ReFo: Cowboys @ Giants, Week 12
It’s never a dull moment in the NFC East, unless of course you’re dulled by the ebbs and flows of mediocrity that has been the division race to this point in the season. The Dallas Cowboys came into the week a half game behind the idle Philadelphia Eagles, while the New York Giants were riding a four-game winning streak, and a win would tie them with the Cowboys at 5-6. Instead, the Cowboys got out to a lead, squandered it, and then sealed it again with a last-second field goal from Dan Bailey. Quarterback Tony Romo engineered a quality drive that lasted the last 4:45 of the game to send the Cowboys back to Dallas with a share of first place.
Here’s a look at the key performances from the game.
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
Romo and Dez Show
While it certainly wasn’t a dominant outing by any means, there’s no doubt where Romo looks during crunch time. Unfortunately, there were mixed results when targeting wide receiver Dez Bryant Sunday as he finished with 102 yards on nine catches but only a -1.5 receiving grade. The negatives stemmed from his three dropped passes, one of which led to Romo’s only interception of the day. Then there was his fumble that cost the Cowboys 20 yards early in the fourth quarter, ensuring a punt, and giving the Giants another opportunity to tie the game, which they eventually did. So while the game was sloppy for Bryant, he still came through with six first downs, including two critical third down conversions on the final drive.
For Romo, his +2.6 overall was his best grade since Week 5 against the Denver Broncos and he nearly capped it in style with his best throw of the day. He hit Bryant on a perfectly thrown seam route with 1:38 to go in the game, but the ball came loose before Bryant was able to “present the ball to Commissioner Goodell” or perform whatever actions necessary to ensure that a catch has been made in the NFL these days. Nevertheless, Romo converted on third down to WR Cole Beasley the very next play, and the game-winning drive was completed with Bailey’s kick. Look for Romo and Bryant to be one of the key storylines in the NFC East down the stretch.
Woeful at Linebacker
The last time we saw the Cowboys, linebackers Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims were getting demoralized on the ground by the New Orleans Saints and it appears that the bye week did little good to shore up those concerns. Carter graded at -4.6 against the run while Sims came in at -3.5. Carter once again seemed content with sitting at the second level and merely throwing a shoulder in the general direction of his oncoming blocker. He was sealed out of a number of plays as seen on a number of the Giants’ big gainers. Carter’s overall grade was saved by some stellar work in coverage (+2.2) that saw him make a nice read on a screen at the 2:00 mark of the second quarter after he’d already forced a fumble at the 9:29 mark of the quarter. Despite the positives, Carter’s most egregious error came with 4:41 to go in the third quarter as he not only lost track of TE Brandon Myers on the wheel route, but he and free safety Jeff Heath failed to touch him down and Myers got up and scampered into the end zone for the Giants’ first touchdown of the game. As for Sims, like Carter, he spent most of his day watching the action while getting blocked as the second level. Perhaps more beef is needed up front, but the Cowboys linebackers are having some serious issues shedding blocks, particularly in their last two games.
Weak Up Front
The return of defensive tackle Jason Hatcher was a good step in the right direction, but the Cowboys still showed they lack the depth to win the battle in the trenches on the defensive side of the ball. There are certainly some nice pieces with the usual pressures from DE Demarcus Ware, Hatcher’s stellar performance, or DE George Selvie making the occasional play, but the defensive front was moved throughout the game making for some clear lanes for Giants runners. DT Nick Hayden continued to struggle to the tune of a -2.7 overall grade including -3.0 on the ground. He’s now grading at -19.8 on the season, second-worst among defensive tackles. Among the backups, DT Corey Irvin graded at -2.6 against the run in his first action of the season while DE Everette Brown graded at -2.0 on his 11 run snaps. The Cowboys are in dire need of a run-stopping presence in the middle of their defense.
New York – Three Performances of Note
Thomas All Over the Field
Giants cornerback Terell Thomas has quietly played some good football in recent weeks and he continued Sunday with a +3.3 overall grade. He got involved early with two stops in the running game while playing tight coverage on his five targeted passes, save for the 20-yard touchdown that saw him lose track of TE Jason Witten. Thomas did a fine job against the Cowboys’ wide receiver screens, first reading and forcing a throwaway at the 3:38 mark of the second quarter and later making a beautiful play to get outside Bryant’s block to make a tackle on a screen to WR Cole Beasley with 14:09 to go in the fourth quarter. While it won’t show up on the stat sheet due to a roughing the passer penalty by DE Mathias Kiwanuka, Thomas showed his playmaking ability as he stripped Beasley after an in-route early in the third quarter. The negated turnover certainly would have been a game changer as the Cowboys went on to score their third and final touchdown on the drive.
More Linebacker Struggles
While the Cowboys linebackers struggled, the Giants corps had issues of their own. MLB Jon Beason graded at -4.4, including -2.7 against the run to go with his two missed tackles. He got lost in coverage as well, namely at the 11:59 mark of the second quarter when RB DeMarco Murray ran away from him on an out-route and he later vacated his zone on Witten’s second touchdown early in the third. The outside linebackers weren’t much better as Jacquian Williams graded at -1.4 overall while Keith Rivers (-1.2) lost Murray on an out-route of his own early in the game. The trio combined for only two stops of the team’s 22 as the linebacker unit continues to show up as a weakness on seemingly a yearly basis.
Shuffling the Line
When backup center Jim Cordle went down after only 25 snaps, the Giants moved LG Kevin Boothe to take his place. While the majority of his +3.2 overall grade took place at left guard, he showed his versatility by sliding over and holding his own. It’s not foreign territory for Boothe who played 61 snaps there in Week 1 while also starting a number of games back in 2011, but the ability to take over as pivot man has great value on any offensive line. Taking Beatty’s place was third-year guard James Brewer who notched a career-high +1.1 grade. He had a number of quality blocks when asked to pull and held his own on his 25 pass block attempts. The offensive line has had their issues this season and their depth continues to get challenged.
– Romo was only pressured on 12 of his 43 drop-backs, but four of them became sacks.
– Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick was in coverage against WR Victor Cruz for three targets, surrendering only one catch for 5 yards.
– Giants RB Andre Brown rushed for a career-high 127 yards and he did so without forcing a missed tackle
PFF Game Ball
Tony Romo made big throws at key times and he earns the game ball this week.
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