Comebacks R Us.
Well, ‘Comebacks R Romo’, to be exact. On a night where the sluggishness and malaise from a late-season bye clearly affected the majority of the team, quarterback Tony Romo and the Cowboys toyed with the emotions of the New York Giants before cruelly snatching the win out of the hands of their dejected younger brothers. Dallas wore a cloak of ineffectiveness throughout most of the first half, like a warm and tattered blanket on an evening expected to have a chill in the air.
Fortunately for their dreams of division championships and bye weeks, they realized that neither the night nor the Giants were too cool to confront after all. The Cowboys shed their hunched over, defensive posture and fought their way back from two separate 11-point deficits to pull out a 31-28 victory. The defeat ethered the Giants 2014 season, eliminating them from all playoff scenarios with their eighth loss of the season.
With exactly three minutes remaining on the clock, down by 4 and starting at their own 20, the Cowboys marched down the field with relative ease to enact their fourth come-from-behind victory on the season. When Romo found receiver Dez Bryant in the end zone with just 61 seconds remaining for the wideout’s 50th career touchdown grab, it would complete the 27th game-winning drive of the quarterback’s career. That mark is the most by any QB since Romo took over the starting gig in 2006.
Romo was rarely off the mark on the day, completing 18 of 26 passes for 275 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating of 143.4 was his highest of the season and marked the ninth consecutive game with a rating of 93.5 or above. For the tenth out of ten opportunities, Romo completed over 60% of his attempts, also pacing the league. Considering how abysmal the offense looked without Romo against Arizona a month ago, it’s a wonder how the signal caller isn’t garnering more attention in the league MVP race; the 8-3 Cowboys are only behind two teams in overall win percentage across the NFL.
His numbers equate to a 12.36 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt score, his highest since the team’s shootout with Denver in Week 5 of 2013. However, Romo didn’t do it without help, and the win didn’t come in a neatly wrapped package with balloons and a ribbon. Here’s a look at The (rest of the) Good, The Bad and The Ugly from last night’s exciting win.
Bryant turned in his usual sharp performance, leaving further behind the two back-to-back stinkers in the Cowboys losses. The wideout secured two of Romo’s four scores, on seven receptions out of nine targets. He made contested catches over the middle and shrugged off a shot where two Giants defenders had thought they jarred the ball loose. He sealed the outside wall of the alley on a big Demarco Murray run near the end of the third quarter.
On Bryant’s first touchdown, he lined up inside the numbers as the split end out of 21 personnel. Bryant ran a slant across the middle, then extended his route as Romo rolled right and directed traffic. After the catch, he kept to the sideline then turned up the field before absorbing a hit at the goal line, but making it into the end zone.
On the game-winning drive, Bryant caught three of Romo’s five completions; doing his job when it mattered the most. On the first play, Bryant ran a simple six-yard button hook that gained four yards and got the drive started. Later in the drive, on 1st and 10 from the Giants 21, Dallas ran the exact same play. This time, Bryant caught it at four yards and made the first defender miss, gaining another four yards and putting Dallas in the very advantageous down and distance of second and two.
The next play was the second “all the time in the world” play for the Cowboys and the winning strike. Bryant was in slot left on this play, with a motioning Murray to his left and Cole Beasley in the slot in between Witten and Williams. After Romo pump-faked, stepped up in the pocket, wiggled, did his taxes, checked Reddit and do-si-do’d, Bryant worked himself free going left towards the back pylon. He secured the pass as he fell to the ground and one-upped the opponent on the opposite side of the field, Odell Beckham, Jr. Beckham made a highlight reel catch in the second quarter that will be talked about for a while. Bryant made the catch that counted, and made sure Beckham’s team also caught the ‘L’.
Once again, Beasley shines in limited opportunity. Beasley reeled in both of his targets on the evening, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. He has a 81.8% catch rate and hasn’t dropped a pass since Week 9 of 2013. His 45 yard reception in the third quarter brought Dallas to within 4 points midway through the third quarter after the defense had made four straight stops on the Giants offense but to that point Dallas had failed to close the gap.
Out of the pistol 11 formation (one tight end, one running back) Beasley lined up in the left slot, inside Terrance Williams. He ran an in and out double move, completely losing Giants’ CB Jayron Hosley, then avoided a diving tackle attempt of Zack Bowman before racing past the safety Quinton Demps. The catch was the longest of Beasley’s career.
Later in the game, Beasley took his night up a notch with a 21 yard reception that moved Dallas into Giants’ territory on the game-winning drive. That gave him two of the Cowboys’ five explosive passing plays for the game. The Cowboys have done a phenomenal job of utilizing their secondary weapons in big games, and down the stretch, they all will be big. Little Cole Beasley is a threat.
In 2014, Harris has been a shell of himself when it comes to the return game. It looks like the bye week did him good, because it was 2013 Harris all over again last night. He didn’t break a big one, but consistently gained positive yardage on punt returns. More importantly, his vision and aggressive returned as he identified creases and attacked them.
Harris averaged 17 yards on four punt returns which is even more impressive considering his long was only 20 yards. That means each punt received, he effectively affected field position; a must for a team that is struggling to get off the field.
Once again, McClain proved that the Cowboys staged a coup on the rest of the league by bringing in McClain off the scrap-heap to replace Sean Lee. McClain led the Cowboys in tackles, again, with 11 on the game. Two of those, were brilliant run defenses that were tackles-for-loss (TFLs).
The most impressive part of McClain’s performance is that in his 11 tackles (10 solo, 1 assisted), McClain accrued a mind-boggling 10 defensive stops. A stop is a play where the defense prevents the offense from gaining the necessary yardage to consider a play “a success”. That means less than four yards on first and 10, less than 60% of necessary yardage on second down and preventing a first on either third or fourth downs.
McClain had 10 of them, including the play that sealed the game; meeting Rashad Jennings at the yard marker on fourth down and keeping the Giants running back from turning and extending past the marker. The play was initially called a first down, but the reviews showed McClain wrapping up Jennings and overpowering him as he tried to get the final few inches.
The Cowboys simply cannot get off the field on third down. This is going to be a significant problem if the trend continues and Dallas faces more diverse offenses. The Giants started out the game going four for four on their opening drive. A failure to stop a third and one fullback dive allowed the Giants to score on a play where the refs missed a blatant false start. One the next drive,
On their second drive, the Giants completed a 3rd and 12 to their backup tight end who was able to get past the yard marker after being hit short of it. The very next play was the Beckham one-handed catch.
Two more conversions took place on the following drive, eight and six yards respectively, allowing the Giants to score three touchdowns on their first three possessions. Dallas was finally able to “get off the field” on New York’s fourth drive, where a false start pushed them to 3rd and 14 before Jeremy Mincey recorded the second half of back-to-back sacks for the previously unimpressive Dallas pass rush. New York finished the game 11-16 on third downs and Dallas’ conversion stop percentage once again dipped below last year’s atrocious pace.
The situational defense was also bad when Dallas was trying to close out the game. A great punt coverage play pinned the Giants at their 7 yard line with 9 minutes remaining in the fourth. The Giants had been completely shut down since their third drive of the game, but the “crucial” drive saw Dallas’ defense fail. New York ate six minutes off the clock, overcoming a 2nd and 14 and a 3rd and 7.
New York got it’s 11th third down conversion of the game on third and goal from the one, using the most common play in the history of the league. A play action run after being stuffed twice saw tight end Adrien Robinson left wide open after pretending to run block. It is rather befuddling how a play so obvious works so well, and so consistently against the Cowboys defense over the years.
Dallas was unable to garner a stop when it mattered, putting the pressure on the pressure-proof Romo.
Part of the problem with the situational defense was the putrid efforts of the pass rush and the blitz packages for the first three drives. For all the time Romo had in the pocket down the stretch once the Giants’ D-Line tired, Eli Manning was afforded similar time to start the game.
Early evaluation by Pro Football Focus has the Cowboys getting only 15 QB pressures on the game; two sacks, three hits and 10 hurries. That’s their lowest total since the first Giants game, when they had zero sacks and only 10 total pressures. It seems like the Giants offensive line just has the number of the Cowboys this year.
With the quick-play offense of the Eagles coming to town, Dallas will need to be careful. Their blitz packages didn’t help last night, and the Mark Sanchez is the type of quarterback one would want to pressure and still leave multiple guys in coverage. The Eagles screen and dump off game might be the toughest facet of their offense to defend and sending extra rushers, especially unsuccessfully, is walking right into their trap.
Missed penalties in crucial situations. Failed reviews with obvious evidence. Making Jason Garrett redder. Nuff said.