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4 downs: Takeaways from the Giants’ 28-20 loss to the Cowboys

What can we take away from the Giants’ second loss in four days?

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The New York fell to the Dallas Cowboys 28-20 on Thanksgiving Day.

It was a game the Giants were expected to lose, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to take. The Giants were 10-point underdogs by the opening kickoff, thanks to the injuries suffered over the last couple weeks.

The Giants definitely felt the impact of those injuries this week, as they were forced to compensate for a severely depleted offensive line and secondary — a situation that only got worse when Cor’Dale Flott suffered a concussion.

Now we have a nice 10-day break before the Giants take on the Washington Commanders. What can we take away while the Giants try to get right and stop their skid?

First down: A tale of two halves

The first half of this game almost couldn’t have gone better for the Giants. There were some ugly sequences and miscues at bad times. But the Giants stayed true to the formula that gotten them underdog wins in the first half of the season.

They stayed methodical on offense (with a couple big plays when the opportunities presented themselves), weren’t hurt by the mistakes they did make, and allowed the other team to beat themselves. Dallas obliged by getting way out over their skis with hyper-aggressive play on offense and sloppy play on both sides of the ball.

The result? The Giants went into the half with a surprising 13-7 lead.

Unfortunately, the Giants weren’t able to sustain their discipline against Dallas in the second half. The Cowboys came out of halftime with a much more methodical offense and while they continued to make bone-headed penalties (13 for 86 yards on the day), they didn’t put themselves in position to risk beating themselves.

And with Dallas being more disciplined, things snowballed for the Giants and the game got out of hand. The Giants played hard, but they just didn’t have the horsepower to keep up once Dallas’ defense got traction.

Second down: Pony Package

The Giants are officially on their first losing streak of 2022, but there have been a couple positive developments.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight the Giants’ “Pony Package”, or their 21-personnel package.

Historically, when the Giants have run a 21-personnel (two-back) package, they’ve either used a fullback or a sixth offensive lineman lining up at fullback. Over the last two games we’ve seen the Giants break out their 21-personnel package, but they’re using a pair of running backs as opposed to a runner and a blocker. Given the state of the Giants’ receiving and tight end positions, dipping into their running back depth is probably the best way for the Giants to get their best offensive players on the field.

Saquon Barkley has picked up just 61 yards on 26 carries (2.3 per carry) over the last two games, but he is obviously the Giants’ best (and most threatening) offensive player.

Over the last two games The Giants have used the attention paid to Barkley to create opportunities for Matt Brieda and Gary Brightwell. Last week we saw Brieda answer the bell when given the ball out of 21-personnel, and this week we saw Brightwell pick up a couple big runs in the fourth quarter. Brightwell only carried the ball 5 times, but he managed to pick up 31 yards, with a long of 15 yards (6.2 yards per carry). He showed solid vision and made a some good cuts, but the Giants also did a good job of forcing the Cowboys to pay attention to Barkley, creating massive holes for Brightwell.

21-personnel also typically encourages the defense to play the run first, which can make them more susceptible to passes.

We should expect to see this personnel grouping more over the remainder of the season. The Giants won’t be getting healthier at receiver and they need to take some of the load of Barkley before he breaks down.

Third down: Kayvon Thibodeaux

Kayvon Thibodeaux only had a sack and three quarterback hits entering Thursday’s game. That stat-line has lead some to suggest that he’s been a disappointment as the fifth overall pick. I would posit that they’re the same people who called Jason Pierre-Paul a bust after his first season, and furthermore that they haven’t been watching him too closely this season.

Thibodeaux might not have had the box score production we’ve hoped to see from him, but he has definitely been an impact player. Whether it was the batted passes he had early in the season or the holding calls he’s drawn in recent weeks, Thibodeaux has been responsible for some key hidden yardage for the Giants’ defense.

This week was the best game of his career, and even though he only recorded one tackle, Thibodeaux was a force for the Giants’ defense. Wink Martindale seeks to create pressure, and Thibodeaux had himself a day against Tyler Smith.

That pressure was clearly affecting Dak in the first half as Prescott was just off in his accuracy and off-schedule overall. Unfortunately, Dallas was able to adapt in the second half with clearly defined hot routes and Prescott wasn’t phased nearly as much.

This is a very positive development for the Giants and the production will come sooner rather than later for him.

Fourth down: Where’s the tempo?

The second half of this game was something of a disaster for the Giants. Dallas figured out the Giants’ defense, they took more injuries, and the wheels fell off of the offense.

And yet the Giants had a chance down two possessions with just less than nine minutes to go in the game. They would have needed two touchdowns, an extra point and a 2-point conversion to tie — or two 2-point conversions to win. It’s a narrow path to victory, even under the best of conditions, but there was a chance.

Except ... They really didn’t play like it. The Giants stayed with their methodical offense and burned the game clock down from 8:53 to 3:17 over the course of a 12-play drive. The Giants also failed to play with urgency at the end of the second quarter, as they seemed happy to simply get to halftime.

Extra point - Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The Giants lost and that casts a pall on the day. But today is still a holiday that’s about so much more than football. I just want to wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you all got to spend the day surrounded by friends and family.

And just to end on the highest of notes, I wanted to include this moment from before the game between the Bills and the Lions.