There is a lot to be learned about the Giants by looking at who played, who didn't, and how well they played in the other 58 minutes before those fateful decisions. For a bit of statistical insight, we are going to look at the official snap counts, and also get the take of Pro Football Focus.
Before management mistakes by Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, and Eli Manning effectively snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, the Giants' offense had done just enough to win the game. The Giants only held the ball for 22:50 of game clock, and only racked up 289 yards of total offense. Part of that total was due to defensive turnovers giving the Giants a short field on two occasions -- which the Giants converted into points.
Coming into the game there were a litany of questions regarding the Giants rebuilt and reshuffled offensive line, however the offensive line turned out to be one of the strengths of the offense. Weston Richburg in particular was the Giants' highest graded offensive player with a +2.7. While he broke even in pass protection, his strength was his run blocking. Justin Pugh was the Giants' 2nd rated offensive player, his grade buoyed by a good +1.5 pass blocking rating. While Rookie Ereck Flowers was the Giants' second lowest rated offensive player for his run blocking -- he had issues there after his ankle was stepped on in the open field -- he was a dominant run blocker at times. His +1.3 run blocking grade was the Giants' second highest, but his most impressive play was when he did nothing when defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey ripped off the rookie's helmet and got in his face. Rather than retaliate, Flowers did nothing and forced the refs to give the Giants' offense 15 free yards.
If the offensive line were the surprising strength of the offense, then Preston Parker was the goat. His -3.2 score in the passing game was tied for second lowest of any Giants offensive player. And with three drive-killing drops in key moments, that grade is completely earned. In fact, I'm surprised it's not lower.
While the Giants love Parker's toughness, with his questionable hands, they are going to have to look long and hard at their other receiving options, particularly in key 3rd downs. As the third receiver he was on the field for 40 snaps, or 65% of the total offensive load. The Giants might want to consider using two-tight end set in key moments, and get the more sure-handed Daniel Fells, Larry Donnell, or Jerome Cunningham (who was inactive) involved in 3rd down conversions.
One of the big complaints about the Giants' defense Sunday night was the lack of a pass rush. Part of that was the Cowboys' scheme. They ran the ball often and when they threw, they were largely quick passes that had the ball out of Tony Romo's hands before an unblocked rusher could get to him.
The other reason were the personnel packages the Giants used on defense. Kerry Wynn, George Selvie, and Cullen Jenkins saw a combined 67 snaps in pass rush situations. They all rated negatively and combined for a -5.1 pass rush grade. The Giants wanted their bigger, more stout defenders on the field to deal with Dallas' running game.
However, that doesn't mean that the Giants were without effective pass rushers. They just didn't play much.
Robert Ayers was the Giants' highest rated player, scoring a +3.1 grade, scoring positively in both run defense and pass rush. He graded a +2.1 pass rush grade, and notched quarterback hurries. However, Ayers only played 49 total snaps (68 percent of defensive snapts), 35 of which were pass rush situations.
John Hankins added a pair of hurries himself, and was the Giants third-highest rated player.
Damontre Moore, the Giant's second-most efficient pass rusher also notched a QB hit and a hurry last night, and graded out at 0.0. The problem was that the hit and hurry came in only 19 snaps, which were the totality of Moore's defensive opportunities. The Giants don't seem to trust Moore yet in run defense and have a role as a pass rush specialist in mind for him.
The Secondary Is A Strength
The strength of the Giants' defense was clearly their secondary. Five of their top seven graded players were defensive backs. Interestingly enough, despite more often than not opting for a "heavy" defensive front, the Giants were also in a nickel set on roughly two thirds of their defensive snaps.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a phenomenal game, grading out as the Giants' second best defender and grading positively in both run defense and pass coverage. He also scored the first touchdown of the game on a scoop and score.
In fact, the secondary was responsible for the Giants grading out with a +3 turnover ratio, and directly or indirectly responsible for 17 of the Giants' 26 points. Interestingly, Brandon Meriweather, who has been known as a hard-hitting run defender, was the Giants' second rated defender in pass coverage, behind only Prince Amukamara.
The Giants' players -- other than Eli Manning -- didn't lose the game on Sunday night. That loss falls at the feet of the Giants' coaches. They will need to take a close look at their decisions throughout the game, from play calls to personnel packages, and learn from their mistakes. But there were also positives to be taken from the loss, and the Giants as a team will need to recognize those as well and build on them as they prepare for the Atlanta Falcons.