Film Review: Breaking down Giants vs. Cowboys

The Giants fell to the Cowboys, 35-17, in Week 1. Here’s what I saw on the coach’s tape:

*Dallas finished with 494 yards of total offense, 469 of which came in the first three quarters. The Giants forced a punt on the Cowboys’ first possession, but Dallas scored touchdowns on its next five possessions. The first three Cowboys drives were methodical and took 11, nine and 13 plays.

*The Cowboys’ first touchdown came after two third-down conversions of four yards each, when Prescott completed tight throws to Randall Cobb and Michael Gallup. The way the drive ended was a sign of things to come, with Blake Jarwin running free in the middle of the defense after play action sucked in the defense, which led to a 28-yard score.

*The third and fourth plays of Dallas’ next drive were damaging. DeAndre Baker didn’t make contact with Gallup at the line of scrimmage, but still managed to run with him until the very end of the play when Gallup separated and caught a 36-yard pass over the top. On the next play, fellow cornerback Antonio Hamilton missed a tackle on Gallup after playing off on a slant, leading to a 23-yard gain. Despite those mistakes, the Giants still got the Cowboys into a 2nd and 16 from the 24-yard line, and a 3rd and 10 from the 18-yard line. On the latter, Hamilton had Cobb in his grasp a few yards short of the first down marker, but Cobb threw him off and ran for the first down. Jason Witten scored a touchdown to cap the drive after Michael Thomas hesitated on the play action in the backfield, which allowed the veteran tight end leak outside for the score.

*The Cowboys’ third drive featured a 2nd and 20 that was erased when Tae Davis held Jarwin in the middle of the field, which led to an automatic first down. Later in the drive, the Cowboys failed to convert a 3rd and 9, but Markus Golden jumped offside on the play, which allowed Dallas to convert a 3rd and 4. The coach’s tape confirmed both calls were correct. The Cowboys finished on a 3rd and 6 with a perfectly thrown deep pass to Amari Cooper, who beat Baker off the line with a good release before getting open in the end zone for a touchdown. Baker thrived in college on being physical at the line of scrimmage, but he struggled there on Sunday. He allowed clean releases on both deep passes over his head.

*In the third quarter, Dallas went 75 yards in only three plays for a touchdown. On the first play of the drive, Antoine Bethea lined up over Cooper in the slot. On the snap, Jabrill Peppers ran toward the right sideline to get over the top of Michael Gallup, which vacated the middle field. Cooper got inside on Bethea and beat him on a skinny post for 45 yards. After a five-yard run for Ezekiel Elliott, Cobb lined up in the slot and ran free down the middle of the field for the touchdown against what was clearly a blown coverage.

*The Cowboys’ final scoring drive was 89 yards on only seven plays. The big play was a 62-yard catch-and-run on a simple in-cut from Gallup. Baker let him get inside despite playing inside technique, and Bethea had a bad angle in pursuit. Four plays later, Elliott ran it in from 10 yards out for the touchdown.

*The Giants’ defensive struggles were across the board. They recorded recorded no sacks and, according to Pro Football Focus, had just three quarterback hits and three hurries. There were also missed assignments. There was bad tackling. There was bad technique and execution. There were key penalties. The Cowboys caught them in some bad matchups and made plays. There was nothing that wasn’t correctable and the Giants will hope to do that at practice this week.

*Despite scoring only 17 points, 10 of which came prior to the game getting out of hand, the Giants offense looked good. It gained 470 yards, 340 of which came in the first three quarters when the outcome was still in the balance. The Giants didn’t have a three-and-out the entire game and got the ball into Dallas territory on five of their first six drives. Three of their first six drives ended inside the Dallas 10.

*Saquon Barkley opened his second season with a 59-yard run on his first carry. He got good blocking from Bennie Fowler on Xavier Woods, and from Evan Engram and Nate Solder on Tyrone Crawford. Barkley took advantage of Leighton Vander Esch when he got caught inside. Once into the secondary, Barkley outran safety Jeff Heath before cornerback Chidobe Awuzie made a touchdown-saving tackle when he came all the way across the field and caught him from behind. The Giants finished the drive with an Engram touchdown after Vander Esch got sucked in on a play action fake.

*The Giants were moving the ball well on their second drive, taking it 40 yards on five plays to set up a 3rd and 1. When the teams initially lined up, the Cowboys had 12 men in formation, which drew a flag, but the officials said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett called a timeout before the penalty was called. Shurmur dialed up a play-action pass that the Cowboys covered well. Barkley was covered in the flat by Awuzie, and Heath had Engram blanketed down the field. Manning could have pivoted and tried to get it to Eric Tomlinson across his body, but instead he threw it at the feet of Barkley to fight another day on 4th and 1. The officials called intentional grounding despite the fact he had a defender about to contact him when he started his throw, and the pass landed short of Barkley. If the officials considered the throw to be in the vicinity of Barkley, the fact the ball landed behind the line of scrimmage would not have mattered. The Giants had to punt.

*Barkley had a ridiculous run on the first drive of the second quarter. Linebacker Jaylon Smith met him in the hole in the middle of the line, but Barkley managed to spin away from him and turn a loss into a small gain. It was the type of move Barry Sanders used to make. Earlier in the game, Barkley spun off cornerback Anthony Brown, turning a potential loss into a gain.

*On the final two-minute drive of the half, Manning methodically moved the ball up the field with some short passes over the middle. He took a shot to Cody Latimer while under pressure with 16 seconds remaining that fell incomplete. There was contact at the top of the route from Anthony Brown, but no flag was thrown, nor was a booth review initiated. The Cowboys used a formation I never saw before on the Giants’ Hail Mary attempt. They lined up three defenders each on each side of the field in five-yard increments, and kept only one linebacker and one safety in the middle of the field. They knew the Giants had no timeouts and would either try a quick sideline pass to set up a field goal or go for the deep ball. Their alignment prevented the former and forced an unsuccessful attempt.

*In the first half, the Giants stuck with what worked for them at the end of last season. The Giants stuck to what worked for them at the end of last season in the first half. They had Manning under center on 13 of their 17 non-two minute drill plays, and nine of their 12 non-two-minute drill pass plays came out of play-action. Cowboys linebackers Jaylon Smith, Vander Esch and Sean Lee did a great job in coverage on Giants wide receivers, disrupting some of the planned attacks off those play action attempts. The Dallas linebackers are fast and have a very good feel for where the opponent’s receivers want to get open on the field. The offense was not on the field much with the Giants defense unable to get the Cowboys off the field. Dallas ran 39 plays to the Giants 25, and controlled the ball for over 19 of the first half’s 30 minutes.

*The Giants had five rushes and 20 pass plays in the first half, but the imbalance wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Eight of those passes were during the two-minute drive when running wasn’t an option. With the game out of hand in the second half, the team ran it 10 times and passed 33 times, with 39 of 43 plays coming out of 11 personnel.

*The Giants used Nick Gates as an extra offensive lineman on five plays.

*Eli Manning made two great passes to Cody Latimer in the second half. He hit Latimer with a perfect throw over the top of Awuzie, which Latimer grabbed with one hand. Another great throw from Manning came on the same drive, when Pat Shurmur decided to go for it on a 4th and 8. He hit wide receiver Bennie Fowler with a perfect strike on an out-route to the left sideline. Manning put a lot of juice on the ball, and Fowler got his knee down inbounds to secure the first down.

*On the Giants’ second drive of the half, Manning had a flashback to Super Bowl XLII, when he spun out of the grasp of defensive end Dorrance Armstrong and hit Latimer down the sideline for a 22-yard gain. Manning put his hand down to keep his balance before completing the pass. Manning was sharp throughout the game, as he had good protection and got the ball out quickly.

*Where the Giants failed offensively was in situational football. The Giants were just 2-of-11 on third down conversion attempts and 2-of-4 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. They had third down failures from one, five, two and four yards. On the second drive of the second half, down 28-10, the Giants had it third-and-two on the Dallas eight-yard line. Elijah Penny ran for a yard and was short of the first down. Center Jon Halapio and right guard Kevin Zeitler got push up the middle, but DeMarcus Lawrence and Christian Covington came down and got to Penny’s legs before he could get the two yards he needed. On 4th and 1, the Giants opted to run a play-action rollout. If Manning saw him early in the play, Sterling Shepard had some separation on his defender, which could have turned into a touchdown. Once Manning missed that opportunity, Shepard was knocked to the ground (it was not called illegal contact because Manning was out of the pocket) and Vander Esch closed on him for the sack. The Cowboys scored on their next possession and took an insurmountable 35-10 lead.

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