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5 plays that made a difference in Giants’ loss to Dallas Cowboys

Injuries, bad defense and ... Kadarius Toney highlights

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The New York Giants fell to 1-4 after a 44-20 defeat suffered at the hand of the Dallas Cowboys. New York has dealt with significant injuries all season, but a triage unit may have been necessary after this game. Dallas asserted its dominance on the ground. They had more than 200 yards rushing, with the damage mostly coming from Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense generated several explosive plays, found the openings in the Giants zone coverage, and won in man coverage situations. The Cowboys had 515 yards of total offense. Patrick Graham’s defense only forced one punt, albeit they did come away with an interception on fourth down during the Cowboys’ opening drive, and Prescott fumbled a snap near their goal line, resulting in a turnover.

Cowboys’ cornerback Trevon Diggs had a big interception when the game was 24-13 in the third quarter, and he could have realistically had four interceptions in this game. The Diggs interception isn’t on the list, but it was important. Here are the five plays, or reasons, that resulted in the final 44-20 outcome in favor of Dallas.

Play(s) 1: Injuries

There are no videos for this “play.” It’s a combination of all the injuries suffered by the Giants against the Cowboys. In this game, New York lost Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones, Kenny Golladay, Matt Skura (maybe), and Rodarius Williams. Barkley’s injury is one of those freak accidents; he steps on someone’s foot and rolls his ankle to the point of insane swelling. Jones’ injury was scary, and watching him wobble to his feet was an unwelcome sight. Hopefully, they’re both going to be okay.

New York lost star middle linebacker Blake Martinez earlier this year, and their offensive line has been a wild rotation due to injuries. They were also without Andrew Thomas - who was available and dressed - but didn’t play a snap, and Jabrill Peppers also failed to dress. When it rains, it pours ... and the Giants were unfortunately drenched on Sunday.

Play 2: CeeDee can fly

Patrick Graham and the Giants defense attempted to play two-high looks to limit the explosive plays of Dak Prescott and this offense. When teams align in two-high looks, they’re inviting the rushing attack, which isn’t a great strategy when you’re up against the Cowboys. It’s an actual problem for defensive coordinators against this Dallas offense and not a referendum on Graham. The Cowboys have the explosive playmaking ability to score more than 40 points through the air. Their offense can also grind games out and possess the football with an impressive rushing attack led by Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

They’re the furthest thing from one-dimensional. When Graham brought five rushers and played man coverage, Prescott attacked, and it led to this deep touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb (88). Lamb just beats Bradberry with an outside release, and Julian Love (20) couldn’t get over the top quickly enough to help Bradberry. The Giants’ number one cornerback isn’t having the same success he experienced in 2020. He also dropped this would be crucial interception that would have thwarted the Cowboys’ touchdown aspirations at the end of the first half.

Bradberry does a great job reading Prescott but doesn’t finish the play. This has happened too often in 2021. A big opportunity slides through the grasp of a Giants defender. Adoree’ Jackson could have ended the Falcons game, but he dropped a Matt Ryan interception. Logan Ryan also had a couple dropped interceptions in that game. There were several opportunities against Washington that New York failed to corral (even though Bradberry secured what could have been the game-winning interception late in the fourth quarter). The Giants defenders have to take advantage of offensive mistakes like Lorenzo Carter did on the fourth down earlier in this game, but they seem to fail frequently in these situations.

Play(s) 3: Death, taxes, and the Giants surrendering a late first-half TD

In every game this season, the Giants defense has surrendered a touchdown at the end of the first half. In Week 1, it was a 7-play, 57-yard drive that ended in a Tim Patrick touchdown. Against Washington in Week 2, it was a 12-play, 84-yard drive finished by that easy J.D. McKissic touchdown run. The Falcons drove down the field and scored with less than two minutes left in the half; a touchdown to Olamide Zaccheaus. Luckily, Azeez Ojulari forced a Matt Ryan fumble after Evan Engram’s fumble in the last minute of the game. Jameis Winston hit Juwan Johnson for a late touchdown in the Giants’ Week 4 victory. That was a 13-play, 75-yard drive. The defense’s inability to stop opposing offenses’ two-minute drill has been one of the biggest problems for this 2021 Giants team.

Dallas runs verticals from a 3x1 set with Amari Cooper (19), possibly reading the defender’s leverage, and ran a deep stop route where Dak Prescott (4) hit him with a back-shoulder pass. There was 2:51 left in the first half after the Daniel Jones injury and the subsequent touchdown that tied the score at 10. Prescott led this 8-play, 75-yard drive.

Tight end Dalton Schultz (86) finds a soft spot in the Giants’ zone-match defense on this third down. Logan Ryan (23) doesn’t appear to stick with Schultz through his break (it’s difficult to tell the exact coverage responsibility with this angle). Cedrick Wilson’s (1) clearout from the No. 3 wide receiver position forced Tae Crowder (48) to follow, which opened space for Schultz.

New York uses man coverage on this second-and-10, and Cooper beats Rodarius Williams (25) badly to create space. Julian Love was playing in the middle of the field and couldn’t locate Cooper as he fell into the end-zone for a touchdown. The Giants 2020 defense was great at stopping explosive plays and tackling. They’ve struggled with both so far this season while also really failing when it matters most. The bend don’t break motto isn’t working this year in the two-minute drill.

Play(s) 4: He’s fed

Ezekiel Elliott often makes a demand for satiation. Dramatically, he puts a notional spoon up to his mouth and exclaims, feed me. He was undoubtedly fed on Sunday. Elliott rushed 21 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns - one receiving and one rushing. Here’s the receiving touchdown on a beautifully designed play from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.

Dallas uses a lot of misdirection in this play. They fake the fly-sweep to Tony Pollard (20) and the HB-misdirection to Elliott. Then Prescott acts like he’s passing over the middle to one of his receivers before looking back towards Elliott, who is wide open for the walk-in touchdown. Crowder is late to get through all the traffic and locate Elliott in the flat. So late that he never really got there.

The Cowboys run a play-side tackle lead with the center pulling as well towards a double Y set. Xavier McKinney (29) seems to be the contain defender, but he engages the pulling tackle, leaving the outside wide open for Elliott. These two second-half touchdown plays made the deficit insurmountable.

Play(s) 5: Kadarius Toney has arrived

The Giants’ 2021 first-round pick showed signs of excellence in last week’s 27-21 overtime win against the Saints. His slow start as a New York Giant seems to be behind him as he caught ten of 13 targets for 189-yards. He was one of the lone bright spots in an injury-plagued game. Toney’s change of direction and burst are rare. Here are his touches from the Giants’ 44-20 loss against the Cowboys.

Some of these plays are just incredible individual efforts from the rookie. Toney was used all over the place. He was used in the Giants’ quick game, vertically, on screens, throwback screens, and on horizontal crossing routes. He had another designed pass as well that was dropped by Devontae Booker. There’s no question that Toney is unique.