Three Giants.com writers react to Monday night's loss to the Dallas Cowboys:
John Schmeelk: It is hard to win a football game when your opponent wins the battle of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball like the Cowboys did on Monday night. In a battle between two of the best running backs in the league, Ezekiel Elliott had 23 carries for 139 yards while Saquon Barkley had 28 yards on 14 attempts.
The results were far more of a product of the room each player had to run than anything either running back did with the ball in their hands. Elliott had cut-back lanes available to him all game long and had large holes to run through. Barkley, meanwhile, often had to deal with defenders in the backfield. According to Pro Football Focus, Barkley only had four yards before contact all game.
The results on defense were no different. The Cowboys had five sacks, six tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits. The Giants did not record a sack with two tackles for loss and five quarterback hits.
While Daniel Jones dealt with movement by the Cowboys defensive front, Dak Prescott had time to throw the ball. According to PFF, the Giants blitzed one more time than Dallas (12 vs. 11) and actually generated pressure on 47% of Prescott's dropbacks, versus just 40% for Dallas. The Cowboys' five sacks, however, were the difference. Dallas got home and the Giants didn't.
It also isn't just about the defensive lines. The Cowboys linebackers, even without Leighton Vander Esch, were impact players. Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith combined for 12 tackles, a half a sack, a tackle for loss, and a pass defended. Meanwhile, Alec Ogletree, David Mayo and Deone Bucannon combined for only 10 tackles and no other defensive statistics. This roster is built to win from the inside out, starting with the offensive and defensive lines. They did not win their matchups on Monday night against Dallas and it cost them the game.
Dan Salomone: If explosive plays and third downs keep defensive coordinators up at night, then an explosive play on third down must cause insomnia. Amari Cooper's 45-yard catch-and-run into the end zone all but sealed the Cowboys' Monday night victory midway through the fourth quarter. It came on third-and-12 after the Giants pulled within five points on their previous drive. Including Blake Jarwin's 42-yard score, the tight end's fifth (of six career touchdowns) against the Giants, James Bettcher's defense has allowed a league-high 12 touchdowns of 20+ yards. Overall, the Giants have given up 46 plays of 20+ yards, third-most in the NFL.
Leading up to the game, a reporter asked Bettcher what has been the most disappointing part of the group's performance this season. "The explosive plays, for sure," he said. "The explosive plays because you change two explosive plays a game or one explosive play a game and then all those things that you're talking about, whatever those numbers are ranked, they all change. And it changes field position, and in close games, which we've played some close games, field position is points. Those have to continue to get erased. We all know that and there's no hiding that, there's no hiding the emphasis we're putting on it, there's no hiding the emphasis."
Therein lies the problem. The Giants know the explosive play is a major concern, their opponents certainly do, but they haven't been able to fix it. Having the seventh-ranked red zone defense, which the Giants own, does no good if the opponent can score from outside the 20.
Lance Medow: We've been talking about turnovers nearly every week and, unfortunately for the Giants, the theme continued in Monday night's loss to the Cowboys. The Giants have not had one game this season in which they didn't turn over the ball and have only won the turnover battle once in nine games. The Giants have the most giveaways in the NFL with 22 and their turnover differential (-10) is the third worst mark. But, that's only half the story. Takeaways are great, yet what you do with them matters more. Giveaways are bad, but you can get around them depending on whether your defense or special teams can make up for the loss of field position.
Against Dallas, it appeared as if the Giants were turning the corner in the turnover battle. On the very first play from scrimmage, Antoine Bethea picked off Dak Prescott and handed the offense great field position with a first and goal at the eight-yard line. However, as was the case throughout the game, the Giants struggled in the red zone and settled for a field goal. Later in the first half, the Cowboys coughed up the ball again as wide receiver Randall Cobb fumbled the ball, thanks to a hit by Jabrill Peppers, and Bethea recovered it, once again giving the offense an opportunity to capitalize. Daniel Jones and company responded with a 12-play, 73-yard drive, but it was déjà vu all over again as the drive stalled in the red zone and the Giants settled for a field goal. Two takeaways (great) but just six points (all about what you do with the opportunistic plays).
On the flip side, the Cowboys wound up collecting three takeaways and scored 13 points off those Giants' mishaps. They returned a Daniel Jones' fumble for a touchdown to seal the game and while the other two takeaways (an interception and another Jones fumble) resulted in a pair of Dallas field goals, don't overlook the timing in the game of when those giveaways happened. Jones' interception came very late in the first half and after safety Xavier Woods' 29-yard return, gave Dallas great field position, which turned into the go-ahead field goal. Jones' fumble came in the third quarter after the Giants forced a three and out and had a chance to re-claim the lead. Instead, the Cowboys wound up padding their lead with a field goal. When you lose the turnover battle (-1), the opposition capitalizes off those giveaways (+7 in points) and you go one for five in the red zone, it's virtually impossible to win a game. While Jones alone isn't to blame, he has turned the ball over 16 times (8 interceptions, 8 lost fumbles) in eight games (seven starts). This trend has to end in order for the Giants to preserve leads and successfully close out games.