In a week of change at Valley Ranch, it was only fitting that the previous five weeks of losing football would also change. The Dallas Cowboys went to the Meadowlands and won a football game against a Giants team that had been playing at a high level both offensively and defensively.
The more I watched the Giants during the week, more I was convinced that the Cowboys would struggle with the physical aspects of this game. The Giants are a downhill, power running football team that has the ability to also work the ball down the field with playmaking receivers .Their defense was doing an outstanding job of physically stopping the run but also putting pressure on offenses in controlling the passing game with pressure from their front.
The matchups across the board did not favor the Cowboys at all. In my weekly Grudge Match for Galloway and Company on 103.3 FM ESPN, I offered that everything the Giants do well, the Cowboys had been doing poorly on both sides of the ball, thus the 1-7 record.
In the days leading of the game, Jason Garrett spoke of change and moving forward. Where the Cowboys made the biggest improvement or change was their ability to block this Giants front seven, who were the keys to New York being ranked in the top three in several defensive categories.
Anyone that has followed the Cowboys’ struggles this season can point to the offensive line and their inability to generate any type of consistent play running the football or finishing drives as a reason for the shape of the team. With all that appeared against them on that Sunday afternoon, Doug Free, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo were able to sustain blocks, get to the second level, make blocks in space and avoid assignment errors that would put their quarterback in harm’s way.
For this much maligned offensive line, it was a clean game against a front that had caused its share of problems for offenses this season. Tackles Free and Colombo were extremely steady and workmanlike against Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck in the running and passing games. Davis, who is usually exposed at guard with quick movement or games with down linemen and linebackers, did not have the type of errors that we are so accustomed seeing this season. Gurode didn’t play slow-footed or get overextended when trying to get to the second level or adjusting in pass protection.
Felix Jones and Marion Barber ran the ball with purpose and didn’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of the holes that were there. Jon Kitna made critical throws to receivers who found space in a secondary that for the last five weeks had been holding offenses in check with tight coverage.
On the defensive side of the ball, I was impressed with the ability of the secondary to hold up despite losing the starting corners at points during the game. When the Giants fell behind and the running game was not going to be a factor, the game shifted into how well Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann would hold up on the outside.
Scandrick has had his share of troubles this season, but for the role in this game of playing nickel corner and on the outside, he held up quite well. His tackling saved the defense from extra snaps by the Giants.
McCann, in my view, should have been on the 53 when they broke camp due to his performance in training camp. He is aggressive, smart, and plays with a great deal of skill. McCann is not afraid and again, you could see these traits in training camp.
On his 101-yard interception return, the Giants line up in a bunch formation to the right with Mario Manningham, Kevin Boss and Travis Beckum to that side. On the opposite side, five yards off the sideline is Hakeem Nicks with McCann lined up inside eye. The Cowboys have five defensive backs in the game. At the snap, Scandrick comes off the slot to the right of Manning on the blitz, leaving Ball and Sensabaugh to cover Boss, Manningham and Beckum. If Manning looks to his right, he has three on two to that side and it’s an easy touchdown.
Manning’s eyes are on Nicks the entire time. Nicks tries to break inside but McCann jams him with his right hand, then begins to adjust inside cutting him off. Manning has so much confidence in Nicks that he throws the ball regardless of McCann’s position. McCann has cleanly beaten Nicks and the ball hits him between the 3 and the 7 of his jersey and he begins to set sail for the goal line and a history-making interception return.
With 10:28 left in the fourth quarter, Giants coach Tom Coughlin decides to go for a fourth-and-1 from the Cowboys’ 42 after Sensabaugh made a first-down saving tackle on Boss’ circus catch that almost converted a third-and-20 for the Giants.
On the fourth down call, the Giants go unbalanced line to the left, moving right tackle Kareem McKenzie to the other side next to Shawn Andrews and Kevin Boothe. Fullback Bear Pascoe is offset to the left and linebacker Bradie James sees the unbalanced line and adjusts the defensive line to the right. Presnap, DeMarcus Ware jumps offsides but manages to get back. At the snap, the Giants block their line to the right or backside, Pascoe tries to lead on Ware on the outside, guard Chris Snee pulls from the right to the left but is unable to handle in the hole. James reacts to the flow his way and meets Jacobs in the hole along with Barry Church for no gain and the ball goes over on downs.
Just one final note on this Cowboys’ defense: New defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni made the adjustment to play more zone coverage instead of the normal amount of man coverage that they had played under Wade Phillips. Phillips in his nickel package played a great deal of man coverage. In this game, Pasqualoni used zone coverage over 25 times to help his secondary in the game which helped limit the big plays that the Giants tend to make in the passing game.