The Giants went into their second straight road game against a division opponent with a different mind set than the first. Last week was filled with trash talk from both the Philadelphia Eagles and Giants, to the disappointment and disapproval of Tom Coughlin. This week, there was largely silence, and only talk of focus and preparation for the Dallas Cowboys. It was a critical game for the Giants, and while they played better than last week – it would have been difficult for them to play much worse, the Cowboys superior offensive line was the difference in a 31-21 Dallas victory.
Dallas won the coin toss and elected to take the ball. Starting with their greatest strength, the NFL’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, on a run up the middle for 5 yards, the Cowboys game plan was clear. A coverage sack on second down and a tackle by Prince Amukamara short of the first down stopped the Dallas drive after only three plays and the Giants took over after a punt.
Having surrendered eight sacks to Philadelphia, it was imperative that the none be given up on this first drive to begin restoring the confidence of the offensive linemen. Ben McAdoo called three running plays that netted a total of three yards giving the line a chance to fire out on their blocks, but they were unable to move the Cowboy defenders.
Steve Weatherford punted the ball back to Dallas who took over at the 24 yard line after a diving tackle by Stevie Brown on Cowboys punt returner Dwayne Harris for no gain on a 49 yard punt.
On their second drive, Dallas found success mixing Murray runs with Tony Romo passes to Terrence Williams, Jason Witten, and rookie tight end Gavin Escobar as the Cowboys marched the ball 76 yards down the field for a touchdown in 11 plays. The drive consumed 5:59 with Murray gaining 24 yards on 5 runs and culminated with a 15 yard touchdown pass to a wide open Escobar.
The drive included 3 third down conversions, including the touchdown, which was thrown on third down. Romo’s pass to Witten against Jacquian William went for 12 yards on 3rd and 8, and a 24 yard pass to Escobar on 3rd and 5 where he was trailed in coverage by Jon Beason. The touchdown was a blown coverage as Escobar lined up in the slot opposite Jayron Hosley. Running a post pattern, Hosley stayed shallow and Antrel Rolle, clearly frustrated by Escobar’s free release, was late picking him up as he easily caught the touchdown. Rolle will likely take the heat for this touchdown, but it appeared that Hosley did not play the coverage properly from the snap. Romo also faced little pressure on him from the Giants defensive line on the drive and a side stepped a blitzing Quintin Demps on an earlier in completion to avoid a sack. Lack of pressure would be a recurring theme in this game.
On the subsequent drive, the Giants used short passes to Rueben Randle and Preston Parker to move the ball from their own 20 to their 46 where they faced a 4th and 1 when Jason Garrett successfully challenged the spot on a third down completion. Coughlin, wary of the Cowboys offensive juggernaut, left his offense on the field and was prepared to run a play when Will Beatty first off prior to the snap, costing the Giants 5 yards and forcing the team to punt. This is the second theme that would emerge throughout the game, mental error on the part of the Giants offensive linemen.
A holding penalty on left guard Ronald Leary doomed the Dallas drive from the start, and they punted back to the Giants as the first quarter drew to a close with the Cowboys leading 7-0. The first quarter of the game was a costly one for the Giants defense as Cullen Jenkins left the game with a strained calf, and Jon Beason re-injured his nagging toe injury. Neither would return to the game and their absence would be felt. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, questionable entering the contest, was used sparingly, on third downs. Zack Bowman and Hosley played in his absence.
The Giants began the second quarter with their best drive of the game. It included an end around by Odell Beckham, a 16 yard pass to Larry Donnell after a holding penalty on Beatty put them in a deep 3rd and 17 hole, and Andre Williams best run on the game, a 22 yard burst through the right side behind Justin Pugh, John Jerry, and a pulling Weston Richburg. The drive was assisted by a 4th down pass interference call on safety J.J. Wilcox on a desperation pass to Daniel Fells while Manning was under intense pressure. The 10 play, 71 yard drive ended with a 9 yard touchdown pass to Beckham in the right front of the end zone, used 4:28, and tied the game a 7.
Dallas started driving the ball again, until a holding penalty on Tyron Smith was called for holding. Romo tried to find Dez Bryant on 2nd and 15 but the wide receiver slipped allowing Amukamara to easily intercept. His weaving return set the Giants up with outstanding field position at the Giants 27 and it took Manning just one play to capitalize on a pass to Fells. The tight end caught the ball at the 8, and rumbled the rest of the way into the end zone to give the Giants a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Fells was wide open on the play, Manning threw behind him, but the tight end adjusted, pulled it in, and was able to score between converging defenders.
The Cowboys answered immediately with a 10 play, 80 yard drive to tie the game at 14. Murray carried with ball 4 times for 35 yard, including a 21 yard perfectly blocked run around right end and Romo completed passes to Bryant and Witten before finding Williams between Bowman and Demps the 15 yard touchdown. The Giants defense was close to making big plays several times on the drive but was just unable to convert. On a 10 yard run by Murray, Devon Kennard and Bowman appear to have him trapped for a loss, but Murray stiff arms his way out of the tackle and the big gain. Romo again converted two big third downs, one with a perfect pass to Bryant who was blanketed by Amukamara and then to Witten who turned Hosley around to make the play. Romo was not pressured often on his passes during the 5:36 drive.
The game went into the half tied at 14 and the Giants received the kickoff to open the third quarter. Second year running back Michael Cox returned it 40 yards, from 5 yards deep in the end zone to the Giants 35, one of the few times bringing the ball out of the end zone has been successful for the Giants this season. Manning drove the Giants to the Dallas 35, overcoming a false start by Pugh on a 3rd and 4 by scrambling for 11 yards to pick up the first down. The team was unable to overcome the second mental error by an offensive lineman on the drive, a false start by Richburg and they were forced to punt.
Pinned in at his own 7 yard line, Romo used the spectacular protection being provided by his offensive line to pick the Giants secondary apart, needing only 6 plays and 3 completions to pick up the 87 of the yards, including a 26 yard touchdown pass to Escobar, his second of the game. The biggest play of drive was a 44 yard completion to Bryant who drew recent practice squad promoted Chandler Fenner in coverage and literally ran him in circles. The drive took only 3:18 and gave the Cowboys a 21-14 lead. On the touchdown pass, Romo used play action to ensure he had more time than he needed to fund the tight end between Bowman and Demps, who has good coverage but were unable to defend the well placed pass. Bowman jumped a second too early and missed an opportunity to possibly knock it away, but his 5 inch height disadvantage to the 6’6″ Escobar was quite evident on the play.
Cox again brought the ball out of the end zone, this time making it only as far as the 16 yard line, but Manning was able to drive the Giants as deep at the Cowboys 40 before a holding penalty on Randle on a wide receiver screen stopped the drive in it’s tracks and forced a punt. The teams swapped punt until there were 11 minutes left in the final quarter when the turning point of the game occurred.
On 3rd and 8 from their own 19, Manning found Donnell over the middle short of the first down marker. Fighting for the yardage needed for the first down, Donnell failed to protect the football and safety Barry Church was able to pry it free. Linebacker Justin Durant recovered, setting the Cowboys up with a first down at the Giants 27 yard line. On third and 8, Bryant made a spectacular catch over Amukamara, again in good defensive position, putting the ball at the Giants 1 yard line. Murray plowed it in and the Cowboys took a commanding 28-14 lead with 9:11 remaining in the game.
The Giants would not go quietly into the night. Manning lead a furious hurry up drive, using only 3:43 and a mix of passes to Randle, Beckham and Donnell moved the Giants 80 yard in 11 plays and cut the Cowboys lead to one score on a 5 yard touchdown pass to Beckham on 4th and goal. The game was not over, but the Giants defense would need a critical stop with 5:28 left to give Manning a chance to tie the game.
The first play was encouraging as Jason Pierre-Paul stuffed Murray for a one yard loss, but on second down, Romo completed a 10 yard pass to Bryant, setting up a 3rd and a long 1 and the back breaking play for the Giants defense. It was no secret that the Cowboys would run Murray to try to pick up the yard, and the Giants crowded the line. It wasn’t even close, as Murray ran behind blocks be Escobar and third string tight end James Hanna for an 8 yard gain. The exhausted Giants defense would not face another third down until after their time outs were gone, the two minute warning had passed, and the Cowboys had driven well within field goal range. Dan Bailey split the uprights on his 49 yard attempt to give the Cowboys their final points in the 31-21 victory.
The loss of Jenkins and Beason devastated the Giants run defense against Murray, who set a NFL record for consecutive 100 yard games to start a season with his 7th. The previous record holder was Hall of Famer and all time great Jim Brown. Barry Sanders holds the all time record with 14 consecutive 100 yard games set in the 1999 season. If Murray stay healthy, he could charge that record given the impressive Cowboys offensive line.
Donnell fumbled again on the Giants final desperation drive, the ball this time pried loose by Durant and recovered by defensive tackle Henry Melton. By that point in the game, it was largely irrelevant, but still a sloppy play by the tight end and something Coughlin will undoubtedly address during the bye week.
The bye comes at a perfect time for the reeling Giants, who face their toughest string of games, with the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco Forty-Niners, Seattle Seahawks, and a rematch with the Cowboys following the week off. The teams have a combined 18-9 record, but three of the four games are at home, with only a trip to Seattle disrupting the home stand. The Giants need to use the bye to get healthy, regroup, and reboot their season. With Dallas and Philadelphia having only one loss above them in the division, the team can’t afford many more losses and preserve a chance at the playoffs.
Some help is on the way for the struggling offensive line, as Geoff Schwartz is eligible to come off short term injured reserve after the bye week. John Jerry seems the most likely candidate to be replaced, although Justin Pugh has also been struggling mightily. An option to consider is moving Pugh inside to right guard and playing Schwartz at right tackle, a position he has played, although not with great frequency, early in his career. While the offensive line did not give up a sack in this game, Manning was under pressure frequently, and the lack of trust in the protection is evident in the play calling. If Schwartz’s return doesn’t solidify this unit, it will be the undoing of the team’s 2014 season.
Look for our traditional deep statistical dive tomorrow and during the bye week, Giants360 will do a couple of articles on how the Giants can turn the season around. If you have anything in particular you’d like to see addressed in those articles, leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to take it into consideration.