Cover 3: Takeaways from Giants vs. Cowboys

Three Giants.com writers give their takeaways from the Giants’ Week 1 loss to the Cowboys:

John Schmeelk: For the past eight months, we’ve tried to project the strengths and weaknesses of the Giants based on their offseason moves and roster. We discussed the potential issues on defense with the influx of young players, especially in the secondary, and the questions about the pass rush. How quickly the pass defense came together was going to be the key to the season. Those issues were reflected in the game, as I wrote about extensively in my game film review.

On the offensive side of the ball, despite only scoring 17 points, many of the higher expectations were met. The offensive line allowed only two sacks, five quarterback hits and 11 hurries during the game. Eli Manning had time to throw and was accurate with the football. The investment in the offensive line the last two offseasons appears to be paying early dividends.

Saquon Barkley was a threat in the run and pass game. Evan Engram was the team’s best weapon in the pass game with 11 catches for 116 yards. Manning finished with 306 passing yards, completed 68% of his passes and threw one touchdown to no interceptions. The offense was efficient and moved the ball.

The Giants used more 11 personnel (10 of their first 17 plays) than I expected, but the first half featured Manning under center 13 of their 17 non-two minute snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, nine of their first 12 non-two minute pass plays were play-action passes. It is the same type of formula they used to move the ball in the final four games of last season.

It worked again, despite the Giants not getting the points that production should have netted. The lack of success in situational football, such as third down (2-11) and in the red zone (2-4), is what cost them those points. They weren’t garbage time yards either. The Giants had 128 first quarter yards, and 340 yards through three quarters.

As concerning as the defense’s performance was, Giants fans should feel good about how the offense moved the ball throughout most of the game.

Dan Salomone: Eight Giants made their NFL debuts on Sunday, and it showed at times. Nine veterans made their Giants debuts, and it also showed at times. The Cowboys, meanwhile, ran like clockwork. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher talked in the week leading up to the game about how much he has enjoyed coaching a mixture of young players and experienced veterans, but you never know until all the pieces have to come together in real action. The first of 16 tests graded out as a lopsided loss to Dallas, which racked up 35 points and 405 yards passing.

“Some of it is inexperience, but you can’t have any excuses,” said 14-year safety Antoine Bethea, who was named a defensive captain in his first season with the team. “We work, we practice, we watch film. We can’t hold that over our head and have that as our excuse, that we are young. We are young, yeah, we are young. But we get paid to do a job, and we have to do our job.”

Coach Pat Shurmur also addressed the inexperience factor, namely at cornerback. Rookie first-round pick DeAndre Baker played in his first game in exactly a month after dealing with a knee injury in training camp and split time with Antonio Hamilton, who made his first career start in Dallas. “I think some of the youth of our players on the outside, this is the first time going through it and we know there are some areas where they can be better,” Shurmur said.

The secondary was a microcosm of the entire roster, which the Giants largely overhauled again this offseason. It’s just a matter of finding the right parts to click into place.

Lance Medow: Regardless of the defensive struggles, it’s hard to win games in the NFL when you score less than 20 points, but it’s also hard to develop consistency on offense when you don’t capitalize on opportunities. Unfortunately for the Giants, that was a theme in Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys. Dallas was two for two in the red zone, the Giants were just two for four, and one of those missed chances ended with a turnover when Eli Manning was sacked and Dallas recovered a fumble on a fourth and one from the Cowboys seven-yard line.

Penalties haunted the Giants on offense. Eli Manning was hit with a questionable intentional grounding penalty on a third and one from the Dallas 35-yard line. Instead of continuing a drive in Cowboys territory, the Giants were forced to punt. On the very next possession, on second and seven from the Giants’ 39, tackle Mike Remmers was called for a false start so that put the Giants in a second and long. The Giants were ultimately forced to punt after gaining 14 total yards on the first two plays of the drive. The penalties and missed opportunities on offense are why there was a disparity in the number of plays for each team in the first half. If you remove the two-minute drill at the end of the half, the Giants had 17 plays. The Cowboys, meanwhile, ran 39 and dominated time of possession. It’s hard to keep up with an explosive offense that scored touchdowns on five straight possessions and make up for defensive breakdowns when you don’t have many at bats. The Giants had eight penalties in the game and half of them were against the offense.

There were several encouraging signs on offense. At the top of the list is the overall play of the offensive line. Manning was sacked just one time and had plenty of time to survey the field. The Giants were also able to run the ball effectively. Even if you remove Saquon Barkley’s 59-yard run in the first half, he still had 61 yards on his other 10 carries. Evan Engram was another bright spot as he led the receiving corps with 11 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown to put the Giants up 7-0. The fact he was heavily involved and consistently made plays is a positive sign as he looks to have a breakout campaign.

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