Thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch:
• Josh Brent, to his credit, was outstanding in the absence of Jay Ratliff, but on Sunday, the game tape clearly showed what a dominate player Ratliff can be.
Where Ratliff is so productive is in his ability to play with his hands and the way he is able to control blockers. He is a nightmare for inside offensive linemen because he can play with both quickness and power, which is why defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes to keep him inside instead of putting him on the edge at end. He is a mismatch for centers and guards who are not use to handling that type of player.
Early in the game, after the first Dallas turnover, the Giants have the ball on third-and-2 at the Cowboys' 19-yard line. New York offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride makes an interesting call on a direct snap to Ahmad Bradshaw to try and fool the Cowboys front. At the snap, center David Baas tries to reach Ratliff hard to his right, but Ratliff doesn't allow him to get any push. Ratliff is on the edge of Baas before he knows it and is able to meet Bradshaw as he's trying to get around the corner, holding him to no gain and forcing the Giants to kick a field goal.
• The breakdown focus going into Sunday's game with New York was how the Cowboys secondary would match up against their opponent's explosive wideouts. I said this last week and I will say it again: The Giants receivers are the best route-runners in the NFL.
To have a rookie cornerback on the field trying to get stops was a great challenge, but Morris Claiborne has grown a little each week in learning how to cover routes and being in position to make contested plays, which says a lot about his ability.
I have to be honest, I really thought it was going to be a huge struggle for Claiborne to miss a large portion of training camp and be the starter at cornerback for this club. I thought that teams would find ways to get him in one-on-one situations and go after him down after down to try and ruin his confidence. To his credit, though, he stood tall against the Giants, not only in his ball skills, but also in being a more physical player on the edge.
The last two games provide a perfect example of Claiborne's week-to-week growth. Carolina's Brandon LaFell gave him fits when Claiborne had to play man coverage on crossing routes. On Sunday against the Giants, he got the same route from Domenik Hixon on a third-and-5 from the Cowboys' 28-yard line. Hixon comes from the right to left with Claiborne in a trail position, but instead of slowing up, Claiborne really drives on the route, closing the gap between himself and the receiver. As Manning delivers the ball, Claiborne is right there to keep him from getting the first down and holding the Giants to a field goal.
His two games this season against the Giants have been outstanding learning experiences for him going forward.
• I have been critical of defensive end Kenyon Coleman in the past because I thought he wore down too much as the season went along and made fewer and fewer plays. Coleman is one of those guys that Ryan has complete and total trust in, and on Sunday against the Giants, I saw why he does.
I thought this was Coleman's best game played since he has been back in Dallas. I'm sure that statically you can point out a better one, but on tape, he was actually a difference maker, and not of one of those defensive linemen that gets blocked every time the opponent snaps the ball.
Coleman has always been a powerful guy that didn't do much of anything else to get you excited. In this game, though, his stat line was impressive with five tackles and a forced fumble. He really did a nice job of getting off blocks and keeping himself free, which allowed him to get to the ball. There have been too many games where he didn't always play with that ability to shed blocks, but against New York, he was able to do so with some success.
On the Bradshaw fumble caused by Coleman, he is lined up over the Giants' best offensive linemen, guard Chris Snee, and at the snap, Coleman fights across Snee's face, controlling him along the line of scrimmage. Then, when Bradshaw decides to cut the ball back, Coleman uses a two-gap technique, shifting his weight from the right side to the left, sticking his left arm out into the midsection of Bradshaw and knocking the ball loose for Claiborne to recover. It was a textbook way to play the two-gap technique for Coleman and the result was a much-needed turnover.
We are to the halfway point of the season, so we will see if Coleman can continue this type of play or if will he fade away like he has before. Fortunately, there is a much better rotation of defensive ends for the Cowboys, meaning there is a good chance that he'll remain fresh in the upcoming games.
• You have to tip your hat to Ryan and what his defensive staff was able to do in once again shutting down this New York offense. When you face the Giants, you have to guard against the big play, and other than a 56-yard pass to Rueben Randle on the first series of the game, the visitors really struggled to get much going.
The one thing that has been consistent about Ryan's approach is that if you dress for him on game day, he will find a way to get you in the defensive mix. A prime example of this was even though the club signed linebacker Ernie Sims on Wednesday, he was effectively playing meaningful snaps on Sunday. In studying Sims last week, I thought that he would be able to help on some subpackages in coverage, and he was able to do that well. But, he also had some nice reps on special teams on the kickoff coverage unit.
And, Sims wasn't the only one who had to step up and play. Orie Lemon was called into duty when backup inside linebacker Dan Connor was sidelined early in the game with a strained neck. In talking to some folks that watch practice on a daily basis, I am 100 percent sure that Lemon didn't get enough reps with the first-team defense this week during practice to make you believe he was going to be as productive as he was in this game. But, it's been the mindset of this defense so far in 2012 not to feel sorry for itself because of injury, and to truly be ready to be the next man up.