Film review: Defense, Cowboys @ Giants

Here's the first part of the Film Review as promised. This time I start with the defense because that was much more interesting. Why? Because they were on the field so much in the first half, giving me more plays to work on and also because the QB situation really threw off a lot of the evaluation of the offense. I will be doing the review of the offense later.

NT - Jay Ratliff is still pretty active but he isn't making as many plays as he was earlier in the season. Rat was having some problems holding the point of attack in the running game but part of it was the scheme where the one-gap 3-4 defense asks him to slant to a gap in one direction. There were plays where the line over-pursued and the Giants RB's were easily able to cutback and pick up yards. Jay also had an offsides penalty, and a missed tackle that hurt. Only once did he get serious pressure on the QB. The Cowboys also made a huge mistake on a third and 17 play where they only rushed three and dropped Ratliff into coverage on Derrick Ward. There was no way he could keep up and the Giants converted the play. That was bad defensive philosophy. It wasn't Jay's best game. Equally troubling is the lack of production from Tank Johnson. He got a defensive holding call and was in on a few tackles but the only true positive was his one QB pressure.

DE - Another area where the Cowboys defense is getting limited production. When they are at their best they at least shutdown the run game, but they eventually gave way in that area in this game. Marcus Spears was a total non-factor and was even getting moved out occasionally on single blocks. If he isn't commanding double-teams in the running game then the Cowboys defensive scheme breaks down. Teams are free to double up on the NT's and blow open holes. Chris Canty was almost as bad and actually gave up a lot of playing time to Stephen Bowen. Canty did have a sack but it was a gift given to him by the pressure of Kevin Burnett on a blitz. He made a couple of decent tackles in the run game but overall he and Spears are just not creating any disruptive plays from their positions. They don't have to rack up the stats, but they need to at least command double-teams or get penetration into the backfield. On play after the play the front three (DE, NT) were getting stood-up at the line of scrimmage.

Stephen Bowen got a lot of playing time in this game and had a few good moments against the run by penetrating the line and helped out on some tackles in the run game. He also got a QB pressure. But it wasn't anything spectacular. Jason Hatcher has regressed to the point that he's not really bringing anything to the table. The play of the front three, including the backups, has been very disappointing recently (except for the Tampa By game), only Jay Ratliff is active enough to make a real difference in games.

OLB - DeMarcus Ware still remains a force on our defense. I got him down for a couple of QB pressures, one sack and forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He also forced a holding call on a run play and made a few good stops in the run game. But even he wasn't immune to sloppy play; he missed a few tackles he normally makes and he got caught over-pursing inside on a run and left the outside wide open. In the grand scheme though, he was active and did what he could to hold the defense together. Greg Ellis has been a disappointment and this game was no different. The only significant play he made was reading a screen quickly and tying up the running back forcing the QB to throw the ball away. He was beat in coverage by the TE once, but he actually didn't play that much as his time went to Anthony Spencer. Spencer was extremely active in this game and was very disruptive. He got penetration in the run game, clogged up running lanes by taking on a TE or FB, got a QB pressure forcing a holding call, and made a few tackles. It wasn't all good though, he missed an easy tackle, got called for offsides, and was very slow getting his drop into zone coverage on a play that went for good yards. But he and Ware were the few guys who actually made a difference on the defense.

ILB - Bradie James racked up a lot of tackles in the run game, managed to get a sack on a blitz and recovered a fumble. Statistically it was a pretty good effort. Missed tackles though marred his effort and he couldn't cover the TE to save his life. His play was one-dimensional, going forward against the run he made plays, otherwise he wasn't helping the defense. Zach Thomas also made a lot of tackles against the run and penetrated the line for a stop in the backfield. The Cowboys actually blitzed him a few times in the game but he was unable to get to the QB. He also got caught over-pursuing the play on a TD run. Kevin Burnett got pressure on a blitz that caused a sack and he also caused a fumble but the Cowboys couldn't recover it.

CB - Anthony Henry played OK and was better than I've seen him recently. He only got beat a couple of times on pass plays and had a nice tackle on a hitch route. For once, he didn't seem to be the CB the other team was picking on. Mike Jenkins' play consisted of extremes on the spectrum. He made the pick-six that got the Cowboys back in the game briefly, had a couple of tight coverages when the ball came to his guy and made a great tackle on a third and short play stopping the first down. But he also got beat on a deep crossing pattern for a long gain, gave up a TD from the bunch formation where confusion reigned, and made the much-noted and highly-debated non-attempt at a tackle of the last TD run. He also gave up a first down on a third down play.

Orlando Scandrick had a good night except for one notable exception. He was rarely thrown at during the game and had good coverage most of the time when the ball did come his way. He also had a good tackle on a run when he was blitzing. But against the bunch formation he also gave up a TD with some soft coverage and hesitancy about where he should be. Alan Ball was playing the slot the few times I noted his play and the results weren't great. He gave up an easy first down and got called for a illegal contact in the secondary that gave a first down.

S - Ken Hamlin was the culprit on a couple of missed tackles though he did end up with a few tackles and showed good hustle running down one play. He also got called for illegal contact in the endzone but he Giants declined the penalty because they scored anyway. Keith Davis actually played a good game and was very active. What I really liked is that even at the end of the game he was giving maximum effort. He filled the holes nicely on quite a few runs and made good tackles. He did have a missed tackle on a TD run but overall played well. Courtney Brown just doesn't show up much in the game. He did over-pursue on a big run (seems to be a common theme with the defense for the game) and gave a pretty poor effort on a TD run. Pat Watkins only showed up on a punt coverage play which was actually pretty good.

An extra note concerning the defense as it relates to special teams. I love Nick Folk when he kicks FG's but the depth on his kickoffs are a problem. Almost all his kicks in the game were short, starting at the 5-yard line or further out. For instance, when the score was 28-14 and the Cowboys were hoping for a defensive stop to get back in the game, Folk's kickoff went to the 15-yard line and the Giants returned it to the 33-yard line to start their drive that eventually ended up in a TD. That certainly doesn't help the defense and it didn't help them all day.

The Cowboys defense also had crappy production on third down giving up a high conversion percentage. They just couldn't make the stops when they really needed it.

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