Nov 172010
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Dallas Cowboys 33 (2-7) – New York Giants 20 (6-3)

by The Hack for

Game Summary: In a word, this game was maddening.  The Giants are in the midst of a very tight NFC race for one of only two playoff byes.  At 6-2, the Giants led that race and faced the opportunity to separate themselves even further in the NFC East.   Furthermore, with the Philadelphia Eagles on the rise, going into Lincoln Financial Field next Sunday with at least a one game lead would have been a huge psychological advantage after having beaten the Cowboys twice and getting to that 7th win as leaders of the NFC.

Dallas came into this game with nothing to lose.  No one knew exactly what to expect, but one thing was evident from early in the week.  Dallas was no longer doing business as usual at Happy Valley.  After the firing of HC Wade Phillips, interim HC Jason Garrett put the team in full pads during their first practice last Wednesday.  He made his players jog to their next practice assignments.  When it was time for a meeting to start, he locked the meeting room doors and those who weren’t present were left outside the room.  Dress codes were instituted.  Garrett made it clear, there would be discipline, and with that one assumes, accountability.

That attitude showed on the football field, where Dallas played better than it had all year.  That said, the Giants are still the better team and with what they had laying at their feet for the taking, they blew it.

The Giants had injuries.  Everyone knew it.  Even so, they were 13.5 point favorites in this game.  The defense, on the average, is in great shape going into the latter part of the season having only lost one key contributor in Mathais Kiwanuka.  On offense, as Eli Manning has said, Boothe has started for the Giants and they won with him.  Shawn Andrews is a capable Pro Bowl caliber lineman.  Rich Seubert is not a bad center.  Missing Steve Smith at WR surely is not good.  But just take a quick look over at the Indianapolis Colts and you’ll see a team missing playmakers all over the place yet they continue to lead their division also with a 6-3 record and have won four of their last five.  So spare the excuses, New York, it’s time to step up.  Stepping up does not include:

  1. A false start on WR Duke Calhoun putting the Giants in a 3rd and 15 on their first drive.
  2. William Beatty committing a false start at his own two yard line that wipes out a probable Brandon Jacobs touchdown and leading to the 101 interception return for a Dallas touchdown.
  3. Shawn Andrews not sustaining his block causing Eli to intentionally ground the football.
  4. Mitch Petrus committing a personal foul facemask penalty pushing the Giants deep into their own territory eventually setting up a Cowboys field goal.
  5. Kevin Boss having a pass go through his hands and off his facemask in the endzone.
  6. Hakeem Nicks not finishing his route leading to the interception for a touchdown.
  7. Hakeem Nicks dropping a probable touchdown pass (at least a first down conversion of a 3rd and 20 play).
  8. Eli Manning not leading Mario Manningham deep enough for what should have been an easy 74 yard touchdown.
  9. Mario Manningham failing on two occasions to break his route off beyond the first down marker, ending up falling short of first down.  (Manningham ran a couple suspect routes as well.)
  10. Duke Calhoun getting onto the field late causing Seubert to deliver a horrible shotgun snap to Manning as the play clock was about to expire.
  11. Seubert failing to recognize that Dallas had jumped offsides on the failed 4th and 1 play and quick snapping the ball.
  12. Failing to pick up said 4th down with less than a yard to go.
  13. After not going for a first down on 4th and 1 from the Dallas 49 yard line late in the 3rd quarter, punting into the endzone for a net 29 yard gain.

You may notice that every one of those errors listed was committed by the offense except the last one.  While that’s true, the defense was not without culpability as I will detail later.  There were other errors on offense as well, but these were the biggest, and most of them came from players that were tasked to step up for injured players.  You can’t commit that many unforced errors and expect to win the game.  Astoundingly, the Giants dominated the time of possession once again, 37+  minutes to 22.  That’s an entire quarter more than the Cowboys.  They won TOP in each and every quarter.  The Giants ran 26 more offensive plays than Dallas.  The Giants converted 40% of their 3rd downs.  It’s been said for weeks, and this time it came to fruition.  Eventually the mistakes would catch up with them.  Sure enough, turnovers and penalties finally caught up with the Giants.  Their first turnover was most probably a 14 point swing, and later a penalty took a Giants touchdown off the board.

Those that are claiming that the Giants got dominated or blown out by the Cowboys are wrong.  The Giants made a ton of mistakes on both sides of the ball.  Dallas had a great game plan.  All week the Giants and the rest of the country heard that Dallas was going to run the ball, run the ball, and run the ball some more.  The Cowboys came out on their first series and out of a max protect 8-man front executed a swing pass (actually credited as a run) to Felix Jones for a 12 yard gain.  The play should have been limited to a 3 or 4 yard gain, but Keith Bullock took a horrible angle.  Dallas then ran 3 straight plays out of, again, a max protect formation, before punting.

On the very next series, on three successive plays out of the same formation they showed on the first drive, Dallas threw the ball downfield for completions of 13 yards to Felix Jones where he bled out of the backfield right up the gut of the defense, a deep pass for 46 yards to Dez Bryant again out of a max protect formation, and finally again to Bryant for a touchdown on a 1 receiver route.  A ONE RECEIVER ROUTE.  The Giants HAD to be looking for the run.  Additionally, it’s been widely reported and even HC Tom Coughlin said that Cowboys QB Jon Kitna “Got rid of the ball quickly on 3 and 4 step drops.”  That’s patently false.  Kinta took more 5 and 7 step drops than 2 or 3 step drops, and even when he was in shotgun, he had as much time to throw the ball as if he were taking deep drops from under center.   Kitna got rid of the ball on 3 step drops rarely, but when he did they were successful.

On the day, the Cowboys ran just 50 offensive plays.  Incredibly, 13 – more than ¼ of them – went for 10 yards or more.  The top 10 plays of the night for the Cowboys accounted for an astounding 340 yards!  That’s a laughable 34 yards per play.  The other 40 plays that the Cowboys ran amounted to just 87 yards, or 2.17 yards per play.

A maddening game indeed.

Offense: If you just look at the stats, you’d probably come away thinking the Giants scored twice as many points as ended up with.  Quite frankly, they could and probably should have.

Though they didn’t get completely away from it, the Giants weren’t able to run the ball as much as they probably would have liked due to falling behind by 20 points early in the 3rd quarter.  That said, the running game overall wasn’t as successful as it’s been in past weeks, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.

The real story on offense was missed opportunities.  Eli Manning missed at least one touchdown when he didn’t hit Mario Manningham in stride on a 46 yard pass play, Kevin Boss and Hakeem Nicks both dropped probable touchdown passes and Nicks also broke off a slant route that resulted in a pick six going the other way.   Additionally, William Beatty’s false start at the 2 yard line and Kevin Boothe’s hold took two touchdowns off the board.  If a few things are executed just a bit better, this game is a blow out the other way, possibly in the neighborhood of 48 – 27.

The new guys on the block who are subbing for injured players – Will Beatty, Mitch Petrus, Duke Calhoun and Kevin Boothe – all committed costly penalties.

The Quarterback: QB Eli Manning had another solid game, and when you consider he was playing with different offensive linemen in 3 positions and without his security blanket wide receiver, you could say he was great.  Manning missed a couple opportunities, but he was also victimized by drops (Nicks, Boss and Jacobs all dropped balls in key situations) and had a 48 yard touchdown pass to Nicks called back due to a penalty.

On the day, Manning passed for 373 yards, completing 33 of 48 attempts (nearly 69%) with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (1 was not his fault) for a QBR of 88.3.  Manning also scrambled 3 times for 17 yards.

Manning continues to put up MVP type numbers, but frankly the interceptions are going to doom him.  While neither interception was truly his fault, the stats still go on his record.  (The second interception occurred in desperation time and for the most part was inevitable.)

Manning hit 7 different receivers.  Ratio-wise he didn’t target his wide receivers as much as he had been, but that had to be expected with Steve Smith out and the subsequent in game injury to Ramses Barden.  Manning targeted Mario Manningham 16 times, but also targeted his backs and tight ends 19 total times.  The check down was there most of the night for Manning and he took advantage of it often.

On the fumbled snap, Eli made the classic mistake of trying to pick up the ball and make a play with it.  Seeing as they were down 13 with only 7 plus minutes to play it is somewhat understandable that Manning may have been thinking that he had no opportunities to waste, but the chances of pulling a Romo and having something good come from it are remote.  Just fall on the ball.

The Running Backs: HB Ahmad Bradshaw once again found tough sledding on Sunday, gaining just 73 yards on 23 carries for a 3.7 ypc average.  For the second game in a row, Bradshaw was unable to break the cutback for a long gainer, and his long of the night was just 9 yards.  On a couple of opportunities, Bradshaw seemed to abandon a well blocked scheme to try to get to a cut back lane only to find it taken away.  A couple of times Bradshaw didn’t stick with following FB Bear Pascoe into what appeared to be significant holes.  On one occasion Snee pulled and Pascoe followed to seal the left end of the line but Bradshaw cut back into a 2 yard gain.  Had he simply attached himself to Pascoe’s outside hip, he had an opportunity for a huge gain down the left side of the field.

Bradshaw was very active in the passing game, as he was targeted 7 times (most this season), catching 6 for 62 yards.  Mainly catching check downs, Bradshaw did have a couple of screens designed for him as well.

Brandon Jacobs had a rough game, gaining just 17 yards on only 5 carries including getting stuffed on the key 4th and less than a yard play.  Targeted 3 times in the passing game, he caught 2 balls for 11 yards but had a key drop on well designed screen on a 1st and 10 from the Giants 42 late in the 3rd quarter when the Giants had regained the momentum.

HB Danny Ware never got into the offensive scheme after having a great 4th quarter last week against Seattle.  One has to wonder why he didn’t get an opportunity.  FB Bear Pascoe had a solid game once again, doing a good job getting to the second level and staying engaged on his blocks.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: With WR Steve Smith out because he was given a trophy, the Giants knew that the Cowboys were going to try to take WR Hakeem Nicks out of the game by double teaming him.  Although Dallas played him high/low with a variety of combinations of CBs, S, and LBs, Nicks still made a share of plays that included one highlight reel one handed catch.  Manning went to Nicks early, but was unable to keep the synergy going with him after the first couple of drives.  Nicks caught 5 of 8 passes thrown his way but 3 of the receptions were on the first two drives and only 1 came in the second half.  Nicks had no catches after the midway point of the 3rd quarter (not including the touchdown called back due to penalty).

The Receiver Du Jour on Sunday was Mario Manningham, who caught 10 of 16 passes thrown his way for 91 yards and 1 touchdown.  Manningham was singled up most of the day, and Eli tried to get him the ball often.  Though he caught 10 passes, there were obvious times when he and Manning were not on the same page.  Just before the final interception, Manningham broke a route off at the goal line and though he certainly was interfered with, the ball was thrown to the back of the end zone where Manning expected him to be.  Thus, due to the ball being ruled uncatchable, there was not call for interference.  Also, Manningham nearly turned a one yard loss on a smoke screen into a complete disaster by continuing to try to make something out of nothing.  Luckily, he only lost 5 yards after running away from the line of scrimmage at a full sprint before finally turning around and giving up on the play.

Ramses Barden saw the first sustained and meaningful action of his career on Sunday and much to my chagrin and surprise, he looked phenomenal.  I wrongly predicted he’d play the majority of his snaps on the outside and I wrongly stated that I didn’t think he was ready to contribute.  Barden only had 3 catches on 4 opportunities (Barden had another catch nullified by penalty), but all 3 were excellent plays on his part.  On one, he probably saved Eli an interception by wresting the ball away from the defender and saving a Giants field goal drive.  Overall, Barden played with power and authority and looked like he was on the way to having a dominant game.  However, he was injured when Manning attempted to throw him a fade into the endzone in which the ball was thrown a bit short.  Barden went up with the defender and came down hard on his ankle, fracturing and doing significant ligament damage to it.  Barden is now out for the season.

Duke Calhoun proved to be little more than a liability on offense on Sunday.  He had a costly false start early, and on the play after Nicks’ touchdown was called back, he was late onto the field which caused Eli and Seubert to hurry the snap as the play clock ran out and they lost the ball on a fumble.

The Giants didn’t use a lot of double tight end sets on Sunday, rather they moved Pascoe around a lot pre-snap from either the TE or FB position into a scheme.  TE Kevin Boss was used heavily in the passing game, catching 5 of 7 balls thrown his way including a touchdown.  Boss also had an incredible 19 yard catch on 3rd and 20 in which he elevated over the middle and got drilled.  Boss injured his lower back on the play but stayed in the game.  Unfortunately, Boss also dropped a sure touchdown in the second quarter.  Though there was some contact early from the DB, Boss had the ball go right through his hands and hit him in the helmet.  And to really play the coulda, shoulda, woulda game…had Boss caught that ball, Ramses Barden does not get injured on the very next play.

Travis Beckum, thought to possibly have a larger role in this game, wasn’t in nearly as often as was thought.  He ended up with just 2 catches for 12 yards.  With Smith out, many thought Beckum would see a lot of action in the passing game.  When Barden went out, he still didn’t get many looks.

Offensive Line: The Giants started Shawn Andrews at LT, Kevin Boothe at LG, Seubert at C, with Snee and McKenzie in their normal spots.  That lasted all of two plays when Boothe came up lame and rookie Mitch Petrus stepped in at LG.  Though Boothe was able to return, Petrus got extended time.  Overall, the offensive line played a pretty good game.  The Cowboys did not sack Manning, and in fact only hit him once.  In the last two games, Manning has not been sacked and only hit once.

That said, Will Beatty, Kevin Boothe, Mitch Petrus, and Rich Seubert all made mistakes that cost the team points or aided in setting up Dallas in great field position.  Communication issues are expected when there are that many changes on the line, but as Eli said, they’ve played before and they know what to do.  While at times they stepped up, at other times they stepped back.

The Giants attempted to run left a number of times in the first half with little success, but again that can be attributed somewhat to Bradshaw constantly looking for the cutback instead of trusting his blocking.  At any rate running left was largely unsuccessful and the team ran right much more often later in the game.  In time, if the Giants don’t get Diehl and O’Hara back earlier than expected, this line will get better.  They need to play together and build some confidence but the talent is there.

Defense: It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly went wrong for the Giants defense on Sunday.  For 40 plays, they played like the dominant defense we’ve seen the past 5 weeks.  For 10 plays, they looked like last years’ defense in microcosm.  Frankly, too many times on Sunday the Giants played what appeared to be loose and undisciplined formations.

The mantra for the defense this season has been, “Stop the run first then get after the quarterback.”  Strangely enough, for the second week in a row, the Giants did not go after the QB.  While the Giants did indeed limit Dallas’ running game to just 103 yards (36 of them coming on the last drive), they did nothing to stop the Dallas passing game.

This may be hard to believe, but Dallas completed only 13 passes on Sunday.  Those 13 passes, however, accounted for 327 yards, or 25.1 yards per completion.  As stated, maddening.  The Giants used a variety of stunts and twists to get after Kitna, and they got close a few times, but they only sent more than 4 players after him twice in the entire game.  That strategy worked great at confusing a Whitehurst last week, but Jon Kitna was a starting QB with more than 100 starts under his belt.  Getting him to make a huge mistake is a lot harder to do than getting Whitehurst to make one.

Interestingly, the only two times that the Giants sent more than 4 after Kitna, he completed his passes, one being the 71 touchdown.  The result was that Kitna had plenty of time to move around in the pocket and deliver strikes all over the field.  The Giants only hit him twice and the sack they were credited with happened only because Kitna’s lineman stepped on his foot, causing him to fall.

Another interesting fact is that Dallas had no sustained, clock-eating drives.  Out of 12 drives, only 4 by Dallas were greater than 1:55 and not a single drive took longer than 2:45 seconds.  No drive had more than 7 plays.

Furthermore, on the day Dallas converted just 3 of 11 first downs.  Unfortunately for the Giants, the first was a 3rd and 10 that went for a 71 yard touchdown.  The second was a 3rd and 22 that went for an easy 27 yard pitch and catch, and the third was an 18 yard run by Marion Barber on 3rd and 10 with just a couple minutes left in the game.

Front 7: Another tough group to grade is the front 7.  They indeed held the Cowboys to just over 70 yards rushing until the final drive, which is goal number one going into the game.  The linebacking corps did a heck of a job taking away the Dallas tight ends, as Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett combined for just 2 catches, and Bennett’s was against a DB.  Dallas running backs accounted for just 4 catches as well.  Unfortunately, one of them ended up being one of the plays that broke the Giants’ back.  On a 3rd and 10 play on the Cowboys’ opening drive of the 3rd quarter, the Giants showed a four man front with DE Justin Tuck lined up at outside linebacker.  Just before the snap, Tuck rolled to his left to follow LB Michael Boley in an attempt to overload the right side of the Dallas line to get after Kitna.  Dallas had a screen to Tuck’s original side called, and when he vacated the spot there was no one left to get to Jones as the Giants were in man coverage with their DBs having their backs to the play.  To add insult to injury, LT Doug Free blatantly held DE Osi Umenyiora on the play right in front of the referee who made no call.  The linemen and backers made 28 of the 50 tackles on the day, again a testimony to the fact that other than those handful of plays, the Giants played a pretty good defensive game.

Defensive Backs:  With the Giants selling out to stop the run and Dallas masking their desire to get the ball downfield by lining up and sending receivers out of max protection packages, the defensive backs were left on their own for most of the game.

Both Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster were burned for long touchdowns, and it appeared that there were communication issues with the safeties by the interactions the players were having following the big plays.  HC Tom Coughlin said after the game that the CBs didn’t help the safeties much by not engaging the receivers at the line to slow them down.

The safeties, Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle, had tough games.  Both spent way too much time crashing the line of scrimmage to support the run that never came or bit on TE patterns that weren’t open in the first place.

Corner Forum contributor “Wellington” put together a video of the biggest Cowboys’ passing plays that shows what both Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle did (or more aptly did NOT do) on those plays.  It, along with some good commentary, can be found on this thread and is worth read and a watch.

What’s obvious is that Antrel Rolle is freelancing a little too much for his own good.  Aggressiveness is one thing but when you’re consistently out of the play because of it you have to dial it down a bit.

Safety/linebacker hybrid Deon Grant had a nice interception that thwarted a Dallas drive.

Special Teams: The unwanted return of Bad Matt Dodge kept Dallas in great field position during the first half.  Ironically, when the Giants needed one of his crappy 30 yard efforts to pin Dallas deep, he boomed one 57 yards into the end zone.  Some will say at least Dez Bryant didn’t run any back this week due to Dodge kicking two of his punts out of bounds and two into the end zone.  Others will look at the atrocious 32 yard net average and ask, “What’s the difference?”

Coverage teams for the Giants were adequate, but Tynes’ kickoffs were erratic.  Kicking to the 10 is fine if you can stop the returner at the 25, but when they get to the 35 again…what’s the difference?  On the day, the Giants only allowed Dallas a 21 kickoff return average which is certainly good.

Will Blackmon had a good day returning kicks for the most part, with a long of 42. He also had a nifty move to make the first defender miss on another.

Barry Cofield blocked an extra point, and Lawrence Tynes made his two field goals.

Coaching: There was some speculation that Perry Fewell outsmarted himself against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this season, and now there is more that he did it again against the Cowboys.  Though his defense succeeded in stopping the run and taking the Dallas tight ends out of the game, he never dialed up the pressure against Kitna to try and rattle him a bit.  Granted, the secondary blew several plays and one blitz bit him squarely in the ass, but not to go after him at all (like on the 3rd and 22 play) seemed off kilter.  There were obvious words between he and Tom Coughlin after that play.

Speaking of Coach Coughlin, considering you have a punter that can’t regulate anything about the distance or placement of his punts, why not go for it from the Dallas 49 late in the 3rd quarter on 4th and 1?  The net 29 yard punt really didn’t help the defense that much, did it?  Also, why not a challenge on the Jacobs spot on the failed 4th and 1?  Both announcers thought it was a bad spot.  Maybe there was no definitive angle?

Offensive Player of the Game: For the 3rd straight game Eli Manning was the offensive MVP.  Manning continued to battle and fight for this win, and a few costly drops and penalties took a lot of points off the board (possible 3 touchdowns).

Defensive Player of the Game: No player on defense really stepped up in an individual effort.  The defensive line played very well against the run, with Tuck, Canty, Boley and Umenyiora combining for 19 tackles, 3 of them for losses.  As such, I give the line the nod for their play against the run.

(Box Score – Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, November 14, 2010)
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