Before we take a look at the offense, I have a few more comments on the defense as a prologue to the previous post. Despite the fact that this was not a dominating defensive performance and that the Giants yielded 392 yards passing and nearly 80% completion rate to Romo, there were some big defensive plays that helped the Giants win. In order of occurrence in the game:
Sintim sack of Romo: it was 3rd down the first time the Cowboys drove down the field in the 1st half. This sack held the Cowboys to a FG instead of letting them get into the end zone. Looking back at the first half, this play by Sintim was the difference in the score at half time. Each team had one TD off of a turnover and short field. Each team had one long drive down field. Giants got a TD on their drive and Sintim's sack held the Cowboys to a FG on their long drive.
Goff stops: Goff made a great tackle in the second half forcing a punt and also was very alert on the wildcat formation on the goal line. He stuck with Tashard Choice, stopped him and stripped the ball forcing a fumble. The fact that the fumble was reversed on review is not the point - he is quick, hits hard, is very smart and knows the defense well. A few good plays in one game does not make a season or a career but I am encouraged. Look for the Eagles to test him this week with passes in the middle to Celek and to their RBs over the middle. McNabb hit a FB on a seam route over the middle for a big gain last week.
Digression: Goff at MLB, Sintim at OLB.... next year's starters? I think so and I think Clark will not be re-signed and Pierce will be cut. The truth is - Sintim is a perfect 3-4 LB / DE. If Kehl shows ability and the Giants get another LB in the off season, it may not be the craziest thing to switch to a 3-4 defense.
Stopping Cowboys on downs in 4th quarter: There were two huge plays to stop the Cowboys. On 3rd and 1, Romo hit Austin in the flat and DE Tollefson read the play, sprinted out towards the sideline and stopped him short of the first down. Tollefson is really fast, has a great motor and had great recognition on that play. Then on 4th and 2, Romo hit Barber on a little check down and making the first down looked easy, but Aaron Ross showed his great instinct, his great closing speed and his perfect tackling form to stop Barber for no gain.
Is it too optimistic or naive of us to hope that the Giants defense, if not completely fixed is at least patched up by the personnel changes the coaches have made: moving Kiwanuka, Canty, Goff and Ross into the starting lineups? Maybe so. We can't assume that the defense is "fixed" but we can be hopeful that it is improved. This Sunday against the Eagles is a great test.
On to the offense:
The OL is still struggling a little bit. The running game was a little better despite what the statistics may indicate, but I thought that Eli was under pressure too often and did not have the time he needed in the pocket. If he had more time, he would have been able to set and hit some of the passes down field that looked open. Then again, the Giants always seem to have trouble blocking the Cowboys front. A quick 3-4 is not a good match up for the Giants OL, that relies on its speed and not on size and power. Giants did not have a consistent attack, but the Cowboys play a very aggressive, pursuing defense. They gamble and sometimes make you look bad, but sometimes give up some big plays. The long pass to Jacobs, the long runs by Bradshaw were both examples of this.
I think Eli's foot is still bothering him. If he can set up in the pocket, he can keep the weight on his toes and still rock back and get a good weight shift. But if he is running out of the pocket, he can not control as well how he lands on his foot and how he sets up. The heel gets in the way and he throws inaccurately. One of the things Eli really improved in the last few years is throwing on the run. This past Sunday against the Cowboys he threw a few really bad balls when he was on the run, bouncing the ball 4 yards in front of Steve Smith on one play and I am sure this is the result of his heel pain. Look for the Eagles to get Eli on the move and blitz a lot, especially up the middle, which will force him to run laterally. Eagles blitz a lot anyway, but because Snee is injured and may not play, they will be blitzing all the time. Boothe is a capable back up at G (I don't love him at T) but he's no Snee, who is the Giant's best OL-man. Giants should run that play to Jacobs that went for 74 yards and some screens to offset the Egales blitzes.
On Bradshaw's long run, Nicks did a great job blocking down field, not disengaging from his man. He is such a good player, I see stardom in his future. He has great hands, a strong, sturdy body, runs great pass routes and is faster than he appears. Steve Smith has really become one of the best WR's in the league, which is remarkable considering his moderate size and good-but-not-great speed. He has such quick feet, runs great routes and catches everything. Well... almost everything - I don't know how he dropped that sure TD pass from Eli.
Looking back at the statistics of the game and its flow, I have to say the Giants outcoached the Cowboys. Cowboys came away from the run too easily and did not attempt any passes down field. On the run by Bradshaw, the Cowboys overpursued and did not keep contain on the back side which allowed Bradshaw to find lots of open space when he cut back to the opposite side of the field. On Hixon's punt return the were also tactical mistakes that could be assigned to coaching. The Cowboys gunners got down to cover the punt in good shape and were there to make the tackle. Because the punter outkicked his coverage a little bit - it was a 59 yard punt - Hixon had some room to start running and made a move to elude the first tacklers. The tacklers used very poor form - they didn't lower their shoulders and stay squared up towards the runner, instead they were standing sideways and reached in with their hands. The other mistake that the punt coverage team did was not keeping lane discipline. They had 8 or 9 players sliding towards the ball unbalanced on one side of the field. When Hixon eluded those first two feeble attempts at a tackle and reversed to the opposite side of the field, Giants blockers were able to set up a wall and get Hixon free. There were outstanding blocks by Terrell Thomas and Derek Hagan on the punt return. It's plays like that by Hagan that keep Sinorice Moss on the bench and inactive. Hagan is an excellent ST player.