New York Giants Week 17 Report Card: Grading Each Unit vs. the Dallas Cowboys

Louis MustoContributor IIIJanuary 3, 2012

New York Giants Week 17 Report Card: Grading Each Unit vs. the Dallas Cowboys

0 of 7

    The New York Giants clinched a playoff berth and the NFC East title with a decisive 31-14 victory over the hated Dallas Cowboys in convincing fashion on Sunday Night Football. With the season on the brink, Eli Manning led an offensive onslaught that guided the Giants to their first NFC East title since 2008.

    Victor Cruz contributed ] his best performance of the season—and no that’s not referring to his end zone salsa dancing—igniting the Giants offense with a 74-yard touchdown reception on a simple out route in the first quarter. Cruz finished the evening with six receptions for 178 yards and that first-quarter score.

    New York’s defense came out just as strong as the offense, keeping the Cowboys off the scoreboard and helping the Giants to the locker room at halftime with a 21-0 lead.

    Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell targeted Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo—who was struggling with a bruised right throwing hand—and Dallas' poor offensive line, bringing pressure on nearly every play. The game plan was successful. The Giants sacked Romo six times and forced him to turn the ball over twice.

    The Giants’ best game of the season has come at the perfect time, sending them into the playoffs with the proper momentum to steamroll through opposing teams en route to a Super Bowl if everything goes right. First, the Giants prepare for their first playoff game in three seasons against the Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at home. The Giants must keep that momentum rolling with much to prove in a game that can go either way.

    Here is the report card for each unit’s performance in the New York Giants’ Week 17 win over the Cowboys.

Eli Manning

1 of 7

    Eli Manning has proven time and time again that he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. His near-perfect evening against the Dallas Cowboys is just what the New York Giants needed to clinch the NFC East title at home inside MetLife Stadium.

    Manning has been the Giants’ most valuable player all season long and did not fail to step up when the Giants needed him most in Week 17. He devoured the Cowboys’ defense and tallied a 346-yard day through the air with three touchdowns on 24-of-33 passing.

    When the Cowboys pulled in close at 21-14, Manning slammed his foot on the gas pedal and led the Giants down the field again. He struck with the dagger in the fourth quarter with his record-breaking 15th fourth-quarter touchdown pass of the season to Hakeem Nicks to put the game away for the Giants.

    Grade: A+

Running Backs

2 of 7

    The New York Giants didn’t bring much of a running game for their Week 17 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. Luckily, they didn’t need it.

    With the exception of a 29-yard burst by Ahmad Bradshaw and Bradshaw’s impressive five-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, the Giants’ running backs struggled to contribute much on the ground.

    Still, they were great in the receiving game, as has been the case for the last few weeks. Fullback Henry Hynoski finished the night with four receptions for 31 yards and Ahmad Bradshaw added another second-quarter touchdown on a 10-yard reception from Manning.

    Grade: B-

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

3 of 7

    The New York Giants struck gold when they signed Victor Cruz prior to the 2010 season. Little did they know Cruz would record the greatest season ever for a Giants receiver.

    Cruz added to his record-breaking season with a division-clinching performance against the Dallas Cowboys. With six receptions, 178 yards and an exciting touchdown reception in the first quarter, Cruz made it easy to overlook the play of his fellow receivers.

    There’s no overlooking the great game Hakeem Nicks had though, catching five passes for 76 yards and capping off a career-year of his own with his seventh touchdown reception of the season.

    The Giants receivers did everything they needed to and cut through—and jumped over—the Cowboys’ defense all night.

    Grade: A

Offensive Line

4 of 7

    The New York Giants have needed solid offensive line play all season to make things easier on Eli Manning and the running backs. With the amount of pressure the Dallas Cowboys are known to bring on the quarterback, the offensive line was faced with a big task.

    It wasn’t the best night for the Giants’ offensive line, but a unit that has been patched together since the beginning of the 2011 season did a fantastic job for the second time against the Cowboys in pass protection.

    Manning was sacked just once, though he did face pressure numerous times throughout the night, and the offensive line enabled him enough time to have a stellar game for the Giants.

    In the run game, the offensive line was less successful. They struggled to open holes for the Giants running backs and forced the Giants to be one-dimensional for most of their Sunday night matchup with the Cowboys.

    Grade: C+

Defense

5 of 7

    There’s nothing that has been touted more negatively than the New York Giants defense. Rightfully so, the Giants defense earned it through weeks of atrocious play.

    In Week 17, the Giants defense stepped up in a big way at home against the Dallas Cowboys. Their strong play against both the pass and run paved the way to a much-needed victory and an NFC East title.

    While Tony Romo did pass for 289 yards and two scores, the Giants defense sacked him six times. Their unbearable pressure forced Romo to turn the ball over, including a costly interception by safety Antrel Rolle.

    On the ground, the Cowboys did not fare quite as well as they did in their first meeting—Felix Jones rushed for 106 yards on 16 carries—rushing for just 3.1 yards per carry on 16 carries.

    This performance was a positive sign heading into the postseason and was just the game this unit needed to uplift their spirits with a game against a good offense like the Atlanta Falcons.

    Grade: B

Special Teams

6 of 7

    As expected, the special teams units had little impact on the game for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

    A foolish personal foul penalty on Devin Thomas resulted in Cowboys points, but neither team was able to capitalize on anything else either unit gave them.

    Giants punter Steve Weatherford and Cowboys punter Chris Jones both struggled punting in the gentle drizzle, both punting for an average below 40 yards. The field goal kickers didn’t fare much better.

    Grade: C

Coaching

7 of 7

    A few weeks ago, the New York Giants were headed in the wrong direction. They had lost five of their last six and Tom Coughlin and his coaching staff were on the chopping block. Another second-half collapse was imminent.

    Tom Coughlin would not have it.

    After an abysmal loss to the last-place Washington Redskins in Week 15, Coughlin rallied his team together and guided them to two big victories against the Giants’ crosstown rivals, the New York Jets and this past Sunday against their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, with dominance from start to finish.

    Now, Coughlin has his team in the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, boasting a two-game winning streak and a balanced attack on both offense and defense that could possibly match up with any team they may meet.

    The Giants made a statement in Week 17 against the Cowboys and much of the credit goes to the coaching staff. Now, it’s a matter of whether Coughlin and his staff can keep their team motivated when every game is sudden death.

    Grade: A-