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Scouting report: Cowboys vs. Giants (offense)

I watched the Giants/Bucs playoff game on the Tivo and have the following scouting report on their offense. I’ll have the defense later today/tonight.

Giants running game

In the first quarter the Giants had a lot of problems running the ball against the Bucs defense. Part of the problem was running Brandon Jacobs to the outside on one of their pet-plays, the stretch run. The Giants run this play a lot and try to loop the tackle outside to pick up the LB’s while the TE blocks down on the DE and they try to create a crease on the edge. The Cowboys run a very similar play. They also have variation where they pull the off-side guard and that doesn’t stretch quite as far to the edge. The problem for the Giants was the plays were too slow in developing. The Bucs interior defenders were shooting the gaps and disrupting the timing and the blocking scheme while the second-level defenders were too quick to the outside and shut it down.

When they finally got their offense going they were using Brandon Jacobs more between the tackles in quicker-hitting drive-blocking plays. Jacobs was able to use his size and good feet to pick his way through and ended up scoring a TD on one.

The Giants were much more effective running the ball to edges when they brought in Ahmad Bradshaw. He was much quicker to the hole and was able to exploit the Bucs defense for some decent gains and the stretch play worked more efficiently. He’s also not afraid to run between the tackles and will take a hit and keep moving forward. He is someone the Cowboys will have to prepare for in tandem with Jacobs.

While the Giants run game did a respectable job against the Bucs, they weren’t the deciding factor in the win. They helped and they scored points, but the play of Eli Manning in the passing game was the big difference.

Giants passing game

Eli Manning played a brilliant game agasint the Bucs. The total yards in the passing game weren’t all that impressive, but the 2 TD’s, no INT’s, high completion percentage and his ability to keep the chains moving at critical times combined to provide the knockout punch.

The Giants were content to let the Bucs play their Cover-2 alignment and take the short passes underneath all day long. Manning was using 3 and 5-step drops to minimize the pass rush and he was patient when he had time, he let things open up. I counted at least 8 passes in the flats underneath the CB’s that continually helped sustain drives. The were also using Amani Toomer over the middle on crossing patterns and short hook routes to great affect. The surprising thing was the Bucs never seemed to really adjust. Even later in the game these same type of passes were still available to Manning instead of the Bucs pressing the secondary forward and forcing Manning to hold the ball longer and go over the top.

Jacobs caught two screen passes they were very well-formed and he scored on one. Dallas will have to be careful with the screens. Kevin Boss, the replacement TE for Jeremy Shockey caught a couple of passes on a play-action bootleg and just missed on a third. This is the same play Dallas runs often with Romo and Witten. The point of plays like the above ones is that the opposing defense cannot get too comfortable and just pursue the ball at all costs, they have to be a little disciplined.

The Giants line did a good job of protecting Manning but the short passing game probably had a lot to do with that. Manning was making good decisions and releasing the ball quickly. He was also doing a good job of audibling out of bad situations into the right play. It was probably the most poised and patient I’ve seen Eli play in a big game.

Summary

In the run game, Jacobs is more effective between the tackles. If the Giants are running to the edges, Dallas needs to shoot the gaps to disrupt the pull-blocking scheme and let their LB’s pursue the ball. If Bradhsaw is in, be ready for a quicker burst and some shifty moves. The one thing Dallas cannot do is let Jacobs get rolling through the middle of their defense. Jay Ratliff, Bradie James and Akin Ayodele have to shutdown the interior triangle and force the Giants outside.

The Cowboys can’t sit back and let Manning continually take the underneath patterns. The Cowboys have been a team that gives up some cushion on the outside but they should consider mixing that up in this game to confuse Manning and create mistakes. The Bucs never did change their alignment that much and Manning got into a very comfortable rhythm. With the quick drops and passes, the pass rush alone might not do the trick. But making him hold the ball a little longer could help to compensate.