Iced Over: Giants 37, Cowboys 34

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No, no, no, Dan Bailey!

Scheme has its limits.

The Cowboys learned this the hard way tonight, surrendering two late touchdowns in a see-saw 37-34 loss to the New York Giants.  They saw a safety corps which has played good but not great football all year unravel.  Blown coverages, a litany of penalties and several cases of being overmatched put their team in peril and will likely add a few pounds to Rob Ryan’s stress-eating fortified girth.

Consider:

  • A 3rd-and-goal holding penalty on Gerald Sensabaugh overturned an Eli Manning give up pass out the back of the end zone early in the 2nd quarter.  Instead of kicking for an 8-7 lead, the Giants got first-and-goal at the one, and scored seven on the following play.  
  • Both Cowboys safeties Abe Elam and Barry Church blitzed on New York’s second 2nd-half drive, leaving slot recevier Mario Manningham uncovered for an easy 47 yard touchdown pass. 
  • Frank Walker was flagged for holding on New York’s final touchdown drive, putting a 3rd and 10 situation at the Dallas 24 into a 1st-and-10 at the Cowboys 19.  Eli Manning got 18 on the next play and the Giants scored two plays later. 

The miscues let the Giants offense add points to their total and keep pace with a Cowboys offense which overcame a serious injuries to DeMarco Murray and Phil Costa.  Tony Romo got solid protection, ripping the Giants secondary for four touchdown passes.  He got an inspired assist from Felix Jones, who had 22 touches for 137 combined yards.

The defensive play followed a script we’ve seen since the great escape in Washington almost a month ago.  The defense could make big plays early, holding two first half red-zone drives for field goals and making some key 3rd quarter stops.   The pass defense, however, again got weaker as the contest progressed.  Dallas felt the stinger which plagues DeMarcus Ware.  He reinjured his shoulder early in the contest and left the field with his weakened arm hanging at his side.  Ware returned, but he’s not 100%.  He doesn’t appear close and no other Cowboy could make big plays.

Ryan resorted to blitzing to knock Eli Manning off rhythm, but he found what several other DCs have learned — Manning is very good at beating pressure with last-instant passes.  With Terence Newman having more 4th quarter coverage issues and Alan Ball playing extensive time for the nicked Mike Jenkins, there were no play-makers in the Dallas secondary.

Victor Butler and Sean Lee combined to make a huge play mid-way through the 4th and appeared to turn the game their way.  With New York driving to wipe out a 27-22 Cowboys lead, Manning attempted a flanker screen to his left.  Butler leapt and knocked the ball off a Giants lineman.  Lee grabbed it off the lineman’s shoulder and wound his way to midfield.

Tony Romo found Dez Bryant behind broken New York coverage two plays later and the Cowboys lead was 34-22 with 5:41 left to play.

Manning then led a nine play drive, completing it with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Ballard.  3:41 remained and Dallas needed to keep possession.  A five yard Felix Jones counter started the drive.  On 2nd down, Jason Garrett called bend-L, sending Jones right, then left behind Tony Fiammetta.  Fiametta was thrown aside by the dazzling Jason Pierre-Paul, who held together his defense almost singlehandedly.  Pierre-Paul dropped Jones for a one-yard loss, setting up the game’s pivotal play.

Tony Romo brought a spread set to the field on 3rd-and-6 and led a long-count, which let New York tip its blitz:

This looks like a 4-3 base but notice how close the strong safety is playing Jason Witten on the right side.  Just before the snap both inside linebackers and the free safety also come to the line.  New York is selling out.  They’re blitzing seven, trusting their three corners and SS in man-to-man.  There is nobody behind them if they get beaten.  Ten Giants are tight on the line with the SS only four yards off:

Miles Austin got a free release against Aaron Ross and was four yards behind him.  Austin kept drifting towards the sideline, while Romo’s pass led him more directly upfield.  The mis-connection proved deadly.  Instead of racing in with Romo’s third touchdown pass of the quarter, Austin watched the ball hit the turf:

A superb call which anticipated New York’s blitz was wasted and Manning got one more drive.  He drove the Giants quickly, and Dallas seemed to get a break when Mario Manningham dropped a pass in the end zone, after he had gotten behind Newman up the right sideline.  In truth, it only slowed the Giants touchdown and left Dallas with just 46 seconds after the kickoff.

Romo nonetheless moved the Cowboys into field goal range.  He sandwiched a 22 yard pass to Austin and a 23 yarder to Austin around a four yard swing to Felix Jones.  The third completion put Dallas on the Giants 29 and Romo spiked the ball with 6 seconds left.

Dan Bailey tried a 47 yarder and made his first attempt, but Tom Coughlin called a time out just before L.P. Ladouceur snapped the ball.  On Bailey’s second attempt, Pierre-Paul knifed between Ladouceur and Montrae Holland.  He got his fingertips on Bailey’s kick, blunting its momentum and handing New York the win.

The ice taketh and the ice taketh away again.

Notes:

– It was a debut for backup center Kevin Kowalski, who had to play the last 40 minutes after Phil Costa left the game with a concussion.  He made some minor mistakes but was not overmatched.  The Cowboys did not have to alter their offensive game plan to protect him.

– Dallas will need to scour the waiver wires for a running back.  Murray fractured his right ankle after Dave Toffelson fell on it in the second quarter.

– The cheap patches blew out.  Frank Walker’s game has nose dived recently.  He took a holding penalty on
Dallas’ next to last defensive drive and he really had no choice,  He was being beaten badly by Mario Manningham.  With Walker and Barry Church melting down and with Alan Ball and Terence Newman having their on-again-off-again games, the secondary was a shambles.  Mike Jenkins played a decent game, but had to leave twice with shoulder and leg problems.

This was something we dreaded in the summer, and the fast start suggested the secondary had been underestimated.  The 4th quarter fade and this week’s four-quarter breakdown shows the secondary will need a serious infusion of talent, even with Orlando Scandrick and Gerald Sensabaugh getting contract extensions.

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com