downs by Manning and the lateral to Boss) in the game, and Bradshaw got seven of those carries. I’m sure I’m not the only one shaking my head and wondering over that statistic.

That said, Jacobs did have the play of the game as he took a perfectly thrown swing pass out of the backfield from Manning and showed speed he hadn’t shown (or at least I haven’t seen) this year as he outpaced the linebackers and followed a great downfield block for a 74-yard touchdown that gave the Giants the lead for good.

Following his fumble, on a play in which he lost seven yards, Bradshaw ran six more times for a gross of 54 yards. His 16-yard scamper after reversing direction during the Giants’ first touchdown drive was the play that put the Giants in the green zone. In the fourth quarter, his 29-yard run (again, after reversing direction) gave the Giants a first and goal at the 9-yard line that they ended up converting into a field goal. It was as if Bradshaw took responsibility for the fumble and held himself accountable by running like a man with his hair on fire afterwards.

I’ve been down on FB Madison Hedgecock’s play for much of the year, and though he still had some missed assignments on Sunday, his game was more on than off for the first time in a while. Again, as I always say, that has a lot to do with the offensive line and not knowing all the calls and assignments it’s sometimes difficult to know where to assign blame. On Jacobs’ first touchdown, however, Hedgecock came in motion down the line and made a clean, solid, seal block on a Dallas defender and kept him completely out of the play. Jacobs also did a lot of straight ahead running, which is indicative of solid lead blocking from the fullback position.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: Eli Manning completed just 11 passes on the day, and 9 of them went to wide receivers. Of the 20 passes thrown the receivers’ way, 13 were targeted for Steve Smith, who caught 6 of them. Manning and Smith, between completions, alternated fault for the incompletions. Smith dropped two easy passes (one should have been a touchdown) and Manning missed badly on three throws in Smith’s direction. One was a roll out to his right that he short hopped and the other two were long balls down the middle of the field in which Smith defeated one-on-one coverage but Eli couldn’t get him the ball. On all three, Smith was all alone.

Smith is second only to Larry Fitzgerald in receptions in the NFC with 78, and is fourth overall in the NFL. The next closest NFC wide receiver is Atlanta’s Roddy White with 65. With five more catches, Smith will set the single-season reception record for the Giants. He needs 365 more receiving yards to break Amani Toomer’s single-season yardage record.

Smith and Manning recognized and exploited a continuing weakness in the Cowboys’ defense, throwing across the middle under or over the safeties. Almost every completion to Smith was on a crossing pattern under the coverage.

Without a doubt, Steve Smith will be an All Pro selection and should be a Pro Bowl starter.

Hakeem Nicks caught his 5th touchdown of the season, tied for most by rookie receivers, making a beautiful catch, showing great concentration on a well-contested pass.

Although TE Kevin Boss did make a heads up play and gain 16 yards on a schoolyard type play, he didn’t get any looks over the middle where TE Jeremy Shockey used to make his living against Dallas. As noted, Steve Smith garnered all these looks and it appeared that the game plan was to keep the TE in to max protect for Eli. Unfortunately, Boss has been horrid in this area of the game lately and was horrid again on Sunday. On at least five separate occasions, Boss either missed or could not contain his block, causing pressure on the QB or the back to be dropped behind the line. Boss must get better fast at getting and keeping his leverage in the blocking game.

TE Darcy Johnson had a huge block to spring Brandon Jacobs for the last 25 yards or so on his 74-yard touchdown catch and run. Johnson rode SS Gerald Sensabaugh for more than 40 yards and never let him get a good shot on Jacobs along the sideline. If there’s been one area on the Giants that one could not levy criticism on this season, it would be downfield blocking. The receiving corps takes great pride in blocking for one another and for the running backs. To wit, though Mario Manningham wasn’t thrown to much by Eli, he had two key downfield blocks in the game that led to extra yardage. If the Giants had done the little things like this in other areas of the game, their record would be arguably better than it is.

The Offensive Line: This was, without a doubt, the best overall game the offensive line has played in the better part of two months. Dallas’ front 7 are quick and powerful, and though Manning was under pressure at times, he was only sacked once. The line also opened holes straight up the middle for Jacobs and Bradshaw, which we haven’t seen for some time.

There were still some missteps, evidenced by the play in which Bradshaw fumbled. NT Jay Ratliff was able to split a somewhat double team by O’Hara and Chris Snee (Snee was injured on the play) to get to Bradshaw and make the tackle, force the fumble, and recover the football. Other than that, the Giants effectively neutralized Ratliff for the majority of the day.

The Jacobs touchdown on 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line was beautifully blocked. LG Rich Seubert may have made his best block of the year as he drove Ratliff three yards deep into the end zone, creating the space Jacobs needed to push through. I was cheering the block even before Jacobs hit paydirt.

If the Giants’ offensive line has found its rhythm, this team will win games.

The Defense: I’m not saying it was me, and I’m not saying it wasn’t. What I will say is that I’ve torn apart the play of the linebackers and the defensive line quite regularly over the past few weeks, culminating in an indictment last week that apparently got results. After weeks of intolerable play from all linebackers not named Michael Boley (and even he stunk it up in Denver), Giants Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan started sophomore Jonathan Goff at MLB and gave significant snaps to rookie WIL Clint Sintim. Though the Giants took their lumps over the middle and had a tough time getting off the field on third downs (Dallas was 9 for 17 and the Giants allowed conversions of 3rd and 9 twice, 3rd and 6, and 3rd and 4), they completely stuffed the Dallas running game and held Romo (41-55 for 392 yards) to a paltry 6.6 yards per pass play. Essentially, the Giants shut down the run, allowed the underneath and short crossing passes, and took away the deep ball. The plan, if that’s what it was, worked as a case could be made that the defense gave up essentially 10 of the 24 points Dallas scored (seven came off a short field following a turnover and the final score came in garbage time up by 14 points).

DT Chris Canty played well in his first start, playing stout at the line and forcing the running backs away from his side of the field. With Barry Cofield playing well along side Canty, the interior of the line got significant push and collapsed the pocket on a consistent basis for the first time in months.

The Giants also employed a mixture of safeties with Aaron Rouse (great game), Aaron Ross, and C.C. Brown playing terrific football in run support at the line of scrimmage and keeping the Cowboys from completing even one deep pass all day.

The Giants showed several different fronts to Dallas, including the stand up routine that Denver employed against the Giants on Thanksgiving night. They also, inexplicably, continue to go with dog and zone blitzes, dropping Osi Umenyiora into coverage where he’s nothing more than a liability. We keep being told we’ll see less of that, but it happens three or four times every game.

The Front Seven: In a complete role reversal of Thanksgiving night, the defensive line played an inspired and feisty game. Mathias Kiwanuka had three QB hits, and Justin Tuck had two more. Kiwanuka was also in on six tackles, and forced a fumble in his first start of the year.

Barry Cofield is saying that he’s felt the best he has since September, and he played like it. He shut Marion Barber up by somehow fighting through a hold that wasn’t called to literally charge sideways into Barber in the backfield and knock him for a five yard loss. If you’ve seen the movie Stripes, there’s a part in the movie where the gang is being held in a cell while they’re being interrogated one by one. Finally, rescue is about to ensue but the explosives are unable to damage the lock and the door remains shut tight. At that point, Dewey “Ox” Oxberger freaks out and charges the door, busting it down. That’s what Cofield looked like on the play. Before it, Barber was his usual prancing, dancing, trash talking self after every gain. After that hit, he sat there like an addled school child and never opened his trap again.

Jonathon Goff played quite well at the MIKE position, and you can see that he reacts to plays instinctively, but a little slowly, at the moment. He just missed knifing in and dropping Tashard Choice in the backfield on one Dallas running play and later allowed a completion to TE Witten that he will intercept more often than not in the future.

Michael Boley had the unenviable task of trying to cover Robo-TE Jason Witten, and even with help from Terrell Thomas, Aaron Ross, CC Brown, and Aaron Rouse, Witten ended up with a career day. The one stat that eluded him, however, was that he didn’t get on the scoreboard, so that’s a win in context with the amount of catches he had.

Danny Clark was spotted by Chris Sintim quite often, and Sintim got his first career sack. Clark, in my humble opinion, is not long for snaps as a Giant for much longer. It’s just a matter of time, now, before Goff, Sintim, and Boley are the linebacking crew of the Giants.

The Secondary: The Giants back end saw the return of Kevin Dockery, but frankly I don’t remember seeing him on the field. He was not on the stat sheet, either. Michael Johnson missed the game with an injury, and C.C. Brown filled in for him.

The Giants employed a lot of nickel defense, singling Corey Webster up on Roy Williams but maneuvering the rest of the defensive backs all over the field. Aaron Rouse was a force all around the line of scrimmage all day long, and C.C. Brown also made his share of plays down in the box. Terrell Thomas had 9 solo tackles, many of them on underneath completions. If there were communications in the past few weeks, there certainly weren’t any on Sunday as I can’t recall a single blown coverage.

Bruce Johnson nearly cost the Giants a touchdown when he fell while singled up on Roy Williams, but Romo badly overthrew the pass. Johnson seems to have hit the “rookie wall,” and has become a liability in coverage. It’s amazing that Dockery cannot supplant him for at least a few snaps.

Special Teams: Domenick Hixon’s 79-yard punt return for a touchdown turned out to be the difference in the game. For once, specials haunted the other team instead of us. On the return, the Giants second wave of blockers did a phenomenal job of escorting Hixon down the sidelines. As for the kicking game, Lawrence Tynes hit his only field goal attempt of the night and his kickoffs were better than they’ve been in a couple months. The Cowboys missed two field goal attempts, though one was from 57 yards.

Coaching: Last week, I railed about Sheridan’s seemingly stubborn insistence on playing several players who clearly were ineffective, including Danny Clark, Chase Blackburn, and Rocky Bernard. This week, he shook things up even more greatly than I’d have thought, as he also benched Osi Umenyiora in favor of Mathais Kiwanuka. All of the moves worked, as the team showed defensive fortitude not seen in quite some time.

As for Kevin Gilbride and Tom Coughlin, it still needs to be explained why Brandon Jacobs is not being made the focal point of this offense and why they won’t allow this offense to get into a rhythm before going deep. Too many games the Giants are wasting three or four possessions attempting to hit a big play and then having to play behind the chains on second and third downs.

Offensive Player of the Game: Brandon Jacobs, simply for his incredible 74-yard touchdown catch and run. He also had another touchdown on a bullish run from the 1-yard line.

Defensive Player of the Game: As much as I’d like to give this to Aaron Rouse again, I’m giving the nod to Mathais Kiwanuka who was a major force along the defensive front all day.

Post Script: As all of us now know, one of our dearest members passed away this morning, Thursday, December 9, 2009. Hope Johnson wasn’t only the greatest Giants fan I ever knew, she was a woman whose inner beauty and love touched everyone she met.

Hope was a dear friend of mine, and I loved her like a sister. She did so much for the BBI community that will long be remembered. Some things many people know about, other things that will only come to light now that she is gone. The one thing that anyone can really hope for in death is that they’re remembered well and with love by those they’ve left behind. Hope will always be remembered in love. You see, Hope left a legacy, one that will never be matched no matter how long BBI continues on in the future. Her legacy wasn’t contained to BBI. As many of you know, she was a woman of God. A servant of her Lord. As great a friend she was to many of us on BBI, she was an even greater friend to the common good of man.

The world has seen a great light extinguished, but a star in Heaven will burn brighter with her love than it ever did here on Earth.

Go easy and with the knowledge of your true salvation, Hope. I, and indeed all of us, will miss you terribly.

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, December 6, 2009)
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