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Sidelines Notes

Giants vs. Cowboys: Sideline notes and observations

Rather than get some shut-eye, I decided to use the three-hour flight home to watch the tape of the game. Nothing really surprised me or changed my opinion of my initial read from tracking the game live from the radio booth. Let's start with the offense: 

• Right before the game started, I tweeted something fairly simple that should not have surprised anyone: If the Giants could slow down the Cowboys running game and protect Eli Manning, they would have a great chance of winning the game. I wouldn't put a check mark in either of those two boxes after watching the game back on the All-22 and the high end zone. 

• Eli Manning rarely had a clean pocket with time to survey the field. It didn't matter if it was a straight drop back, play action, or a max protect, the Cowboys were figuring out a way to get into the offensive backfield. For the most part, this wasn't a situation like Week One against the Jaguars where Giants blockers were simply getting beaten one-on-one. There was more to it than that. The Cowboys' blitzes were very effective. Far too often, when Dallas blitzed they had a free runner coming straight for the quarterback even though there were enough people in the protection scheme to pick up the blitz. The execution of the protection scheme by the line, running backs and tight ends just wasn't there. Depending on the play, the Cowboys had free runners from the defensive line, linebacker, cornerback and safety positions. I hesitate to point the finger at specific players because I don't know the protection schemes on individual plays. 

• The Giants also had issues with twists and stunts. The Cowboys were very creative in how they moved their defensive linemen around, but the Giants didn't pass along players during those pass rush "games" well at all. On one play, Tyrone Crawford went from his left defensive tackle position and looped around two players and got all away around the right edge of the defense to get to the quarterback. The Giants worked on those types of pass rush plays in camp constantly, but they did not handle them well on Sunday night.

• A huge play in the second half came when the Giants got the ball down to the Cowboys' three-yard line after a Saquon Barkley catch-and-run. The Giants lined up triple tight ends to the right, and handed it to Barkley going in that direction. All three tight ends struggled with their blocks, and the play went for a five-yard loss. Rhett Ellison was also called for holding, putting the Giants in a first and goal from the 13-yard line. 

• Two plays later, on a second down play just outside the red zone, the Giants max protected with seven players and had Saquon Barkley coming out of the backfield with a chance to chip as an eighth protector. The Cowboys rushed only four players, but DeMarcus Lawrence still managed to pressure Eli Manning, while the Cowboys covered two Giants receivers with six players in the defensive backfield. 

• On the following play, Eli Manning had a chance to hit Evan Engram for a touchdown on a slant if he didn't have to tuck the ball and run to avoid the Cowboys pass rush. These were the types of opportunities the Cowboys pass rush foiled. 

• Fans might wonder why the Giants didn't go down the field much in this game. They only had one play of 20 yards or more, a perfect pass down the right sideline to Cody Latimer. The truth is the Cowboys secondary played an excellent game, and did not allow the Giants receivers to get behind them much at all. There were a few plays in the second quarter where there were a couple of chances to get the ball down the field, but pressure got to Manning before the play could develop. On different plays, Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. would have been open on deep routes towards the sideline. On another play similar to the one the Bucs used to get O.J. Howard open against the Giants last year, Rhett Ellison would have been open going down the field, but Manning did not have time. It happened a lot in the game. The scheme got players open, but the execution wasn't good enough to complete the pass. From my eye, there weren't more than a few plays where Manning looked off open receivers, or felt a rush when it wasn't there. He had defenders flying at him all game.

• I should also give the Cowboys linebackers credit in this game. Very often, they were left in zone coverage in the middle of the field and did a good job dealing with the Giants crossing patterns. They also flowed to the ball extremely well on a lot of Eli Manning's check downs. Barkley caught 14 passes but went for only 80 yards.

• Barkley, by the way, is a nightmare to tackle. He broke a lot of tackles in the open field, including several where he made super-athletic Jaylon Smith whiff. He is strong, shifty and slippery. He is going to break more than a few long runs this season.

• On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants settled down nicely after allowing 10 points on the Cowboys' first two possessions. Dak Prescott took advantage of the Giants over-zealousness to attack Ezekiel Elliott early in the game, and kept it on read options for a couple of big runs. The Giants played far better later in the game. Even when Prescott kept it on his eight-yard run to set up Elliott's TD run, Kareem Martin played it right but just missed the tackle.

• We talked about the Giants' advantage in the middle of the line last week, with Damon Harrison getting to work against backup Joe Looney. He won the matchup most of the evening, with Looney struggling against his strength and burst. Ezekiel Elliott had an efficient 17 carries for 78 yards, but he didn't come anywhere close to wrecking the game. Harrison played extremely well.

• Janoris Jenkins said in the postgame he took a bad step, which is what allowed Tavon Austin to get by him for the early long score for Dallas and the tape showed just that. Austin got a good release inside, and Jenkins lost his footing when he tried to flip his hips to run with Austin downfield. Austin is too fast for anyone to trip and still stay with down the field. Curtis Riley took a poor angle from his single-high safety position, which turned the play into a touchdown.

• Jenkins probably thought he had a chance for an interception on a Prescott throw for Cole Beasley on a 3rd and 8 deep in Dallas' territory on their last scoring drive. Beasley ran an out route from the slot that brought him right into Jenkins' zone. Jenkins broke on the ball, and looked like he might have had a pick six, but Beasley did an excellent job coming back for it and beating Jenkins to the ball for a big third down conversion.

• The Giants defense had a great chance at a pick six in the second quarter. Dak Prescott was trying to throw right on a quick slant for Allen Hurns and Connor Barwin read the route, went airborne, and nearly caught it in what would have been a very difficult play. What you didn't see during the game was Eli Apple jumping the route as well. If Barwin didn't knock down the ball, Apple had the route jumped and probably would have returned the interception for a pick six. Everyone did the right thing on the play, but bad luck hurt the defense.

• Donte Deayon had a chance for a game-changing play that he is probably kicking himself for not making. With the Cowboys 1st and 10 on the Giants 13-yard line, Prescott tried to throw a little fade to Beasley that Deayon was in perfect position to defend. He jumped to pick off the pass but couldn't quite come down with it. If he makes that interception, it is only a two score game at 13-3, making the last half of the fourth quarter very different.

• The Giants caught a break of their own, however, when the Cowboys got the ball into the Giants red zone in the third quarter. Prescott missed a wide open Rico Gathers for what should have been an easy touchdown catch. On the very next play, if Prescott would have waited another moment before checking it down to Elliott in the flat, Beasley had come open on a slant behind the Giants linebackers for a potential touchdown.

• The Giants again struggled to sustain a consistent pass rush throughout the game. The Giants had no sacks, while the Cowboys had six. Connor Barwin had a beautiful inside spin move forcing an errant thrown to Gathers in the third quarter. It was the best individual pass rush move we saw from Giants defenders all evening.

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