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Unpacking The Win: Dallas

What a game. A day later and the excitement from last night hasn’t gone away just yet. The Giants came away with an exciting and impressive road win, plain and simple. Eli Manning led his team through yet another thrilling 4th quarter comeback, spoiling the Cowboys much anticipated home opener in the process. I spent some time looking at the numbers behind the magic – I’ve taken the time to outline them here as well. There were several surprise developments in this game, none more shocking than the performance of the injured Giants secondary. With that said I’ll begin my analysis with the defensive aspects of Sunday night’s nail-biter.

DEFENSE

The Giants benefited supremely from a +4 turnover ratio…. that’s a recipe for success I don’t care who you are. The Giants were able to capitalize on 3 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery in an amazing effort put forth by a banged up secondary. At the same time, the Cowboys troublesome pass rush was rendered a non-factor.

Defense T-A SCK INT FF
M. Boley 6-1 0.0 0 0
B. Johnson 1-0 0.0 1 0
K. Phillips 5-2 0.0 2 0
C. Webster 2-1 0.0 0 0
J. Tuck 1-0 0.0 0 0
O. Umenyiora 1-0 0.0 0 0

Considering the entire secondary is riddled with injuries, 3 interceptions forced on the NFL’s most elite active quarterback puts a big smile on my face no matter how badly the front 7 got manhandled by the Cowboys offensive line. The Giants uncharacteristically gave up 250+ yards on the ground, and the pass rush while threatening was a half-step behind Romo all night. Osi and the gang got schooled severely and repeatedly by the same running play – a designed cutback to the left. The Giants linebackers over-pursued each time, the corners and safeties were well blocked, and basically the entire defense failed to stop the Cowboys from executing and capitalizing on big running plays.

But in the end it was the 4 takeaways that kept the Giants in the game, particularly the pick-6 engineered by Antonio Pierce and executed by Bruce Johnson. The last second audible changing from the blitz package into pass coverage really impressed me. That kind of communication and leadership from AP cannot be understated – it was certainly the signature play of the first half in my mind.

Seeing Kenny Phillips make that heads up catch off Jason Witten’s heel, it was jaw dropping to be honest. Catching the fly ball off Tony Romo’s misread for his second interception was the icing on the cake. Michael Boley played a whole heck of a lot, and he showed flashes of tight physical coverage for much of his time on the field. Oh and by the way, Corey Webster completely eliminated his opposition’s #1 receiver for the second straight week.

In the end, the Giants were able to win an extremely difficult game in a hostile environment, and they did so without much of a rotation in place on defense. That is not only proof the team is stacked with talent, pure depth, but it shows the vision and commitment from the Giants to consistently focus on reinforcing their defense as priority 1. This game was the perfect example how that focus on defense translates to success in a playoff type of atmosphere. But perhaps the biggest positive that you can admit to is that the Giants will only get better as the season rolls on, their starters will come back itching to make an impact, the unit will benefit from fresh players rotated around for 60 minutes, and I think this situation of relying on the backups early in the season will be an invaluable experience down the road at do-or-die time.

RED ZONE ISSUES

Before we get to the offense overall — let’s first and foremost address the obvious blemish, the Red Zone deficiency for the Giants. While the Cowboys mixed it up well and effortlessly went 4/4 in the Red Zone, the Giants came away with nothing but field goals on 4/5 of their trips inside the 20.

Giants Cowboys
Field Goals (Made-Attempted) 4 – 5 Field Goals (Made-Attempted) 1 – 1
Red Zone Efficiency 0/5 – 0% Red Zone Efficiency 4/4 – 100%
Goal To Go Efficiency 0/1 – 0% Goal To Go Efficiency 4/4 – 100%

Given all the various weaponry that help get the Giants into scoring position, they cannot for the life of them punch the ball into the endzone once they’re there. For what it’s worth – every play around the goal line for the Giants reeks of desperation. Everyone looks nervous and out of sync, runs get telegraphed and busted immediately, none of the receivers can get any separation, and Eli Manning can’t seem to make anything happen the closer he gets to the endzone.

Specific plays I didn’t like down around the goal line included the pitch to Bradshaw, the wide-out screen to Manningham, and the hook to Hixon that never materialized. My distaste for these 3 plays are not simply because they didn’t work this time… it’s that they’ve never worked for the Giants. For each of these plays, you can find a carbon copy bust from 2008 right up to last week that tells you Kevin Gilbride should file those plays under the “never run inside the 20” folder. Cram ’em in there Coach.

I know — being critical is the easy part, I fully admit that. I suppose the only constructive thing I can do at this point is yet again highlight the plays that have worked in he past for the Giants (on more than one occasion) in the Red Zone and implore Coaches Coughlin and Gilbride to have another look at them because these are plays the Giants by and large already know how to execute well. Here’s my lucky 7:

  1. RB Brandon Jacobs up the gut
  2. Playaction pass to TE Kevin Boss; or
  3. Playaction pass to WR Domenik Hixon
  4. Delayed QB Draw to RB Ahmad Bradshaw
  5. Quick-slant to WR Steve Smith
  6. Bootleg QB sneak / option pass to TE Kevin Boss
  7. Corner Fade to WR Ramses Barden

Again, these are the plays that the Giants have had success with in the Red Zone over the past few seasons – and the only play from this list that was called the past 2 weeks was Brandon Jacobs up the gut; they went 0 for a zillion against the Redzkins without a hint of doing anything different. Contrast that to what they attempted in Dallas, the Giants gave the receivers the majority of the opportunities, to no avail. There still is no cohesion or balance, and like Carl Banks pointed out last week — the offensive formations telegraph the play call… the play needs to be concealed more like what Dallas had going on. For example, Tony Romo faked 3 different plays before he simply handed off to Marion Barber for the score. Giants – watch the tape and imitate the way the Cowboys created confusion for you, 4/4 in the zone came by way of mixing it up, faking passes, faking runs — Dallas proved last night the more you disguise and deceive the more the simple plays work.

So what can the Giants do to improve? Next week in Tampa Bay when you find yourself on the goal line in the first half, I suggest not kicking the field goal and running up to 4 of the above plays out of the same exact formation. Force your offensive unit to get the kinks all worked out early so you can focus on containment and clock control the way you’d like to later on in the game.

OFFENSE

From what I can tell the script was completely flipped between the Giants and Cowboys offensive units. While the play selection for both teams was completely unbalanced, it made for one of the most thrilling Sunday night games I can remember. I did not expect Tony Romo to end up with 3 picks and be held to under 130 yards passing, and I certainly did not expect Brandon Jacobs to be shut down with less than 60 yards and less than 4 yards per carry.

Overall the teams were well matched in terms of advancing the ball:

Giants Cowboys
Total First Downs 19 Total First Downs 23
By Rushing 3 By Rushing 15
By Passing 14 By Passing 7
Third Down Efficiency 6/15 – 40% Third Down Efficiency 6/11 – 54%
Total Net Yards 427 Total Net Yards 378
Average Gain per Offensive Play 6.7 Average Gain per Offensive Play 6.5

The Giants visibly struggled to get outside running the football, so they retreated back inside and stubbornly whittled away the Cowboys defensive line, one painful yard at a time. The Cowboys were much more effective pulling the Giants defense to one side and cutting back across the field through huge gaping holes, breaking off equally huge gains.

Giants Cowboys
Net Yards Rushing 97 Net Yards Rushing 251
Total Rushing Plays 26 Total Rushing Plays 29
Average Gain per Rushing Play 3.7 Average Gain per Rushing Play 8.7
Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards) 4–14 Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards) 2–2

Heading into Tampa Bay next week, the Giants need to get their confidence back running the football in their classic, smashmouth style. Why? So they can be the most complete offense in football of course!

The biggest surprise of the night is perhaps reserved for Tony Romo fans… who saw their guy collapse into an uncharacteristically awful performance that won’t ever be forgotten by Giants fans (or Jerry Jones). Eli Manning on the other hand picked apart the Cowboys defense with confident precision, exploiting the play action fake for all it was worth, right up until the 20 yard line anyway.

Giants Cowboys
Net Yards Passing 330 Net Yards Passing 127
Times Sacked (Number-Yards) 0 – 0 Times Sacked (Number-Yards) 0 – 0
Gross Yards Passing 330 Gross Yards Passing 127
Pass Comp-Att-Int 25 – 38 – 0 Pass Comp-Att-Int 13 – 29 – 3
Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) 8.7 Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks) 4.4
Time of Possession 34:49 Time of Possession 25:11

Perhaps Mannings’ effectiveness can be attributed to the lack of a pass rush. David Deihl did a fantastic job containing DeMarcus Ware all night, and he had lots of help. One guy that did his fair share of blocking was Kevin Boss, who only got away to haul in one catch on the night. While I can appreciate priorities in not allowing the QB to be sacked, part of me is wondering what the outcome might have been from a pass to Kevin Boss inside the Red Zone. Maybe next week, the Giants will finally decide to leave Madison Hedgecock in to block and utilize Kevin Boss’s proven touchdown catching hands for a change… just a thought.

But no matter how good Eli Manning looked, his receivers needed to step it up on the other end and make the plays:

Receiving REC YDS TD LG
M. Manningham 10 150 1 49
S. Smith 10 134 1 32
K. Boss 1 13 0 13
D. Hixon 1 13 0 13
D. Hagan 1 12 0 12
A. Bradshaw 2 8 0 6
M. Hedgecock 0 0 0 0
B. Jacobs 0 0 0 0

It’s official folks – the Giants do not have a receiver problem. The Giants do not need a #1 receiver to be successful. In fact, the passing game is gelling with several key guys stepping it up — and I really like the excitement of not knowing where the next pass is going or who it might be going to. Between Steve Smith on third downs and Mario Manningham making things happen with the deep ball, the Giants have found their solid, go-to playmakers to lean on. I can not wait for the return of Hakeem Nicks, and when Ramses Barden steps in for his debut in the red zone, be prepared for the distraction and sudden attention placed on the Giants receiving options.

Aside from the WR core, the Giants desperately need to involve Kevin Boss with some receptions. The same can be said for Ahmad Bradshaw and Domenik Hixon, short passes to these proven playmakers can only make things more interesting and add another layer of depth, creativity, and potency to a young and hungry offense.

A special note to Coach Gilbride: DO NOT CALL A PASS TO MADISON HEDGECOCK AGAIN, PLEASE. If you insist on throwing away downs, save us the heartache and run one up the middle again to a stacked box for old times sake.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Check out the punting and kicking stats for a second – granted this is the type of information you never ever see highlighted on ESPN but the numbers here are worth some attention:

Giants Cowboys
Punt Returns (Number-Yards) 3 – 21 Punt Returns (Number-Yards) 1 – 4
Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards) 5 – 90 Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards) 7 – 163
Interception Returns (Number-Yards) 3 – 56 Interception Returns (Number-Yards) 0 – 0
Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs) 77 Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs) 4

Here’s the story with the Giants kicking game – Jeff Feagles is amazing. There is a problem though with Lawrence Tynes – he needs serious help on kickoffs.

Feagles all but eliminated the punt return game for Dallas using his directional kicking techniques… terrific as usual. While the Giants only had 21 punt return yards — just the flash of Domenik Hixon’s return prowess is enough to set the tone for an aggressive offensive series for me.

The kickoff facet however needs some improvement. Special teams coverage was spotty and the average starting position for Dallas ended up being around the 35 yard line. Start position for the Giants was barely at the 20. Over the course of 60 minutes that is a huge handicap to overcome – and it’s directly attributable to Tynes not being able to kick the ball into the endzone on kickoffs. The lack of leg puts undue pressure on the Giants Defense right off the bat, it gave Dallas great starting field position consistently, and if you have inconsistent special teams coverage, 163 yards goes a long way toward boosting the other team’s offense and a momentum changing play may be right around the corner. The special teams matchup will be a huge factor when the Giants go up against teams like the Eagles and the Bears, and without improvement to the kickoffs its just a matter of time before disaster strikes.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed this segment. I’ll be trying to do this type of analysis each week to help highlight the Giants strengths and weaknesses, track their improvements, and provide my opinionated outlook as usual.

See you all later this week with injury updates as they happen, and I look forward to participating in another installment of the Giants Gab roundtable discussion.

Cheers

-ai


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4 Responses to “Unpacking The Win: Dallas”

  1. This is great analysis.

    This is why I think our site is the best one out there, but enough about us.

    Last year Madison Hedgecock had 8 receptions for 52 yards, and 6 drops.

    So it was O.K. play, I mean 50-50 toss up between a 6 yard gain or a waste of down

    And to add to the Hedgecock thing, that’s the worst name in football right now if you think of a hedge as a gropuing (like bushes or hedge funds”), but he’s really large so I would never insinuate antyhing

    I didn’t think Tynes kicks were that bad. If you can find a stat of where the opponet caught the ball…BUT our coverage units aren’t terrible either.

    Felix Jones is an ELITE Kick Retruner, I think you’ll see the Cowboys do that with most opponets.

    I don’t remember it being a problem vs the Skins and I don’t think it will be a problem this week or next (the Raiders have a good KR as well, though)

    Good work!

  2. Thanks Jesse.

    Hedgecock is 0-6 I think in catchable passes thrown to him this year.

    Last year the only notable pass he caught was the touchdown catch followed by the row-your-boat to the Pro Bowl from Arizona celbration “dance”.

    Other than that, I say leave him in as a blocker and peel out TE Kevin Boss who has vacuums for hands.

    On Tynes… When we face Deshawn Jackson with the Eagles and Deven Hester with the Bears — you can bet the kickoff issue will be a factor.

  3. Erik says:

    Great analysis, Andrew. I love Madison Hedgecock to the greatest extent possible for a fullback (disclaimer: I own a Hedgecock jersey), but you should not be throwing passes to the man, ever, for any reason. I think Eli is still thinking he has Jim Finn out in the flat, and is still using Jacobs and hedgecock as safety valves–that’s not such a great idea. I’d much rather see him kept in to chip at Ware, with Boss out trying to bail out Gilbride’s play-calling in the red zone.

    I’m also curious as to when Corey Webster is finally going to get his due. The guy has absolutely dominated two consecutive game (two games, two widely-acclaimed #1 receivers, THREE CATCHES, 17 YARDS), and we still hear commentators putting the Giants’ secondary as second-or-third-best in the division. Meanwhile, Terrence Newman couldn’t tackle or cover all night, and the Eagles’ vaunted passing defense just surrendered three hundred yards and three scores.

  4. If you want to see the best of Terrence Newman from Sunday night, check out Mario Manningham’s diving touchdown reception in the endzone just before the end of the first half. (wink)

    Contrast that to Corey Webster, like you’re saying, who completely eliminates his playmaking opposition. Mike Francesa has been on this lately as well, the rules are stacked against corners in the NFL now, yet Webster still makes incredibly tight coverage possible. Tangling with your feet is the only contact you can make, and Roy Williams almost had a touchdown just before the end of the half, and he would have — if Corey Webster had not used the rules to his advantage and tangle with Williams to deaden the threat.

    Beyond Webster, The Giants secondary has really stepped it up with their backups, and I’m thinkin as everyone else heals up the Giants defense is going to be a play stopping machine this year. I’m really looking forward to these games this year, the young talent rising to the occasion is fantastic to watch unfold.

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