The New York Giants, minus star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., were unable to get anything going on offense, against the Dallas Cowboys, who dominated their NFC East rivals in just about every statistical category available as part of a 19-3 win on Sunday Night Football.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed 24 times for 104 yards and added five receptions for 36 more yards as the Cowboys took a 16-0 first half lead over the Giants.
Kicker Dan Bailey booted four field goals, including three in the first half to lead the Cowboys in scoring this week.
And tight end Jason Witten, a long-time thorn in the Giants side, snapped a three-game scoreless streak against the Giants that dated back to September 13, 2015 when he scored the Cowboys lone touchdown this week on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Dak Prescott.
Not a good start for the New York football teams. pic.twitter.com/sZqv1Y7ZoX
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) September 11, 2017
The Cowboys held the ball 20:33 in the first half, running 47 offensive plays to the Giants’ 19, and racking up 265 yards on offense to the Giants’ 49 in the game’s first half.
With Beckham out of the lineup—he is still nursing a sprained ankle suffered August 21 in a preseason game against Cleveland–the Giants’ leading receiver was running back Shane Vereen, who finished with nine receptions for 51 yards. Slot receiver Sterling Shepard was second on the team with seen receptions for 44 yards.
Brandon Marshall, the Giants’ big receiving target who was supposed to help give quarterback Eli Manning another receiving target, caught one of his four pass targets for 10 yards and curiously was not used inside the red zone on the Giants lone scoring drive that cumulated in a 25-yard field goal by kicker Aldrick Rosas.
When your team’s leading receiver is your third-down running back, you know you’ve had a bad day. Add to that the fact that the Giants offensive line picked up where it left off in terms of providing protection for Manning—or in this case not providing protection—and it just wasn’t a good night.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was how dependent this offense seems to have become on Odell Beckham Jr. Supposedly, the additions of Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram were supposed to help open things for the passing offense.
However, Manning barely looked Marshall’s way, and when he did, there was one pass he threw that was behind the receiver (though catchable). Engram, the rookie, spent a vast number of his snaps as an in-line blocker, not necessarily a strength, finishing with four receptions for 44 yards, and a long of 11 yards.
The running game picked up where they left off last year when they finished 29th in the NFL, the Giants ran the ball 12 times for 35 yards, 2.9 yards per carry average. Their longest run of the night was a 12-yard gain by Orleans Darkwa, who really needs to get more carries per game.
As for the run blocking, it was more of the same from up front—no push up the middle, which puts the Giants at a distinct advantage. This team doesn’t have running backs that can threaten the edges, so when the runs between the tackles go nowhere, that usually spells trouble for this offense.
The Cowboys rushed for 129 yards, 104 of them coming from Ezekiel Elliott, whose longest run went for 10 yards. Credit the Cowboys though for targeting the Giants substitutions when defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo tried to give his gassed starters a break early on.
By the time the game started wearing down, it was obvious that the Giants defense, who last year held opponents to just 17.8 points per game, did what they could to keep a lid on the Cowboys scoring despite being noticeably gassed by the end of the game.
The pass defense allowed four big-pass plays of 20 or more yards (out of 24 completions by Prescott). The worst of the bunch was a 35-yard reception by receiver Dez Bryant, who by the way drew a very questionable pass interference call against nemesis Janoris Jenkins. Otherwise, it bears mention that Bryan recorded two receptions out of nine pass targets for 43 yards.
Bad PI call. Hand fighting, Jenkins gets his head turned and angles Dez out of bounds. pic.twitter.com/p6fpFFYRMp
— RegularSZN Ethan (@EthanGSN) September 11, 2017
Special Teams: F
The Giants average starting field possession in this game was their 16-yard line. Think about that for a moment. That’s not even enough yards for a touchback
To make matters worse, they were pinned inside of the 15-yard line on six of their 10 possessions. That’s just not going to get the job done, especially when you have an anemic offense.
Dwayne Harris handled all the punt returns on the night—four of them to be exact. Three went for fair catches, and one return gained a whopping one-yard. That won’t cut it nor will his 42 yards on two kickoff returns (21.0 average) which included on bad decision in which he lost 15 yards because he decided to take a ball out of the end zone.
What He Said
“It’s one of 16 games. We have to be careful being too emotional about one football game. It’s one of 16.” – Giants head coach Ben McAdoo on if the team was down after blowing a golden opportunity against a division rival.
Play of the Game
Channeling his inner David Tyree, Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley made a sick catch against the back of his head in the fourth quarter on a ball that Giants cornerback Eli Apple just barely missed picking off.
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2017
Player of the Game
B.J. Goodson, the second-year middle linebacker who has had to be an every-down backer thanks to the concussion Keenan Robinson is still trying to kick, had himself a night. Goodson currently leads the NFL with 18 tackles, 14 of which were solo. He also had himself one tackle for a loss. And Goodson might have had even more tackles were it not for the fact that he missed at least three by my count.
- After having himself a fine preseason, starting right tackle Bobby Hart had a rough night. Hart allowed at least two pressures against Charles Tapper and DeMarcus Lawrence, thus forcing Eli Manning into an all-too-familiar position of having to step away from pressure and/or settle for the short thrown (that is when he wasn’t getting the stuffing knocked out of him.)
- Coming into this game, Eli Manning and Brandon Marshall hadn’t connected on a pass. Well, that continued throughout the first half; in fact, Manning didn’t even look Marshall’s way until 1:32 was left in the second quarter to target him. If that wasn’t frustrating enough, why Manning never even bothered to try a jump ball to Marshall on the drive that ended with New York setting for a 25-yard field goal by kicker Aldrick Rosas is a head-scratcher.
Earlier this week I asked both Manning and Marshall, whose shoulder was apparently well enough to allow him to be cleared for this game, if they were on the same page.
“Brandon and I will be on the same page,” Manning said. “But, again, there’s always a learning curve. It doesn’t mean we’ll complete every pass that I throw to him, but we’ve gotten a lot of work and communicate all the time about the different things. So, I expect us to go out there and make the plays that we need to make.”
Marshall’s take? “Yes. I do. I haven’t caught a pass from Eli in a game, but we have a lot of work in practice. So, confident that we’ll be right where we need to be on Sunday. We’ll make enough plays to get the job done.”
- While you never want to see a lopsided game, the Giants couldn’t have picked a worse time to not have all three phases of the ball firing on all cylinders.
Remember, in the final preseason game, the starters barely play, if at all. So now when you ask the members of the defense, many of whom played a small handful of snaps over the four preseason games to suddenly have to go 71 plays, that’s asking a lot.
“Whenever it is lopsided in time of possession, especially in the first game, there is no way to get prepared for that amount of plays, I think the time of possession in the first half was so lopsided, it definitely had an effect on us a little bit,” said linebacker and defensive co-captain Jonathan Casillas.
The Final Word
At times, the Giants clock management in this game was a head scratcher.
The first example came toward the end of the second quarter. With 1:41 left on the clock, the Giants ran three straight unsuccessful pass attempts. with each incomplete pass, that stopped the clock, leaving Dallas with 1:19 left to score again (which they did).
Now granted, the Giants running game wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders this week, but why the Giants didn’t try at least one run in that sequence is beyond me. Even if they don’t get the yardage they need, they could have taken time off the clock.
The other instance came in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were driving on their final possession of the game, using Ezekiel Elliott to run out the clock. Elliott and the drive stalled on a 3rd-and-11 with 2:19 left on the clock.
Instead of using their final time out to force the Cowboys to attempt the field goal earlier, the Giants let Dallas whittle down the last 19 seconds before the 2:00 warning. In the end, it didn’t matter, but still, the Giants passivity in that situation was somewhat surprising and disappointing.