In my preview for the New York Giants matchup, I wrote about the importance for the Cowboys to find a way to get their record to 4-4 by the next time these teams met again in the new Meadowlands Stadium. Despite the fact that the Cowboys had some difficult matchups with the scheme and personnel of the Giants coming into this game, I felt that it was a game that the Cowboys were capable of winning on Monday night football in front of their home crowd.
The Cowboys needed this game more than the Giants. My thinking was the intensity and determination would carry the Cowboys on this night.
The game couldn’t have started any better for the Cowboys with the early turnovers and the building of the lead, but to the Giants credit, Tom Coughlin’s squad was able to weather the storm of the early mistakes and make plays.
With the Cowboys up 10-0 late in the first quarter, the Giants are faced with a second-and-goal from the Dallas 7. Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride through scouting knew that if he uses his heavy or goal line package that Wade Phillips was going to match him with his personnel. Gilbride has Shawn Andrews, Kevin Boss and Travis Beckum all in the game as tight ends with Ahmad Bradshaw as the lone running back and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks in the huddle as well. The call from upstairs in the coaching booth is for the heavy personnel group but fails to identify that Nicks is still on the field.
In this Cowboys’ goal-line or short-yardage group, there are five linebackers and three safeties but no corners. The linebackers were DeMarcus Ware, Keith Brooking, Sean Lee, Bradie James and Anthony Spencer. The safeties were Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church and Danny McCray. Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Alan Ball, the one safety who has cover skills, were off the field.
When the Giants broke the huddle, Nicks went wide to his left, McCray originally lined up in front of him but then began to look inside to Sensabaugh, who was lined up to the side of the three-tight end set to the right. In the three-tight end set, Andrews was on the line, Boss was in a wing to the right of Andrews and Beckum was lined up as a wing next to Boss. Clearly the strength of the formation was to the Cowboys’ left.
Church was lined up on the line over Andrews, but as Manning begin to set the protection, Sensabaugh and McCray switched positions with Sensabaugh now lined up over Nicks. At the snap, Nicks starts out like he is going to run a slant, then works to the fade. Manning looks like he wants to throw the slant but double pumps the ball, waiting for Nicks to complete the route. Sensabaugh gets no jam on Nicks, who now plants off his left foot then works back outside. Sensabaugh is too far away from Nicks to make a clean play on the ball. Nicks is able to snatch the ball out of the air from Manning for the Giants first touchdown.
The play was successful and much too easy for the Giants, who were able to take advantage of the Cowboys and the personnel group they had on the field at the time. In the postgame press conference, Phillips was asked about the matchup that led to the touchdown and said that the staff did not realize that Nicks was on the field at the time and the normal corner that would have been on the field to match, Terence Newman, was injured.
Give the Giants credit for the matchup and how they were able to get one of their best receivers in position to make a play while the Cowboys were left wondering what personnel group the Giants were in.
*In the NFL, there is a saying that mistakes will get you beat, rookie mistakes will get you hurt.
It’s the second quarter and the Cowboys are holding onto a 10-7 lead with the football on the Dallas 43. Cowboys break the formation in an off set “I” to the left. Miles Austin and Jason Witten are lined up wide left with Austin on the ball and Witten off. Witten starts in motion inside. Dez Bryant is up top by himself. Giants are in a base or regular front with linebacker Michael Boley lined up on the outside hip of rookie defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
As Romo takes the snap, Giants defensive tackles Chris Canty and Barry Cofield run a twist stunt on the inside that Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Montrae Holland are able to sort out and keep the two defensive tackles along the line. The linebacker to that side was Jonathan Goff, and he begins to drop in coverage so now you have three blocking two.
On the outside, Pierre-Paul is now rushing Doug Free wide and to his left shoulder. Fullback Chris Gronkowski begins to release to outside the left side of Free as Boley begins his charge through the gap created by the widening Free and Holland working on the twist inside. There are three to four yards of separation between Boley and Gronkowski, who is unable to adjust back to pick up the Giants’ linebacker that has the best speed.
Romo sees that Boley is a free rusher and bravely hangs in the pocket to deliver the ball to Austin on the outside. With Romo’s right arm and ribs exposed, Boley catches him right in the side and drives the quarterback into the ground. Boley lands with his entire weight on Romo’s body, breaking the quarterback’s left collarbone and putting him on the shelf for the next six to eight weeks.
When you study this play, it was a perfect call by defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Where Gronkowski was lined up in the formation, it was going to be difficult to complete that block and the path he took at the snap did not help the situation as well.
Later in the game, Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh has an opportunity to get a similar type of hit on Eli Manning. As he is coming forward in the blitz -- a well-designed one by Wade Phillips -- Sensabaugh checks up slightly in the hole and doesn’t get there in time or lay the wood to Manning. The result of the play was that Manning was able to deliver the ball to wide receiver Steve Smith for a touchdown. Smith was able to work around Orlando Scandrick, who was in man coverage and unable to handle the adjusting Smith.
Boley took an opportunity to deliver a huge blow to Romo and to the chances of the Cowboys’ hopes this season by knocking the quarterback out of the game. For the Cowboys, a well-designed blitz again was unable to get home -- not what the defense needed on a night when knockout blows were needed.