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Four downs: Takeaways from the Giants’ 23-16 loss to the Cowboys

The Giants stumbled down the stretch

Syndication: The Record Danielle Parhizkaran/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

The New York Giants fell to the Dallas Cowboys, 23-16, following an ugly game on Monday Night Football.

The Giants were able to keep things close for much of the night, but Dallas was ultimately able to pull away with a 17-3 run over the last 15:32 of the game. For most of the game this looked like it could — even would — be another close, dirty win for the Giants. But it just wasn’t to be, and instead we got a painful loss that also saw a scary injury to Sterling Shepard in the closing seconds of the game.

So what can we take away from the game before we burn the tape?

First down: Under pressure

The stories of the game are obviously the Giants’ loss and the injury to Sterling Shepard.

But close on the heels of those stories is the sheer amount of pressure the Cowboys were able to exert on the Giants’ offense. We warned that their defensive front was disruptive, and while Dallas didn’t hit Daniel Jones for nine sacks (as it did against Joe Burrow last week), Jones was still pressured more in this game than in any previous game. DeMarcus Lawrence had his first three sacks of the year against the Giants and collectively Dallas had five sacks and 12 QB hits. For all intents and purposes, Jones was under pressure every time he dropped back and was hit on every other pass attempt.

Ed did nail his bold prediction that Micah Parsons would be held without a sack, though the star linebacker did have two QB hits. However, his presence disrupted the Giants’ offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka did what he could against the Dallas pass rush, but the Giants were often forced to rely on six or seven-man protections. They tried to double — or triple — team Parsons, but that often created opportunities for one-on-one matchups or free rushers elsewhere on the line.

Rookie tackle Evan Neal had a rough game in particular (he is a rookie, after all), but each of the Giants’ blockers lost over the course of the night. So far Jones has been sacked 13 times and hit another 21 times (per Pro Football Reference). The Giants have been doing to help Jones with scheme, but they need to figure something out, and soon.

Second down: Big plays, and big mistakes, from Dallas

While the Giants and Cowboys spent much of this game tied — or at worst within a possession of each other — it felt as though the Giants were just barely hanging on.

While the Giants’ defense played as well as it could for much of the game to keep the score close, we saw some of the downsides to Wink Martindale’s philosophy. Throughout the offseason there were fears that offenses could gash the Giants’ defense for big plays if the coverage broke down or pressure failed to disrupt the quarterback. We saw both of those instances come true as Cooper Rush was afforded the time to scan the field, and Dallas’ receivers were able to quickly get separation when Rush needed to get the ball out of his hand fast.

Personally, I wouldn’t want Martindale to change a thing about how he calls games, and more often aggressive play calling will work out in your favor. But these games will happen.

However, Dallas did not play a disciplined brand of football and hurt themselves throughout the game. The most obvious was the massive drop by CeeDee Lamb, which likely kept a touchdown off the board. However Dallas also had other gaffes, including a bevy of penalties, usually to cancel out big plays on their side. There were multiple instances when a penalty gave the Giants’ offense new life or pushed the Dallas offense back by five, ten, or fifteen yards. All told, Dallas committed a brutal eight penalties for 70 yards.

It’s frustrating that the Giants weren’t quite able to capitalize on Dallas’ self-inflicted wounds. But it’s heartening to know that a division rival is very beatable, and tried to go out of their way to beat themselves.

Third down: The New York Ganos

Say what you will about Dave Gettleman (and I could say plenty), but one decision of his we can’t fault is signing Graham Gano to be the Giants’ kicker. Gano has been all but automatic for the Giants since arriving in the Big Apple in 2020. So far the reigning NFC Special Teams Player of The Week has been perfect on the field and accounted for 15 of the Giants’ 46 points.

He has been a pillar of stability for a team that struggles to consistently end drives with points on the board. That reliability — and his range — are a legitimate weapon for the Giants that have allowed them to stay in games right down to the wire.

It isn’t ideal to rely on your kicker as much as the Giants have — and it’d be nice if their coverage teams were as reliable — but we need to recognize Gano for the stalwart he is.

Fourth down: A crushing ending

The fourth quarter had been kind to the Giants in the first two games. That was when the Giants offense was able to find a little bit of had game-winning drives against the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers

It looked as though the New York Giants might have a glimmer of hope as they got the ball on their 9-yard line for one last chance. The drive got off to a promising start when Jones hit Sterling Shepard for a 12-yard gain, but it was all downhill after that.

The next play fell incomplete, setting the Giants up for a second and long, which turned into a second and longer when Evan Neal had a false start to move the Giants back five yards. The Giants’ hopes of a comeback came to an end when WR David Sills V fell down in his route and CB Trevon Diggs managed to hold on to the interception.

Then, adding injury to insult, Shepard collapsed with a scary-looking non-contact injury as he slowed up from his route. Shepard’s left leg apparently gave out and he instantly grabbed his knee in pain. While we don’t yet know the nature or extent of the injury, Brian Daboll said after the game that “it didn’t look good.”

Losing a prime time game to a bitter rival is bad enough, but losing a well-respected veteran who has also been one of your most reliable offensive players is just painful. Hopefully Shepard gets good news from Tuesday’s tests, because the Giants could sure use some good news right now.

Extra point

I just had to throw this in here because I didn’t want to go out on such a sour note: I love the Giants’ white uniforms. I’ve been asking for them to be the team’s standard road uniforms, and I hope fans get on board with that.

The crisp white with red and blue accents, with the metallic blue helmets and “GIANTS” logo, manages to be classic, modern, and timeless all at the same time. In an era when teams are going for the matte look or blacked out uniforms, this look stands out in the best way possible.

Hopefully, we’ll see them again this year — if only to make up for all those games the Giants played in their red road uniforms back in the aughts.