Well, the biggest thing we learned Sunday night during the New York Giants' 27-26 loss to the Dallas Cowboys is that even an accomplished veteran coach like Tom Coughlin and an accomplished veteran quarterback like Eli Manning can get caught up in the heat of the moment and mess up. Let's move beyond that botched play and the possible season-long ramifications of it, and look at what else we can take away from Sunday's game.
Here are five things we learned.
The pass rush is non-existent
Tony Romo pretty much had time to bake a cake while surveying the field Sunday night. Pro Football Focus credited the Giants with three hits and nine hurries of Romo. I'm not sure what PFF's graders saw that the rest of the world missed. The official NFL stats gave the Giants one quarterback hit.
Statistically, Robert Ayers had six hurries, but no hits. Damontre Moore didn't even crack the official stat sheet in 19 snaps, though PFF credits him with a hit and a hurry. The Giants often used Cullen Jenkins at defensive end and Markus Kuhn at tackle. The much-maligned Kuhn actually played pretty well, but with Jenkins out of position at end and Kuhn inside the Giants just can't generate pressure without blitzing. Even when they blitzed, Romo rarely had to hurry or move at all.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to have to dig deep into his bag of tricks to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Giants can't count on their secondary forcing three turnovers every week.
The offensive line could be pretty good
The Cowboys entered the game with the ballyhooed offensive line, but the Giants' much-maligned group did a good job, especially in the run blocking department, something I've been anticipating.
Rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers (-3.2 Pro Football Focus grade) played better than the grade indicated. He struggled with the speed of Randy Gregory, but that may have partially been due to being hobbled after getting his left foot stepped on by Shane Vereen. His run blocking was fine, maybe better than fine, and he showed a ton of maturity not engaging with Jerome Mincey when the Dallas defensive end ripped his helmet off.
The Giants thought Weston Richburg could be a quality center when they drafted him a year ago. Looks like they were right. Richburg had a +2.7 PFF grade.
There was a center other than Frederick in last night's game, and you're going to start hearing more of him. https://t.co/Il1BVYPSXK— OL Watchdog (@OLineScout) September 14, 2015
Geoff Schwartz was beaten for the only sack of the night, but he and Marshall Newhouse did an adequate job on the right side. There is reason for optimism about this group.
The special teams looked much better
As we talked about over the weekend, the Giants went to great lengths to upgrade their special teams personnel. Sunday night it looked like it paid off.
New punter Brad Wing had an outstanding night, with excellent hang time and direction on every punt. Josh Brown made four field goals, including a 50-yarder. The punt coverage, helped by Wing's placement, allowed only one return for -3 yards. The kickoff coverage was excellent, allowing five returns for an average of just 19.2 yards.
The only blip was returner Dwayne Harris uncharacteristically running sideways on two punt returns. Let's hope we don't see any more of that.
Growing pains with young defenders
The Giants started a pair of rookies, safety Landon Collins and middle linebacker Uani' Unga. There is a lot to be excited about with both players, but the Cowboys also took advantage of both youngsters Sunday night.
Collins was late to react to motion by Witten and had no chance while in man coverage as Witten caught a 1-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass. He did, however, make an excellent run stop in the backfield, a couple of plays in the open field and didn't surrender any long plays.
Unga ended up with a team-worst -6.7 PFF grade, though he appeared to play better than that. He had a team-high 12 tackles and, while it wasn't always smooth, appeared to do an OK job making defensive calls. The Cowboys picked on him in coverage, though, targeting him 11 times and completing nine passes. Unga was targeted several times by Dallas on the final drive, including on the game-winning pass to Witten. The fill-in for Jon Beason appears to have the athleticism to get the job done, just not the experience to always recognize what is happening quickly enough.
The Giants miss Victor Cruz
Forget James Jones. Forget Corey Washington. The Giants miss wide receiver Victor Cruz, out for who knows how long with a calf injury. Preston Parker was playing in Cruz's slot position, and dropped three critical passes. We know that. The impact of Cruz's not being in the lineup, though, goes beyond that.
The Giants completed one pass of longer than 20 yards Sunday, and that was the game ending lateral play so it doesn't really count. Odell Beckham Jr. was blanketed by two defenders all night and, while he caught five passes, totaled just 44 yards (8.8 per catch). The Giants weren't able to threaten Dallas down the field with Beckham defended so tightly. It may be a while before Cruz returns, so the Giants are going to have to figure out how to do that.
The Giants don't trust Cooper Taylor
The Giants have always liked Taylor's athleticism, and tried to build him up throughout the preseason by being complimentary. When push came to shove, the Giants showed their cards on Sunday by not giving Taylor a jersey. They chose veterans Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl -- a decision that worked out quite nicely, actually.
Taylor is in his third season now and, in some ways, his Giants career is becoming reminiscent of that of now-departed tight end Adrien Robinson. Lots of unfulfilled athletic potential, with lack of practice time due to injuries contributing to seemingly stalled development.