Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cowboys review I

Sorry for being incommunicado last few days since the Cowboys game - the storm knocked out my power and I was locked up in my house, so couldn't even update the blog from elsewhere. This is my first day out of the house with access to a computer, so here goes.

Watching the game, first feeling the excitement of embarrassing the Cowboys in the first qtr, taking that 23-0 lead was positively euphoric. Then watching the Cowboys creep back into the game 23-10 at halftime and seeing their offense take apart the Giants defense with two TDs and take the 24-23 lead in the 3rd quarter was dismal, or whatever the opposite of euphoric is. When the Giants ended up winning and barely holding onto the game with the call reversal of the Bryant TD, I think all Giants fans were left somewhat puzzled and perplexed, not knowing how to feel. On the simple, superficial level, all we want is a win, especially against America's Team. But on the other side of the coin, we want to see the Giants play well, and want to see harbingers of success for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. When Giants secondary was trashed for 437 yards passing and misplayed the ball to Bryant on the pass into the end zone with 10 seconds left in the game, we are all feeling lucky that the Giants won. Lucky is not what we want - we want to feel that the Giants are good. The initial reaction is that you can't feel confident that Giants will have an overly successful season if they don't fix some things. They need to play better pass defense; need to be more efficient scoring TDs instead of settling for FGs from the red zone and need to be a little sharper in the passing game. (Those last two items are surely related.) We want harbingers of success, not omens for failure, regardless of the results of one particular game.  I am less worried about the passing offense than the defense; the passing offense is more proven and the defense has some unknowns. When watching the game live and feeling the dread of Giants blowing the lead, things seemed much worse than they really were. When I watched the game again the next day (before my power went out) things did not look as bad as they seemed when I was watching it live and getting caught up in the moment.

Some comments:
I hate to complain about officating and make it the focus of the post game analysis, but in this game it was such a central factor, that I just have to raise it to the top of the list. When you want to nail or blame the refs, generally you complain about a call here or there and highlight one or two calls as game changers. For example, go back a few years to the Vinny Testaverde call where he was granted a TD on a scramble and clearly did not cross the goal line - the call that inspired the rebirth of video replay. Or consider the call earlier this year that ended the Packers-Seahawks game with the TD on what the refs ruled was shared possession that ended the game. It might be fair to single out those plays, but you could argue that there may have been other calls in those games that went the opposite way for the other team that equaled things out, even though those were scoring plays that apparently decided the game. In this Cowboys game, I am not talking about an individual call here and there, I am talking about fundamentally how the game was played and how the refs called it. The Cowboys strategy was to play very physical man-to-man underneath coverage on the Giants WRs and dare them to go deep in the passing game where two S were sitting back in a cover-2 zone. Not a bad strategy, since it worked well in the first game. It particularly worked well in the first game because replacement refs let the Cowboy CBs get away with lots of holding making it even more effective. Well, in this game, the Cowboys CBs were holding and illegally contacting the Giants WRs all game long and did not get called for a single foul for illegal contact, holding or PI. By contrast, the Giants DBs played a lot of zone and every time they laid a finger on a Cowboys DB, they got called for a penalty. Therefore, it is not just a particular call that went against the Giants, but the entire way the refs called the game was inequitable, leading to fundamental ineffectiveness and lack of productivity in the Giants passing game and leading to many more chances and open field for the Cowboys passing game. One particular example was on the Cowboys penultimate drive, the one ending with the second Stevie Brown INT. On that drive, J Tuck got in for a great sack against Romo, but the refs called holding by Hosley against Austin nullifying the sack and giving the Cowboys a new set of downs. Instead of 3rd and 19 it was 1st and 10. The call was outrageously bad, even by the double standard the refs set for this game. Football is all about field position and having chances to make plays. The Cowboys moved the ball closer to the Giants goal, and had several more tries to score, even though the Giants stopped that particular drive. Conversely, Cruz (twice), Bennet, Nicks and Hixon were clearly held on some key third down plays, causing them to miss the ball and in Hixon's case, fall short of the first down marker after the catch. It's one thing to miss a call here or there but it is another thing to fundamentally call the game differently for one team versus the other directly influencing the flow of the game.

Even with that, the Giants WRs had some uncharacteristic drops. Cruz dropped one on the sideline that was not as easy a catch as it looked, because his vision may have been blocked by the defender in front of him, who Eli had to clear to get it to him. It was an amazing throw by Eli. The worst drop was the one by Bennet at the goal line. Eli hit him for an underneath route on 3rd down that would have been a first down at the 1 yard line. Bennet caught it, but then rolled over trying to protect the ball and dropped it. Giants then kicked a FG to make the score 16-0.

The DL is starting to gain some rhythm. They had 4 sacks and one more taken away by the poor penalty call against Hosley referenced above. But more than that, they had good pressure all day on Romo forcing some of those bad throws and turnovers. It may have looked like there were some times where Romo was standing back there with lots of time. But that is somewhat misleading, since he did throw 62 passes, so of course there will be some times where his OL does a good job. The other thing to remember about all the passing yardage that Romo compiled against the Giants defense was this same statistic that he threw 62 times. The most important single statistic for measuring a passing game is yards-per-attempt. Even though Romo threw for all those yards, his yards-per-attempt was a very average 7.04 yards. This is not a bad number, but it is far from spectacular, right around the league average. Add in his 4 INTs, and Giants pass defense was not as bad as the yardage indicated. That said, I would still like to see the pass defense get better. There were several times where there was a blown coverage in the secondary and poor execution in the zone. Ben Roethlisberger's eyes are lighting up to hit his TE Heath Miller based on the way the Giants couldn't stop Witten. But I think the talent is there to get better if Fewell can figure it out.

More on the Cowboys game later this week.

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