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Film review: Cowboys vs. Giants (defense)

Now comes the unpleasant part of the film review, talking about the defense. The injury to Terence Newman proved to be more than our secondary could make up for. It altered our whole scheme in the secondary and the Giants exploited it. It’s harder to judge the coverage alignments in Wade Phillips’ defense as opposed to the standard cover-2 safeties from last year. But it was obvious three guys back there weren’t having the best of games.

You can read the offensive review here.

NT – Uggh, the loss of Jason Ferguson hurts. His presence was the anchor on this defense and will be missed. In this game Ferguson had a great first play when he beat the center and made the tackle at the line of scrimmage. On the next series Fergie did get moved out of the center and then jumped offsides, but that penalty was trumped by Ken Hamlin’s personal foul. That was pretty much it for Ferguson’s 2007 season. Jay Ratliff filled in for most of the rest of the game, occasionally spelled by Stephen Bowen. Ratliff came up with the Cowboys only sack by beating the offense with his quick burst off the line then blowing through a RB block. He also had a nice tackle on a draw play, tackled a RB at the line of scrimmage who had just caught a pass, and got pressure on the QB a couple of times. I didn’t see Bowen do anything while playing NT.

DEMarcus Spears is still adding nothing substantial to the defense. The only time I noticed him was missing a couple of tackles and trying to jump in on Jay Ratliff’s sack. I never saw him getting real pressure on the QB or making a play in the backfield. Chris Canty wasn’t much better. He also didn’t make any big plays and his most famous play of the game was knocking down Jacques Reeves after his INT. Neither defensive end has shown much in preseason, and now in this game.

Jason Hatcher got some playing time but only mounted a decent pass rush on a couple of occasions. He gave up contain on a good Giants’ run and he was involved with the big run by Derrick Ward, but he was actually stunting out of his position and moving to the inside. Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware didn’t close the hole on that play and Akin Ayodele missed the fill lane. Stephen Bowen was a non-factor.

OLB – Unfortunately, as much as it pains me to write, DeMarcus Ware didn’t have a very good game. He managed to get within a step of Eli Manning on a few occasions and one time actually altered a pass, but he never dominated, or really affected the game in a significant way. He’s our star and he needs to do better for us to get anywhere. It wasn’t a case of double or triple-team blocks either, he had plenty of occasions of one-on-one. On the positive side he did have one good play in coverage and also had a few tackles in the running game. But he also got blocked out in the running game a few times to giving up the edge.

Anthony Spencer did pretty well for his first time out. He got the "sack" on the 2-pt. conversion by using his speed to blow by a block from the Giants TE, and also got to Eli for an almost sack on another play where he came through unblocked. He threw Eli down on the play causing the shoulder injury. (Spencer also was the guy who hurt Brandon Jacobs). He lost contain in the run game occasionally but also held the point of attack and turned in a couple of runs. He even bothered Jeremy Shockey in coverage for an incomplete pass. I never saw Bobby Carpenter line up at OLB so except for when the Cowboys went nickel/dime on defense, Ware and Spencer must have played every snap.

ILBBradie James and Akin Ayodele both had solid if unspectacular games. James was sent on middle blitzes quite a few times but was never able to break through the line. He did have a few really nice tackles in the run game, finishing with seven. Ayodele also finished with seven tackles. Again, Carpenter only made brief appearances so James and Ayodele played a lot of the game.

CB – Where to start? I’ll start with Jacques Reeves. Coach Phillips gave him a game ball afterwards, but I don’t think he really deserved one. It seems like the analysis on him has leaned toward he’s inexperienced, he didn’t look lost out there and he could get better. All that may be true, but for this game, he wasn’t that good. He did have the INT although the receiver fell down and all he had to do was catch the ball, but at least he caught it. He also had a nice breakup of two passes to Plaxico Burress on a drive, including one in the endzone. But I got at least seven different passes completed while he was in coverage, whether on his own or with help from Roy Williams. Some of those he didn’t get good help, others looked like they had mixed-up coverages, but he didn’t make a play on any of them. A couple went for TD’s and another converted a long 3rd down. Maybe he was playing soft because the coaches asked him to, but he’s got to get up on the receivers more to make a difference back there.

On the other side, Anthony Henry wasn’t that good, either. Obviously the third play when he got beat by Plaxico Burress on a long TD is just one example. Henry looked like he was expecting some help from Roy, but Roy had actually come forward to help Reeves on his man. He had a couple of other plays where he got cooked by Burress or Toomer and he was involved in Toomer almost scoring a TD but his foot came down just out of bounds. When your star corner is out and you have an inexperienced guy on the other side, Henry had to do more to shut things down his side, but he didn’t. The guy who slipped under the radar a bit was Nate Jones, who actually looked like he played pretty well. I only saw him give up one catch where he had responsibility for the coverage and the Cowboys blitzed him from the slot five times. A couple of times he made it to the QB but just a half-second late.

SRoy Williams didn’t look good in coverage again, same as last year. He tried to cover Shockey a few times with mixed-results, mostly in favor of Shockey. Later it looked liked they moved him back to try and help Reeves with bracket coverage on Burress, but that failed twice in the endzone. Williams continues to be a liability in coverage and the plan of keeping him near the line of scrimmage as often as possible didn’t materialize. It might have been the absence of Newman that threw the whole coverage schemes into chaos, but the Cowboys knew this was coming and didn’t seem ready to handle it. If they don’t figure this out, we’ll see more shootouts. Roy did have a lot of tackles (8) and two of them were very good plays, but his coverage mistakes blotted those out. I never saw Keith Davis on defense.

Ken Hamlin wasn’t as visible as the rest of the secondary starters and it was hard to get a good read on what kind of game he had. He made a couple of hard tackles in the running game, but also missed tackles on two critical third down plays. He broke up a pass to Shockey on a 4th-dwon play, but also got a stupid personal foul penalty. But he did finish with seven tackles. I guess an up-and-down game for him. Pat Watkins didn’t add much, he got beat on a pass to Toomer and he missed a tackle on a TD run after a pass, but I didn’t see him do much else.

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