Dallas Cowboys 36 – New York Giants 35
For the second straight year, week 17 couldn’t come soon enough. The Giants-Cowboys matchup was one of the less interesting games on the NFL schedule. NYG was far out of contention and neither a win or loss would alter the DAL playoff situation. They won the division and were locked into their home playoff game Wild Card weekend. That said, there have been rumors that Eli Manning may be done in NY as a result of him retiring or NYG finally cutting him loose with the final year of his contact coming up in 2019. Nothing has been confirmed on that front, so yes, there really wasn’t a lot of buzz to this game. DAL sat RB Ezekiel Elliott, OG Zack Martin, and OT Tyron Smith. NYG was without Odell Beckham for the fourth straight game and Alec Ogletree for the second. The weather was pleasantly cool without any notable wind. A rather nice day for the end of December.
Manning and the offense put together a nice opening drive after a 38-yard kick return by Corey Coleman, both promising trends from the season. They were inside the 10-yard line of DAL after just 4 plays, but on the 5th Manning under threw his target in the end zone and the ball was picked off by second-year corner Chidobe Awuzie.
NYG got the ball soon after and once again got into DAL territory rather easily. The time, on the 7th play, Manning was sacked and ended up fumbling the ball right in\ to the waiting hands of DAL defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. Two drives, two turnovers. Exactly how the Eli naysayers wanted it to start, and a nightmare for the Eli supporters.
DAL ended up missing a 34-yard FG on their next drive but the NYG offense continued to struggle, this time with 2 false start penalties and a 3 and out. DAL then got their act together offensively and scored touchdowns on consecutive drives. Both were touchdown passes to the unknown TE Blake Jarwin on 3rd down. Both capped long drives that took a combined 12 minutes of play clock. Both were the result of poor safety coverage and tackling, something we have literally seen all year.
Manning got the ball back with just under 2 minutes left and, like always, showed a different side of himself in one game. He took them 73 yards on 10 plays in just 1:35 of game clock, capping it all with a touchdown pass to Cody Latimer who made a spectacular one handed catch with a defender draped all over him while tight roping the sideline. NYG went into the half down 14-7.
NYG forced a 3 and out on the opening drive and then added 3 points to their score via a 48-yard FG by the Pro Bowl Kicker Aldrick Rosas. DAL then surged back and connected on yet another Prescott-to-Jarwin touchdown, number three on the day. It was almost hard to believe but then the memory light clicked on; NYG has been one of the worst at defending the middle of the field for years and this season hasn’t been much different.
The NYG offense seemed to find a flow but they needed a big play. Look no further than #26, as rookie Saquon Barkley gained 68 yards and brought NYG into the red zone. That run put Barkley over the 2,000 total yards mark, only the 3rd time in NFL history by a rookie and it gave him his 7th 100+ yard rushing performance of the season, tied for the league lead with Elliott. Manning then found the resurgent Evan Engram for a solid pitch-and-catch touchdown. They went for 2 and Manning connected with the versatile athlete Engram one more time to make it a 3-point game.
After a defensive stop, NYG got the ball back and kept the momentum on their side. Engram had the highlight play of the drive with a 51-yard gain that brought NYG to the DAL 14-yard line. A few plays later, Wayne Gallman crossed the goal line and gave NYG their first lead of the day, 25-21 with under 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter.
The lead didn’t last long, as DAL backup RB Rod Smith, who had 3 touchdowns at MetLife Stadium over his previous 2 visits, crossed the goal line at the end of a 5 play, 75 yard drive. Both defenses were just getting man-handled.
Manning and the offense, once again, kept their surge going, mainly via the passing game. They took their 4-point lead back with a Barkley 2-yard touchdown and on the first play of the following DAL possession, Kerry Wynn forced a fumble that was recovered by BJ Goodson. NYG started with the ball at the DAL 18 yard line and ended up netting 3 more points via the trustworthy leg of Rosas. They had a 7 -oint lead with just over 2 minutes of game clock left.
This task was taken on by Dak Prescott, who played every snap, head on. He easily drove the DAL defense all the way down field, but a 4th and 15 form the NYG 32 yard line faced him. This was likely the end of the game but as he did so well all afternoon and all season, he hit Cole Beasley in the end zone while on the move with an unbelievably accurate ball. The original ruling was that Beasley landed out of bounds but after review, it was reversed and DAL was back within one.
They opted to go for 2 since nobody wanted any part of overtime and just as the NYG defense did all year, they didn’t come up with a key stop. Prescott hit rookie Michael Gallup in the end zone and they were all of the sudden up by 1.
Manning did get a shot to come out and lead NYG downfield against DAL in a December home game very much like he did as a rookie back in 2004. But this result wasn’t a positive one. Four straight incompletions, not one hand off to Barkley, and NYG was handed their 11th loss of the season.
NYG loses 36-35.
-Eli Manning: 24/41 – 301 yards – 2 TD – 1 INT. Manning also lost a fumble, his 4th of the year. The game couldn’t have started worse for Manning in what may have been his last start as a Giants’ quarterback. In typical Eli fashion, he bounced back and had a solid game but as we’ve seen all year, he just didn’t have the same ability to close out a game. He had opportunities on the last drive, and throughout the game, to come up with the big throw and he just couldn’t pull it off consistently enough. Manning can still make all the throws but there is too much he can’t seem to do anymore. Too many misses. Too many limitations. If the rest of the roster was structured to the point where the QB could “manage” more than make plays, maybe it could be different. But the truth is, this roster isn’t good enough to hide his limitations and if you put a gun to my head, I think that was it in New York for Manning.
–Saquon Barkley: 17 att / 109 yards – 1 TD – 4 rec / 33 yards. Overall, it was a quiet day for the Rookie of the Year candidate. 94 of his yards came on 2 carries, meaning the other 15 carries produced 15 yards. He didn’t have much room to work with but there were a couple plays he was late to see the lanes. Barkley capped off the year by passing the 2,000 total yards mark which was just the 3rd time in NFL history that has ever been done by a rookie. His elite talent and ability flashed all year and when this kid improves his decision making and gets a real offensive line in front of him, we are looking at a legit year in, year out MVP candidate.
-Wayne Gallman had 6 carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Really strong end to the season for a back who won’t get enough credit playing in the shadow of Barkley. This kid can play and it was a solid year for him. He impressed me with his ability to break through contact despite not having a ton of size under those pads. Even though this is the Barkley show, Gallman will be an important piece.
-Cody Latimer: 4 rec / 72 yards / 1 TD. Better late than never for Latimer. It was the best game of the year for the 26-year old who was supposed to bring a vertical threat to the NYG offense. He made two spectacular, high-level catches in this one. Was it enough to keep him around? That remains to be seen but he did show enough in the 6 games that he played this year to at least compete for a spot moving forward.
-Sterling Shepard: 4 rec / 67 yards. Shepard led the team with 9 targets. He had a drop on a downfield pass and after 3 years, it appears evident he just isn’t going to be a guy that can get vertical and make plays on the ball consistently. There is still a ton of value in his game, but there are limitations and it is something to consider as his unrestricted free agency will be here in 2020.
-Corey Coleman was a pleasant surprise throughout the second half of the season as a kick returner. I think he needs to be back here because of how consistent he was I getting the ball past the 30 yard line. Field position is crucial and the ability to break one is even more important when there is so much instability at the QB position.
-Evan Engram: 5 rec / 81 yards / 1 TD. Engram may have had the strongest finish to the season on the entire team. It appeared to be a wash that stemmed from a knee injury sustained week 3 against HOU, but credit to him for coming back and really putting his best foot forward. He made a 51-yard gain on a play that was mostly yards after catch. The speed he has shown in space lately has really stood out. His drops lessened and the scheme put him in some favorable spots. I expect him to be one of the most important pieces of the offense in 2019.
-Scott Simonson added 2 catches for 14 yards. He struggled as a blocker, allowing a sack and a few tackles right at the point of attack. He will likely be back in 2019 because there is an every-down threat in his potential. Not a definite for the 2019 roster spot, but he will be able to compete for it.
-Nate Solder finished out his much improved second half with a solid game. He allowed one pressure and came up with a few key blocks on the outside. While I wouldn’t call his performance dominant by any means, it was one of his better games.
-Chad Wheeler, on the other hand, continued to show his low-level 2018 play. He really didn’t show any improvement throughout the year. He allowed 2 pressures and had 2 penalties. His adjustment speed and footwork were poor, as they were all year. This is one spot that absolutely needs improvement in 2019.
-Rookie Will Hernandez, after a rough start to the season, finished strong. He allowed 1 TFL but it had more to do with Barkley slipping in the backfield than him getting beat. Hernandez has the LG spot locked up for the next few years, so we can cross that off the needs-list. His pass protection doesn’t always look pretty, but his presence and power can make up for it.
-Spencer Pulley and Jamon Brown both finished with negative grades. I don’t need to keep saying it, but I’m not so sure these guys should be back. Brown has proven to be a penalty-heavy player with some solid stretches of run blocking. While I do think he can be in the running for the RG job next year, by no means does he deserve a big contract. Pulley has never been very good, so I don’t expect him back. This is a very solid OC draft, thus I think NYG would be smart to go after one early day 3. Value will be there.
–Olivier Vernon finished with 2.5 sacks, the most in a single game for him as a Giant. Just as everyone started to write him off, Vernon finished with 6 sacks over his final 5 games. After missing the first 5 weeks of the season with an injury, Vernon may have done enough to keep his roster spot especially considering the edge spots are pretty bare to begin with. While he may never be a top tier guy, he is probably better than what most perceive him to be.
-Rookie Lorenzo Carter recorded a sack, his 4th of the season. He was exactly what I thought he would be for the Giants in 2018. A tools-rich, raw edge defender who can make plays with his legs but still has a ways to go with his hands and technique. He will be in the running for a starting spot in 2019 but even if someone takes it, he will be an important piece. The skill set is versatile.
-Kareem Martin finished the season strong. The plus-locker room presence struggled when his playing time was high, but as he got put into a more rotational role, he stood out. Martin recorded 5 tackles and 1 TFL. He was really stout against the run.
-Kerry Wynn, “Mr. Preseason”, saw his playing time diminish more and more throughout the year. He did end up with a huge forced fumble in this one, however.
-Solid game for Dalvin Tomlinson. He settled into the 1-technique position really well after the Damon Harrison trade. Although the run defense as a whole did take a hit with him in there in contrast to Snacks, I do think it is his best role. The twitch and range he shows makes this defense a little more versatile which, in the long run, fits in better with what they want the scheme to be.
-Rookie BJ Hill recorded a half sack, giving him 5.5 on the season. That was the highest among all interior defenders from the 2018 Draft class and 4th overall among rookies. Not bad for a 3rd rounder. I discussed Hill as an immediate contributor at this time last year, and that he was. Hill’s upside is limited but he will be a building block for the defense. A defense that really needs to step it up.
-With Alec Ogletree out, BJ Goodson was the main man in the middle. And I’ll tell you what, Goodson was as impressive and consistent as any LB on this team over the final 4 weeks. His playing time and injury status has been back and forth over his three years in blue, but I still want this guy on the field as much as possible. His run defense is borderline elite with his ability to reach the sidelines, deal with traffic, and deliver violent blows to ball carriers. His weaknesses in coverage are apparent, but he is a guy who plays with the hustle and intensity I want.
-Tae Davis, an undrafted free agent rookie, made some impressive plays and his speed stands out. But he really didn’t figure out how to avoid over-pursuing and missing tackles. He’s missed tackles, including 2 in this one, every week he saw serious playing time. In addition, his coverage wasn’t on the level you want out of a package defender. He will compete for a spot in 2019, but by no means is a definite.
-Janoris Jenkins had one of his best games of the season, as he was the main reason why Amari Cooper had a quiet game. He also led the team with 8 tackles and two pass breakups. Jenkins isn’t always the most physical guy out there and there is still a lot of gambling in his game, but this is an expensive player who needs to stay here. Good cornerbacks are really hard to find and he is one of them.
-BW Webb saw his play go south over the final quarter of the season. He was flagged for another long pass interference which eventually led to a DAL touchdown. Webb really had a solid year overall considering he was a street free agent who was signed after the draft. He is limited and likely best suited for a #3 or #4 role if they want to bring him back.
-Grant Haley ended his rookie season with a lot of promise. The undersized, but quick and aggressive undrafted free agent showed he can hang in the slot. He is a weapon as a blitzer, which this scheme needs from that spot and he can hold his own against bigger receivers. He shouldn’t be a guy who the front office cements into the role next year, but he will be here to compete and develop.
-Tony Lippett was a college wide receiver who made a move to CB in the NFL and actually showed promise early in his career. He never got over the hump with Miami but I was excited to see NYG bring him in. He was on the field for 21 snaps in this game and got burned for a long play by Allen Hurns. I am curious to see if NYG keeps him for the offseason because I still think there is something to work with here.
-Curtis Riley and Michael Thomas were absolutely torched in this one and there is no way around it. The 3 touchdowns to TE Blake Jarwin can largely be blamed on these two and it’s been a nightmare all season at the position. Thomas is a locker room presence and solid special teamer who makes the occasional play against the run, but he is stiff in coverage. I’m not sure the good outweighs the bad here. Riley just can’t be a starter. He misses too many tackles and lacks anticipation. He has tools but they don’t translate play to play.
-K Aldrick Rosas: 2/2 (Made 48,38). The best year we have ever seen out of a NYG kicker. Rosas, a Pro Bowler, finishes with the highest percentage of combined field goals and extra points. Kickers as a whole have gone south in terms of consistently in recent years, and Rosas was as rock solid as it gets.
-P Riley Dixon: 2 Punts – 47.0 avg / 47.0 net. Really solid year for the punter who was traded for. He is a keeper. He finished 7th in the NFL in net average but could use more work with hang time and getting the ball pinned inside the 10. He will be back next year.
-DE Olivier Vernon, TE Evan Engram, CB Janoris Jenkins
-OT Chad Wheeler, S Curtis Riley, CB BW Webb
3 THOUGHTS ON DAL
-All the talk surrounding the NFC playoffs seems to be revolving around the Rams and Saints, naturally. The top 2 seeds with the best 2 offenses will be tough to beat but if there is one team I don’t want to play right now, it’s Dallas. I think they have the best and highest-ceiling defense combined with a running game that can control the game. And there seems to still be debate surrounding Dak Prescott, which I just don’t get. He has been BETTER than Russell Wilson was over the first 3 years of their respective careers. Maybe it’s past failure? Maybe it’s Garrett? I don’t know but I really wouldn’t want to play these guys in the playoffs.
-The one thing that could really come back and bite them is the lack of consistent health along their OL. Are Zack Martin and Tyron Smith completely healthy? If those guys aren’t near 100%, it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
-As much as it may pain NYG faithful to accept this, the model that DAL used to get where they are is within grasp for NYG. Get a young QB who can do well enough to manage the game. Use the elite running back as much as possible. Build the offensive line with multiple early picks. Make sure you hit on edge rushers and defensive backs in the draft. Don’t overlook the potential importance of young, fast, physical linebackers.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
-So here we are. A 5-11 final record that saw a 1-7 start. The majority of the wins were against backup quarterbacks, there is a huge question mark at QB, and the offense seemed to be more than fine without Odell Beckham. Year one of the Gettleman/Shurmur era is over and this upcoming offseason will be about more than just changing the culture. It’s now time to take the holes, fill them, and create the on-field identity on both sides of the ball. This is a tall task for anyone, as there is still a mixture of “This team is close to competing” and “This team has way too many holes”.
-Offensively, has there ever been a better gathering of talent at skill positions? TE Engram. WRs Beckham and Shepard. RB Barkley. Look around the league and you can debate those three positions have more talent than any team in the league. However the instability at QB and the porous offensive line prevents the upside from being reached. What is more important? Can a better OL give enough improvement to Manning? Is there a better option out there than #10? My priority is to bring in a new QB if the value is there but not at the expense of reaching and neglecting better value at OL.
-Defensively this team needs a pass rush. It hides issues elsewhere and I think it is more dependable. Even if you improve personnel at safety, if the pass rush doesn’t get there it won’t matter that much. This draft is loaded with pass rush talent and I think this is the time to pull the trigger on getting an elite talent there.