Here’s the second part of the scouting report focusing on the Giants defense from their recent playoff game with the Bucs. I’ll preface it by saying that as well as the Giants played I thought the Bucs did an awful job of play-calling in the game and started playing the game the Giants wanted.
Giants run defense
This is the part that baffled me most about the Bucs. Early on, they were having success running Earnest Graham up the gut of the Giants defense. Whether it was straight-ahead bull-runs or cutbacks at the line, the Bucs had success. Graham had 30 yards rushing in the first quarter. For whatever reason, over the next few series the Bucs started relying more on the pass and the Giants were able to generate pressure on Jeff Garcia. The Bucs offense never found a rhythm after that and they just didn’t have the weapons in the passing game to make the Giants pay, especially with Joey Galloway hobbled. Later, at the start of the second half they went back to Graham and were have a successful drive until Garcia hung a duck up in the air and the Giants intercepted it. After that, they never truly threatened the Giants again.
I’m hoping the Cowboys offensive staff took notice of this and will rely a little more on the run game than we have recently. Especially in the Eagles game, who run a very similar attacking defense to the Giants, we abandoned the run game much too early. With the Giants’ heavy reliance on their pass rush to disrupt the opposing offense and the chances they take in dialing up blitzes, a solid run game could do a lot to slow that down. It’s tempting to go after the Giants secondary even though they played well against the lackluster Bucs offense, but the Cowboys can’t fall in love with the passing game as they have recently and remember that Marion Barber can be a weapon on the ground.
In defense of the Bucs, the Giants didn’t respect their passing-game at all and were lining up 8-in-the-box frequently. But even when they did that the Bucs were able to run when they dedicated themselves to it. I doubt that the Giants will have that little respect for the Cowboys passing game and will play looser in the secondary and not crowd the line as much.
Giants pass defense
The Bucs offense just didn’t have the firepower to take advantage of a suspect Giants’ secondary. With Galloway hobbled, backup CB Corey Webster didn’t have a lot of problems shadowing him and taking him out of the game. The Bucs also had problems getting the pass rush blocked and as the game progressed the Giants started using the blitz more effectively and were bring players from different angles. Especially when the Bucs started passing often, the blitzes became more frequent and the Giants almost always brought pressure on 3rd down passing situations.
Where the Bucs did have some success was using their backs as receivers. Their running backs were giving the Giants LB’s problems in coverage and that’s another area they failed to exploit to maximum advantage. Dallas has two running backs that are very capable receivers and could really hurt the Giants defense. The Cowboys should get back to utilizing JJ and MB3 in the passing game. Another soft spot was the middle of the defense. The Bucs used slants and crossing routes to get open in the middle of the field. Dallas can exploit this weakness with stud-TE Jason Witten, and getting him locked up with a LB or safety during a blitz could be a big play.
The Giants pass rush did a very effective job of harassing and hitting Garcia and caused him to throw passes before he was ready. They didn’t blitz a lot early but dialed up the pressure as the game progressed. The front-four of the Giants was very aggressive getting upfield and collapsed the pocket from the edges. I wouldn’t mind seeing Tony Romo scramble up the middle some and take advantage of the pass rush scheme. If he put up 30 yards or so with his feet that could really help Dallas control the most imposing piece of the Giants defense.
Dallas needs to be conscious of not abandoning the run game. Take your shots at the gut of the Giants defense with the massive Leonard Davis and a returning Andre Gurode. I know we’re mainly a passing offense but against a formidable pass rush the run game is as effective weapon as there is. We’ll always return to the pass, but having a play-action pass game that actually needs to be respected is a bonus.
When passing the ball, utilize the checkdowns, screens and pass-patterns for the running backs. Don’t be impatient and feel you have to get it all at once. Jason Witten should also have a big day in the middle if T.O. is available to draw double-teams. Romo needs to use his feet to punish the pass rush on occasion and force them to slow down and respect the entire package of the Dallas offense.