That was an agonizing, slow, painful descent for our New York Giants as they lose to the Dallas Cowboys, 31-21. Make no mistake, this was a winnable game, but with the team bumbling and fumbling (in Larry Donnell's case, literally) for the majority of the game, a late-fourth quarter surge and a score to Odell Beckham went in vain. Too many boneheaded mistakes, some very questionable play-calling, and some clock mismanagement leads this to being one of the more anger-inducing Giant losses in recent memory. So with that said, let's sadly take a look at five things we've learned from this debacle:
1) Jason Pierre-Paul Gets Redemption, Johnathan Hankins' Still A Tank
Pierre-Paul had himself quite the game, racking up 4 tackles, 2 sacks, and a handful of stops in the run game. A week after getting blanked by Jason Peters, he had his hands full with another elite left tackle in Tyron Smith. He definitely won his fair share of battles, using speed more productively than any bull rush. Smith had been bothered by an ankle injury, but regardless, JPP did his job.
Meanwhile, Johnathan Hankins was an immovable force in the middle. The Giants were gashed by the league's leading rushing team but it wasn't because of Hankins. He beat Travis Frederick on several occasions and got penetration several times.
2) The Coaching Has Been Questionable
I understand sticking with the run, but the Giants never went away from running on first down despite it not working. I completely get trying to set up the pass with the run, but there was no pressure on Manning all game. How about trying a few quick throws to stop the Cowboys from run blitzing? The time management by Coughlin at the half was terrible. The Giants let time go by after a Jason Pierre-Paul sack, and then followed up with a timeout on the next play. They then used a timeout with three seconds left to run a draw play by Peyton Hillis. There were other questionable calls throughout the game and it's something that needs to be addressed and corrected.
They were put in so many third-and-long situations and it was because of ridiculously poor production on first down. I don't pretend to know a fraction of what the coaching staff knows, but it was clear as day that something was working. It cost the team heavily.
3) Too Many Penalties By the Offensive Line
The team did a great job in pass protection today, no question. They've still got a ton of work to do, however. Too many penalties. We've gotten a holding penalty on Will Beatty and Weston Richburg, and false starts from Beatty, Weston Richburg, and Justin Pugh. Many of them (like Beatty's false start) came at crucial situations that could have turned the game around. Instead, those plays went in the Cowboys' favor and that could have been the difference.
The other issue with the OL was run blocking. Nobody outside of Pugh and possibly Beatty did anything to get any push in the run game. It was frustrating to watch and the combination of poor play on the run and the untimely penalties contributed to way, way too many third and forevers.
4) Get The Ball Into Your Play-maker's Hands Earlier
In the case of the Giants, it's down to two players. One is Odell Beckham Jr. The other is Eli Manning. Either the coaching staff doesn't trust Manning or Manning doesn't trust himself. With almost perfect protection all game, Eli checked down way too much. I love that he's protecting the ball, and this is something he NEVER did in 2013, but sometimes you have to let it fly. When he finally did with the mid-range passing attack in the fourth quarter, they seemed unstoppable, going to Larry Donnell, going to Rueben Randle, going to Beckham.
It might sound like I'm giving Eli the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" look here, but I'm not. You can be aggressive and you can be smart. When opportunities are there, take them. That brings me to my second point. Odell Beckham was targeted only three times. THREE, before it became a 14-point game late in the fourth quarter. His only missed catch was an off throw by Eli on the sideline where he made a spectacular catch out of bounds. I LOVED what the Giants did on the reverse to him. He's got speed, let's use it.
The Cowboys target Dez Bryant early and often when he's matched up one-on-one, even with a good corner like Prince Amukamara. It's time the Giants start to do the same in those situations.
5) The Giants Sorely Miss Rashad Jennings
Andre Williams was not helped by the offensive line. Not at all. However, he does himself no favors by simply rushing with his head down. I did not see Williams stop and use a cutback lane all day. His vision is what separates him from other punishing type rushers like Marshawn Lynch. He needs to keep his eyes up and stop barreling into the crashing linebackers.
That being said, I was impressed with Williams' pass protection today. He didn't allow much pressure at all. It's clear however at this point that Jennings is as good a pass protector, a runner with better vision, and an asset in the pass game. For comparison, Williams was targeted three times (most were throwaways) and had no catches. Peyton Hillis was also targetedthree times, catching one pass for 4 yards. Yuck.