Giants-Cowboys ‘Things I Think’: Giants have strayed from their winning path

Ahead of Thursday’s game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, I laid out what I felt the Giants had a narrow path to overthrow the heavily favored Cowboys.

Here is part of what I wrote:

How can the Giants pull a Cowboys surprise on Thursday?

You must play the Game on your terms. They must be able to follow the formula that has allowed them to win seven of the ten times they have hit the post this season.

That formula included winning the sales battle, which they did. But that also included winning from third (and fourth) down and in the red zone, playing clean football and taking chances.

You couldn’t do those things against the cowboys. Consequently, the Giants lost a game. We’ve talked a lot lately about how narrow the margin for error is in the Giants, especially as injuries have increased. Thursday was an example of how the Giants, as brave, determined and resourceful as they are, have a hard time connecting with good teams when they’re missing opportunities and can’t stick to their script.

The Giants missed chances in this game.

On Jame Gillan’s first punt of the game, Nick McCloud missed a chance to pin Dallas at the 1-yard line and dropped the ball into the end zone. That started a day of “almost” for the Giants.

Dallas turned the ball down at his own 40-yard line on his first possession of the game, with an odd decision by head coach Mike McCarthy to backfire.

The Giants were only able to turn that into a 57-yard field goal from Graham Gano, though an apparent 24-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Jones to Isaiah Hodgins was nullified by a questionable illegal man downfield penalty on right tackle Tire Phillips have been done.

Like the call or not, the call was made and ultimately cost the Giants four points.

On Dallas’ second possession, Rodarius Williams intercepted Dak Prescott to end a cowboy drive at the Giants 31. The Giants’ offense went three-and-out. That wasn’t a small field, but it was a turnover the Giants didn’t capitalize on.

That’s two first-quarter chances for the Giants and just three points.

In the second quarter, the Giants pinned Dallas at their own 7-yard line after a punt that included a Cowboys penalty. Unable to turn the field, the Giants conceded 93 yards for Dallas in 11 games for their only first-half points.

Before that drive even started in Dallas, Daniel Jones missed an open Richie James on third and fourth throws that would have been a giant first down.

Dallas went 75 yards in 14 games for a touchdown to open the third quarter. These cowboys’ drive probably never should have gotten off the ground. Kayvon Thibodeaux was a stunner all day, but in the second game he missed a sack that turned into a 5-yard run from Prescott and helped Dallas start their drive.

At the Giants’ 37-yard line, there was a questionable holding call to third- and seventh-place Darnay Holmes that kept the drive alive. However, the Giants also failed to stop the Cowboys on a third and 12th goal, giving up a touchdown on a third and goal from the 15-yard line. Honestly, that should never happen – even with a depleted secondary.

The Giants defense struggled all day third behind, many with thirds and long situations, allowing Dallas to convert 7 of 11 (63.6 percent).

On Sunday, the Giants were second in the league in red-zone defense, giving up touchdowns just 43.59 percent of the time. Sunday, Dallas went 4 of 4 on red-zone opportunities.

Next came the failed fourth-and-one conversion, and it really was the setback. The score at the time was 14-13 Dallas, and the Cowboys then scored consecutive touchdowns to open the game.

“I thought it was a good shot at winning first place but we didn’t get it,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “I thought we needed to change the momentum a bit after the second half. They went down and scored a goal. I thought Mike [Kafka] had a good game ready to go. We had an opportunity. I thought it would be the right thing.”

It was. The players just didn’t run. That includes the quarterback, the intended receiver, and whoever the 11th man was supposed to be in the game but never made it onto the field. The lack of an 11th man may have been why Jones rushed a bit and strayed from target.

Jones, who threw a slightly flawed pass, and Saquon Barkley, who should have caught the ball, both tried to accept the blame. Which is good, because both deserve some of the blame.

Jones needs to throw a better ball. The image above shows how much room Barkley had to run if Jones could have hit him in the crotch instead of putting the ball on his back hip.

“It was just a bad shot,” Jones said. “I have to tell him. bad throw. Can’t miss this.

“You want to be in situations like that. They want the ability to convert these and make the game. We have to do it better and I have to do it better.”

Still, Barkley is the Giants’ best player. They designed a play to get him the ball on the biggest play of the game, Jones gave him a throw to get with either hand and the ball needs to be caught.

“I tried to get down and secure the catch, but I couldn’t make the game,” Barkley said. “Looking back, they went down and scored a goal. He trusted that we would do it on the fourth down and one and that we would make the game and I didn’t make the game for us there.

Former Giants coach Tom Coughlin always said that players need to play above the Xs and Os at critical moments to win games. In this case, Barkley didn’t, and it proved to be the missed opportunity that opened the floodgates for the Cowboys.

“I think we missed some chances,” said Daboll. “We have to do a better job. It starts with me.”

Now what for the Giants?

At 7-4, the Giants would be the sixth seed in the seven-team NFC Playoffs field. However, the Giants have lost three out of four games and FiveThirtyEight now have their playoff odds down to just 47 percent.

Coach Brian Daboll was testy Thursday night, briefly with some of his responses to questions from reporters making the trip to Texas. However, he did provide a lengthy response on what the Giants could do to get back on track.

“Just come back, do the same things we do every week. Get ready to play a game, have a rest. It was obviously a tough 12 days – we didn’t get the results we were looking for. But I think we just need to rest a bit, mentally recover, physically recover, come back on Monday and get ready for another division game,” Daboll said. “They don’t get any easier. Every week is tough and we stick to our training, our preparation, all the things we need to do to keep going and give ourselves an opportunity to win a game. It’s the ups and downs of a season.”

Jones also tried to downplay any concerns that things could get out of hand for the Giants, who have lost three of their last four games.

“We have a really good opportunity going forward. We know we have some big games ahead of us and we’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Jones said. “We need to recover and take advantage of this long week and come back and learn what we need to learn from this film. We’re still confident. We are 7-4. We still have a lot planned.”

The Giants need to get healthy. The cornerbacks who fielded them Thursday fought hard and didn’t play badly, but Adoree’ Jackson and Fabian Moreau were missing. So was the abundance of offensive linemen left behind in New Jersey. Wan’Dale Robinson and Sterling Shepard – who aren’t coming back this year – too. Tight end Daniel Bellinger would be a nice addition.

The Giants have 10 days before hosting the Washington Commanders in a critical game. Hopefully they will field a healthier team.

They need to figure out why Saquon Barkley, who led the league in rushing a few days ago, has only rushed for 22 and 39 yards in his last two games.

Daboll keeps talking about execution. The Giants honestly aren’t the most talented team in any of the six games they have left this season. If they don’t execute, if they don’t take advantage of the opportunities that come their way, they don’t win. You must eliminate the missed sacks, costly penalties, missed catches and missed throws.

You still have a chance to reach the playoffs. However, they must be better or else they will miss that too.

Are they good enough to be better? Or will the restrictions we knew were there but simmered beneath the surface earlier in the season catch them up?

We’ll find out over the next six weeks.