In case you haven’t heard, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin wants to make an example out of his team’s defense.
No, that doesn’t mean that the NFL’s 31st-ranked defense—which, as defensive coordinator Perry Fewell vowed, is crawling out of the bottom of the league—is going to be worked extra hard this week in practice.
Rather, Coughlin wants the rest of the team, particularly the offense, who didn’t have one of their better games and came up short in a 16-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last week, to use what happened to the defense as inspiration as they prepare for this week’s rematch against the Dallas Cowboys.
Here is Coughlin’s explanation to reporters at his Monday press conference about why he is using his defense as an example to help the offense get over any feelings of self-pity:
“The point that I made with our team today was that a week ago, our defense was upset and embarrassed. They hadn’t played well. They really focused well and practiced well. [They] put their nose to the grindstone. Their pride was on the line and they played better.
“I am hoping that the offense will respond in the exact same way this week, and I am hoping that the defense will continue to improve and that special teams will improve and that our offense will get themselves back on track [to] where we can have all three groups contributing.”
He is not alone in hoping that the defense’s turnaround, even if it did come in a losing effort, sparks something with this team. Another loss and the Giants will equal last year’s six-game losing streak that came at the end of the season.
The good news, if there is any, is that it doesn’t appear as though the team has given up on the season.
Safety Antrel Rolle is a big believer that the Giants can be the team that dominated and dazzled in a Week 4 45-14 thrashing of Washington in a nationally televised game and can be a team that runs the table.
“Absolutely, I think it’s a possibility,” Rolle said during his weekly radio spot on WFAN (via CBS New York). “There’s no doubt in my mind. But in order for it to be a possibility, we have to go out there and play as a team. All three phases have to be on the same page at the same time.”
That might be asking a lot from a team that’s been through the physical and emotional wringer, but at this point, the Giants have nothing to lose if they can somehow lay it all out there on the line—against a division opponent, no less.
Hey, anything can happen on any given Sunday—just look at how Washington, the same team the Giants dominated in Week 4, topped the Cowboys in Week 8 or how St. Louis held Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to just one touchdown in a 22-7 upset special last week.
The Giants will face the Cowboys for the 105th time in the regular season. The Cowboys lead the series, 60-42-2, and are the winners of the first game of the series this year, a 31-21 decision on Oct. 19.
New York will look to avoid being swept by the Cowboys for the second year in a row. If they fail in this quest, they will have been swept by Dallas in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the series’ regular-season history since the 1992 and 1993 seasons.
|Cowboys vs. Giants: The Competitive Edge|
The Game Plan
Giants on Offense
Look for the Giants offense, which clearly fell off the horse last week against the 49ers, to go right back to the area that is supposed to be a unit strength: the passing game.
The Cowboys’ defensive front, while not exactly star-studded, has played good and sound fundamental football and has done a solid job with gap control and exhibiting patience.
The Dallas defensive front will also likely take a page out of the 49ers’ game plan from last week and run a heavy dose of stunts (twists) in an attempt to create confusion for the Giants’ offensive line, which must do a better job of communicating this week, if it is to keep quarterback Eli Manning’s uniform clean.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is starting to draw bracket coverage, something we saw last week, when he had a safety up top and a corner underneath.
Yet the rookie, through sheer will and determination, still found a way to shake free in the second half of last week’s game, in which he finished with 93 yards on six catches.
With Beckham likely to be doubled up again, Rueben Randle needs to find a way to capitalize against the single coverage he is likely to receive. He did so last week against the 49ers’ very good secondary, posting a career-high 112 yards on seven receptions.
While the 112 yards receiving is impressive, what’s not impressive—and this has been a problem with Randle ever since he saw his role increase—is his yards after catch (YAC), which last week amounted to just 36 yards.
As for the running game—yes, the Giants are still going to try to achieve that perfect balanced attack of run/pass—it was baffling as to why offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo kept dialing up running plays that went to the right side of the formation manned by guard John Jerry and tackle Charles Brown.
If the Giants want to run the ball, it would behoove them to run it to the left side, behind Will Beatty. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Beatty is the offense’s best run-blocker, having earned a 2.3 grade in that area.
No one else’s score comes remotely close to Beatty’s, and according to the directional charts, running back Rashad Jennings is averaging 7.5 yards per carry when running behind the left tackle hole, per PFF, his best production by far.
Granted, the Giants can’t send all of their runs to one side, and it will also come down to matchups. It just so happens that Beatty’s matchup, according to the Cowboys' depth chart, is scheduled to be defensive end Jeremy Mincey, he of the minus-3.6 run-blocking grade from PFF, though the Giants and Beatty can also expect to see some of Anthony Spencer sprinkled into the mix.
Giants on Defense
The last time these two teams met, Dallas finished with 423 net yards of offense, which included 156 rushing yards and 267 yards in the passing game.
The first preview from earlier this year examined the threat running back DeMarco Murray, the league’s rushing-yardage leader with 1,233 yards, poses, as well as how to stop him, which the Giants did not do in that first meeting.
Four weeks later, the Giants defense, which won’t have linebacker Jon Beason or cornerback Prince Amukamara, and which might not have defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf) or linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion), can expect to see a heavy dose of Murray and the Cowboys' rushing game because the Giants have yet to prove that they can stop the opponent’s running game.
The problem with the Giants’ run defense, as it’s currently configured, is that the guys who have the best chance of stopping the run—defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins—can be walled off so that the running play can be successfully sent in the opposite direction.
One solution might be to move linebacker Devon Kennard, who, per PFF (subscription required), graded out with a 1.6 run-defense grade, to the opposite side of Pierre-Paul and Hankins to at least give themselves a chance at playing better contain.
Kennard, who, per PFF, played 55 of the 68 defensive snaps, finished second on the team with nine tackles last week and three stops for zero or negative yardage.
Now, let’s talk about the Cowboys’ passing game, which Washington found a way to slow down, recording five sacks against Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, the most sacks allowed in a single game this season by the Cowboys’ offensive line, according to PFF.
One of the things that Washington did an excellent job of was disguising its blitzes to where it always outnumbered Dallas’ blockers.
Let’s look at this 12-yard sack of Romo by Washington safety Brandon Merriweather.
Before the snap, Washington is showing a potential rush of six men, with Merriweather lined up on the right end of his team’s formation.
Romo, who correctly anticipates the blitz, calls for an audible that brings tight end Jason Witten from the Cowboys’ left side of the formation to the right side.
When the ball is snapped, Riley drops into coverage. Meanwhile, on the right side of the Washington formation, there are three defenders charging and only two Cowboys to block.
To make matters even worse for Dallas, Washington runs a stunt that saw linebacker Trent Murphy (No. 93) and defensive end Frank Kearse (No. 73) crisscross, leaving Merriweather an unabated path to Romo.
This resulted in Washington having the numbers advantage, as Dallas’ left guard and left tackle were unable to block the three Washington defenders charging the quarterback. The result is a too-easy sack for Merriweather.
Here is one more look at the fine job done by Washington. On this play, an 11-yard sack by Riley, Washington is showing blitz with seven potential pass-rushers.
The Cowboys, who have six blockers, are likely anticipating that one of the Washington pass-rushers is going to drop into coverage, the most likely candidate being linebacker Keenan Robinson (No. 52), who is the “Mike” linebacker in this formation.
Robinson does come on the blitz, but what made this play is that Riley, whom running back Lance Dunbar is trying to slow down, sheds the block and is able to get after Romo, who has started to break the pocket in order to buy time (or pick up rushing yardage). Riley cleans up on the 11-yard sack.
|Cowboys at Giants: Injury Report (as of 11/19/2014)|
|DT Cullen Jenkins (calf) - DNP||CB Tyler Patmon (knee/ankle) - DNP|
|RT Justin Pugh (quad) - DNP||QB Tony Romo (back) - DNP|
|LB Jacquian Williams (concussion) - DNP||DT Josh Brent (groin) - Full|
|DE Mathias Kiwanuka (knee) - Limited||DE Tyrone Crawford (knee) - Full|
|CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (hamstring/back) - Full||OT Doug Free (foot) - Full|
|OL Geoff Schwartz (toe) - Full||DT Nick Hayden (shoulder) - Full|
|LB Rolando McClain (knee) - Full|
|Sources: NY Giants, Dallas Cowboys|
Giants Key Injury: RT Justin Pugh
On Monday, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin urged members of the media not to "make a mountain out of a molehill" regarding right tackle Justin Pugh’s quad injury.
Well, Pugh not only landed on the injury report, which was expected, but he also didn’t practice, which was unexpected.
So, Coach, about that mountain…
Seriously, while Pugh has had his share of struggles this year, if he can’t play on Sunday, the Giants could be in trouble.
The obvious replacement for Pugh, if he can’t go, is Geoff Schwartz, who was just activated off the temporary injured reserve list this week.
Schwartz, who has slowly increasing his practice reps in preparation to resume a full-time starting role, told reporters that if he has to play a full game, he would be ready both physically and mentally.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I have done this before,” he said. “I have played sometimes sparingly and then had to play right away, like I did last year. You find ways to do it, and I’ll be fine.”
That’s all well and good, but there still has to be concern about rust. Although Schwartz has been in all the meetings, the same can be said of Charles Brown, and we all know what happened when he had to go in for Pugh after he was forced out by the injury.
The good news is that Schwartz, who, by the way, is on the Giants’ injury report but who was listed as having taken his full-practice workload, is a lot more talented than Brown, so it’s unlikely to expect a repeat of the disaster that ensued when Pugh left the lineup.
The bad news is that there has yet to be a player coming off an injury that kept him sidelined for as long as Schwartz was who immediately stepped into a game and was in midseason form.
This Giants team ain’t dead yet, folks. It showed that last week, by keeping the score close against a 49ers team that, on paper, at least, is stronger at most every unit than the Giants.
The defense did a good job of making quarterback Colin Kaepernick uncomfortable in the pocket, something it will look to build on against Tony Romo this week.
On offense, Manning has a short memory. He will shake off last week’s debacle. The potential return of Geoff Schwartz to the lineup—his status is still to be determined—could go a long way toward stabilizing the offensive line’s interior if the coaches remove John Jerry from the right guard spot.
While a loss is a loss no matter how it comes, the fact that the Giants were able to at least stand toe-to-toe with the 49ers after having their collective derrieres handed to them in prior losses has to be a focal point of stopping a five-game losing streak dead in its track.
This game has all the fixings of being a close one. While the Cowboys will probably deny looking past the Giants, it could be a challenge for them not to start thinking about their upcoming short workweek that cumulates with a game against the Philadelphia Eagles that could ultimately decide the division winners.
All it will take for the Giants is a solid, 60-minute effort from all three phases of the game. Each phase has shown it can do it, and this could be the week the Giants finally put it all together.
Expect another close contest that will go down to the fourth quarter. This time, however, the Giants will be the team standing on the right side of the won-loss column.
Giants 27, Cowboys 23
Season-Prediction Record: 7-3
Advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted (subscription required).
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football and The SportsXchange. All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced. Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.