IRVING, Texas– The long flight back from New Jersey gave me plenty of time to digest the tape of this loss to the Giants. The typical wait for Jason Garrett's usual Monday press conference gave me some more time.
So it's fair to say I've spent a good bit of the last 24 hours breaking down this latest Cowboys loss, and there's plenty to go over. Some of it is good, a lot of it is bad – as might be expected. There are things to build off of here, though, and it's always worthwhile to take a second look.
Here are some of my biggest impressions from the game tape of Cowboys-Giants:
- At least for one Sunday, Darren McFadden was what this offensive line needed – a finisher. I have felt all along that McFadden was the right man for the job, but up until this game he was far from that. What I especially liked was the toughness with which he carried the ball. There was some DeMarco Murray in the way he played and this line fed off that. McFadden had been playing soft, but there were some third-down runs and goal line carries where he was far from that. You could tell in the way that Scott Linehan was calling the game that he was feeling it as well. McFadden and the line were getting into a rhythm against a Giants front seven and no matter what Linehan called – they were going to have success.
- Can't find much fault for the play of La'el Collins and what he was able to do in this start. Early in the game, you could see that Travis Frederick was interested in keeping one eye to his side of the field in pass protection and was there to help him when needed. On the opening drive, Collins was late to adjust to a run-through blitzer, and if he would have made that pickup – I believe you would have seen Matt Cassel connect with Jason Witten for a touchdown. But overall I thought his awareness and protection were good. He was physical in the running game, and there was only one snap where I felt like he could have gotten to the second level and executed a block but was unable to make that happen.
- I had my concerns about Brandon Carr coming into this game and his inability to handle inside breaking routes like the Giants like to run. It appeared that they felt like it was better to take some shots down the field instead of running those slants. Odell Beckham Jr. did catch one on him for nine yards, but that was it for those routes. A bigger concern coming out of the game was that the Giants only converted three times on third down, but two of those conversions were against Carr. As a matter of fact, Carr was targeted five times and the Giants ended up with four receptions. My intent is to point out that with the way that Morris Claiborne is playing, we could see opponents focusing more on attacking Carr than going the other way.
- Jason Garrett might not be able to say it, so I will do it for him. The call against Devin Street was awful and should have never been made. Street did exactly what he was coached to do when throwing a screen pass: engage the defender, maintain position and then block your rear off. What makes matters worse was that this wasn't one of those wide receiver screens that we see nowadays, but an old fashioned screen pass to a running back behind the line of scrimmage. The tape showed that Street's technique was perfect, and I promise the league will be sending the Cowboys notice that the call was incorrectly made -- thereby taking a touchdown off the board.
* I was starting to wonder if Brice Butler was capable of making a play without it being a vertical round, and on third down late in the third quarter, he showed me he could. The route came out of a bunch formation on the left side with Butler driving inside against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Matt Cassel was able to move in the pocket to his right, then just rifled the ball side-armed to Butler in a very tight window. At full speed, Butler was able to extend both his hands out in front of his body and pull the ball in. When I first saw the play, I thought that he absolutely had no shot to grab it but he did. It was a gutsy throw by Cassel and an even better play from Butler, who is looking for more of a role in this receiver rotation.
- I thought the coaches did a nice job in the off week of coming up for a package to get Lucky Whitehead the ball other than just an outside screen. The use of misdirection by running the Jet Sweep was perfect to get him the ball quickly, allowing him to be at full speed when he hit the corner. I also like what they did by motioning him into the backfield and using him on the toss sweep. All he needs is a block or two at the point of attack and his quickness can get him five to six yards down the field. Each week I think we are on the verge of seeing a new wrinkle or two from the coaching staff in order to take advantage of his big play ability.
- I have to give the Giants some credit for the blitzes they were able to come up with at the correct moment in the game. The play that Brandon Meriweather was able to make on 3rd-and-8 late in the fourth quarter was a huge play. Cassel knew by their alignment that he was going to get pressure inside, and with Terrance Williams running the slant front side – he had a chance for a touchdown. Cassel moved Jason Witten into the backfield to help with protection, which meant they had to turn one guy loose -- that just happened to be Meriweather, who was the furthest from the ball. It was the absolute best way to handle the blitz when they were bringing more than you had to have block. Meriweather took the correct angle and arrived just as the ball was leaving Cassel's hand to tip it away. What should have been a touchdown turned into fourth down and a stop by the Giants.
- When Jason Garrett was asked about what breakdowns his kickoff unit had on the Dwayne Harris game-winning, 100-yard return – Garrett correctly said "We got blocked." The tape showed Danny McCray getting pushed inside, Kyle Wilber engaged with a blocker unaware that the ball is going right by him and Anthony Hitchens getting blocked at the point of attack. To make matters worse, J.J. Wilcox at safety appeared to not close on the play, and that allowed Harris to get to the outside and down the sideline. With the ball only getting to the goal line, you knew that Harris was going to take a shot at the return, and given the Giants' execution of their assignments, it paid off for them.
- In my Scout's Eye story from Sunday night, I was critical of the play of Tyrone Crawford. I was under the impression that Crawford didn't have one of his better games, but that was not correct on my part after watching the tape. I will maintain that there were some plays where I thought he could have done better, because I thought there were too many snaps where he was washed out of the play. What happened was that they were playing a scheme where the defensive line were angling or slanting in a specific direction to handle the run. Crawford was just playing his technique -- as were the other defensive linemen -- and the Giants caught them up front with their movement and were able to ride them out of the hole. When Crawford did attack his gap without movement – he was where he needed to be and was able to maintain his position to finish the play. From the press box I initially saw this differently.
- When there is an interception, there is always plenty of blame to go around. On the play where Rodgers-Cromartie brought it back for a pick-six – I put that more on Cassel for making a late throw more than I did for the route by Williams. There is no doubt that Williams should have come back to the ball, and I think he tried to do so -- but Rodgers-Cromartie was all over him on the break. Doug Free also shouldn't have got pushed back into Cassel, which might have caused the ball to come out wobbly. On the play, Rodgers- Cromartie was playing inside technique and as soon as he saw Williams turn out – he was driving around him toward the spot. Rodgers-Cromartie put himself in position to make that interception as he did on the one he grab in front of Brice Butler. Both of those passes could have been easily dropped, but he was able to snatch them like a receiver.[embeddedad0]
- It doesn't happen often, but it appears that Sean Lee busted on the coverage on the crossing route to Rueben Randle that resulted in a 24-yard gain in the second quarter. At first I thought that maybe Barry Church froze on the play and didn't pick up Randle across the formation, but that wasn't the case. Lee should have been in zone coverage and instead he chased the receiver into the flat and Randle was able to work the middle of the field to make the catch and run.
- Let me just say this: until you have spent any time on those sidelines, it's really hard to understand what really happens in those games. Thanks for reading.