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Monday, 20 October 2014

Dallas 31, New York 21: Three Things We Learned

The New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys renewed their long-standing rivalry with another exciting matchup which saw the Cowboys improve their record to 6-1 and the Giants moved to 3-4. Eli Manning, who entered the game 4-1 at the AT&T center since it opened in 2009, came off a rough game against the Philadelphia Eagles where he was sacked eight times and could not muster any type of offense. The Cowboys, who last week, surprisingly dominated the reigning Super Bowl champion Seahawks, could take the outright lead in the NFC East with the Eagles on their bye week.

The game started off in an encouraging fashion for the Giants, who rendered Dez Bryant to only 2 catches and 10 yards in the first half.  Despite an early 7-0 lead, the Giants scored 14 unanswered to take a 14-7 lead just before halftime. Dallas then marched back down the field thanks to a 10 play, 80 yard drive that took over 5:30 minutes.

By the second half, Dez Bryant was dominating Prince Amukamara, who drew the assignment of covering the Pro Bowler, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injured. Bryant finished with nine catches, 151 yards and narrowly missed a touchdown as he beat Amukamara on a beautiful 25 yard pass by Romo to Bryant, who made a difficult grab and dove into the endzone, only to have his knee down with the ball at the one yard line.

The Cowboys, who had vowed to limit DeMarco Murray’s touches, were using a running back by committee through the first two quarters. The second half saw the Cowboys reaping the benefits of that strategy as they opted for a more ball control offense. By the end of the game, Murray had his usual high workload, as he finished with 28 carries and had his seventh straight game with over 100 yards, a new NFL record.

The Giants had a hard time running the football but with a much better protection scheme this week, Eli Manning was sharper on his throws and had a solid game completing 21 of 33 throws for 248 yards and three scores.

In the end, it was the Cowboys ability to convert and defend on third downs that prevailed as the Cowboy were 9 of 14 on the money down, with the Giants only 5 of 13. The Cowboys kept themselves in third and medium to short because of their effectiveness on the ground. The Cowboys improved to 6-1, while the Giants fell to 3-4.

Here are the three deductions we can make after this game


1. The Cowboys are the best team in the NFC, bar none

Hate to say this and I am sure people are tired about the media slobbering all over Dallas, but there is no question that the Cowboys are the best team in the NFC. It all starts with their dominating offensive line that controls the tempo of the game. The Cowboys were second in time of possession entering the game at 34 minutes per contest and they nearly eclipsed that mark against the Giants with over 33 minutes.

What we’re seeing with Dallas dominating the trenches on offense is bordering on historical and this offensive line might go down as one of the best ever when it is all said and done. DeMarco Murray is reaping the benefits of the Cowboys finally relying on their thoroughbred running back. Opposing defenses are trying to stop the run with 8-man boxes, which will free up Dez Bryant and the emerging Terrance Williams for one-on-one matchups.

But where this team is excelling is on the defensive end. Every single media publication had Dallas as a bottom three defense. When I mean every single one, I absolutely mean every single one. And instead, Dallas has posted the 16th best DVOA entering Week 6, with a pass defense ranked 8th, according to Football Outsiders.

Sure, Dallas has some weaknesses. Their 30th ranked run defense, albeit stout against the Giants and Seahawks in the last two games, allowing 80 and 104 yards respectively, has been leaky for most of the season. And with only 7 sacks (27th in the league) and a 3.4 sack percentage, rushing the passer has been a struggle this season. But Rod Marinelli has schemed beautifully and gotten nice contributions from the likes of Barry Church, Rolando McClain and Justin Durant.

The Packers, Eagles and Cardinals could all lay claim to the best in the NFC after 7 weeks, but I have a hard time finding an aspect of those teams that is more dominant than the Dallas run game.


2. Odell Beckham Jr. will be a very good player

Boy, did the Victor Cruz injury suck. I love Cruz’s energy, leadership and overall perseverance to get to where he has. The Giants don’t win Super Bowl 46 without him. There’s no silver lining in an injury that devastating y to that good of a player and person, but it does give Beckham the opportunity to showcase his myriad of skills. Against the Giants, Beckham scored two touchdowns and he wasn’t just a go-route guy using his blazing speed. His first score looked like an option route where he cut inside and adjusted to the way he was defended and ran the other way to give Eli Manning and easy throwing lane. The second touchdown was a 5 yard hook route where he sat in a zone between two defenders. Troy Aikman mentioned that rookie receivers rarely have the awareness to sit in a zone, but rather they tend to run towards coverage. That was great awareness by Beckham Jr.

Beckham did a lot of his work in the slot, where many had thought Preston Wilson would slide to with Beckham split wide due to the injury to Cruz. The former LSU Tiger showed that he could be a terror in the slow and split out wide. Remember, he has 4.4 speed and was a big play guy in Baton Rouge.

On Sunday, I saw a player who showed refined route running and has very reliable hands too. Small sample size, sure, but he’s caught 12 of 15 targets and those numbers will only go up. Rookie receivers generally have more ebbs and flows than any other rookie position, but Beckham, may very well dispel that notion with the added looks he’s in line to get.


3. Giants running game missed Rashad Jennings

Andre Williams was a Doak Campbell award winner last season as the best running back in the league. When he was selected in the 4th round of the 2014 round, the Giants felt like they got a steal. Williams will be the running back of the future, as Jennings, who has dealt with injuries throughout his career is already 29 years old. But currently, he’s a plodding running back who is not able to find cut-back holes. Williams is averaging 3.2 yards per carry and was taken out of the game on more than a few occasions for Madden curse example extraordinaire,  Peyton freaking Hillis. Before injuring his knee, Jennings rushed for 394 yards and two touchdowns in five games. Jennings also had 11 catches for 109 years. Against the Cowboys, the running game was largely ineffective, but the Giants kept going to it, despite continued success in the air.

Jennings is eyeing a Week 9 return, but until then Ben McAdoo and Tom Coughlin must find ways to get creative with their current plodding run game. Otherwise, they will need to figure out when to ditch the run when it is not working, something they failed to do against the Cowboys.



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