For the second time this season, the Cowboys have been the better team on the field for the greater majority of the game, only to find themselves looking defeat straight in the eyes. In week one, the Cowboys were able to dodge a bullet, but they were not so lucky this time. Looking at the game film reveals some good things that the team can build upon as they give it another go trying to scrap together a precious victory.
#1 - Byron Jones is flat out ball'n
My initial impression after watching the game was that Byron Jones was constantly involved in the play. After re-watching the game film, it only further validated that he was all over the place. The Cowboys first-round draft pick was doing a little bit of everything. The most impressive thing about watching him is seeing how quickly he reacts as the play develops. Jones had seven tackles, but his best play was one that was never talked about. On a first and ten play from midfield, Eli Manning went deep over the middle. Rueben Randle had beat his man as he managed to get the inside track on Corey White, but as he was catching the ball, Jones showed up at the last second and was able to get his hand in to knock the ball away. This was a huge play. Instead of first and goal deep in Dallas territory, the Giants would punt the ball away two plays later.
#2 - McFadden was McFabulous
All week long there has been talk about some of Joseph Randle's workload would be handed over to a new running back. However, that running back was supposed to be Christine Michael. As fans gathered around so they could finally see number 30 get his shot, they were quickly surprised to see another Cowboys running back being unleashed. With Tony Romo and Dez Bryant going down early in the season, the challenge of running the ball has become increasingly difficult as defenses have allocated extra defenders around the line of scrimmage. This whole season fans have been waiting for a ground game to have an inkling of resemblance to the one we all witnessed in 2014.
The wait is finally over.
Darren McFadden ran for 152 yards on 29 carries and he did it in many different ways. He would do it with his quickness. He would do it with his power. McFadden would burst into the hole and give the offense many productive runs. When there were running lanes, he'd turn out nice gains. When there weren't, he'd still pound out the tough yards. Not only that, he did a great job picking up the blitzes, allowing Matt Cassel to step up in the pocket and complete passes downfield. He looked good as a receiver too had in not been for a horrible call on the Devin Street penalty. That's a 31-yard touchdown that should have happened.
#3 - The Cowboys offense got a little Lucky
McFadden was the team's leading rusher, but an unexpected player finished second with 35 yards - Lucky Whitehead. The Cowboys undrafted free agent receiver didn't have a single reception, but carried the ball four times and all of them were productive plays.
Carry 1 - On first and 15, he took a jet sweep and gained 15 yards.
Carry 2 - On third and two, he gained four yards on another jet sweep.
Carry 3 - On second and seven, he almost gained seven yards on a pitch play, setting up a third and inches.
Carry 4 - On second and nine, he gained 10 yards on a reverse.
Two of these plays were called on the heels of a penalty that set the Cowboys further back and each time, Whitehead was able to wipe out the loss and give the offense a new set of downs. The play-calling was creative and it was great to see the coaches being able to find a way to get use out of another offensive player.
#4- Offense came to life
The Cowboys only put 20 points on the scoreboard, but make no mistake about it - the offense was moving the ball. They gained 460 total yards. They had 27 first downs. After having six, three-and-outs the previous game against the New England Patriots, the Cowboys offense wouldn't have a single possession where they didn't get at least one first down. Not one. Of their 10 drives, eight of them reached midfield.
There are a lot of things that played a part in their success with the running game being a big contributor. Despite his three interceptions, Matt Cassel made some really good plays. Looking at the tape, several of his bad plays seemed to do more with not being in sync with his receivers. It looked as if he was trying to throw the receivers open and sometimes they weren't getting open. Some of these same plays looked awfully similar to some miscues that happened when Romo was behind center. If watching Cassel showed anything, it was that the Cowboys receivers don't always do a great job of getting to where they are supposed to.
When they did, though - good things happened. It was great to see Terrance Williams make plays. It was nice seeing Brice Butler having a good reception. And what a great play by Devin Street. The Cowboys had two consecutive toe-tapping sideline catches, capping off a touchdown drive.
#5- Just can't catch a break
The Cowboys continue to come up empty in creating turnovers, but just like the games before - they were close a couple times. Byron Jones made a nice interception after the ball hit his foot, however it was reversed because the ball touched the ground. On another play, Corey White did a great job undercutting Giants tight end, Larry Donnell causing the ball to pop out. Byron Jones was right there to pick up the ball. Had Donnell taken another step (or whatever is required these days to constitute a catch), it would have been a fumble and Jones would have ran it back for a touchdown.
And it wasn't just turnovers. The Cowboys were on the wrong end of some untimely penalties. We all know about the offensive pass interference call on Street that nullified McFadden's touchdown, but there were a couple defensive penalties on third down that allowed the Giants to keep their drives alive. Morris Claiborne got called for pass interference for getting to snuggly with Rueben Randle. The penalty gave the Giants a new set of downs, where their mysterious running back, Orleans Darkwa had four impressive runs; the last one resulting in a touchdown. Darkwa would then crawl back in a hole and never be a factor again. Rolando McClain got called for a hands-to-the-face penalty on third down that gave the Giants new life. They would finish that drive with a field goal.
After the Cassel pick near the goal-line, the Cowboys defense made two good plays and it looked like the offense was going get the ball back in great field position. But then Eli Manning made a perfect throw and Rueben Randle made an outstanding one-handed catch. The Giants would keep rolling and get another three points out of the drive.