Triumphant Giants get away with a flawed secondary, but barely
The championship-caliber narrative of this Giants' season was kept alive on Sunday by a fingertip.
Because of that fingertip, and its fortuitous placement on several blades of white-painted plastic grass, the defending champions are still riding high. Because of that fingertip, they still have the upper hand in their rivalry with the Cowboys, who reinforced their own longstanding reputation as the football’s pre-eminent coulda-woulda-shouldas. Because of that fingertip, the worrisome flaws the Giants displayed yesterday will be recast optimistically as areas for improvement.
Chief among these areas is the secondary, which allowed Tony Romo to amass 437 yards. Nearly all of these came from midway through the second quarter on, when it seemed like Romo and his receivers were rattling off successful play after successful play.
Corey Webster had an acrobatic interception early on, but he gave that back by allowing catches of 55, 30, and 16 yards. It was also Webster who let Dez Bryant get behind him by several yards on that fateful near-catch, which he dismissed afterward as being akin to “a long foul ball.”
It’s been a rough season for Webster, whose lingering hamstring injury might be more serious than he’s letting on: According to Pro Football Focus stats, he was allowing quarterbacks who threw in his direction a rating of 115.7 going into yesterday’s game.
The starter opposite Webster, Prince Amukamara, was exploited on one drive in particular by Tony Romo and Miles Austin, on which he Akukamara looked more like an inexperienced second-year man than the solid starter he has been. Jayron Hosley looked overmatched for the second straight game; he was called for three penalties and gave up three completions. Michael Coe’s ineffectual short-armed swipe at Bryant’s late near-catch should be used in how-to videos on how not to play a deep ball.
Offensively, after two underwhelming efforts by the running game, the onus is on the coaching staff to get Andre Brown and David Wilson to cut into Ahmad Bradshaw’s carries. Any thought Giants fans that their running game was back to 2010 form after dominant efforts against Cleveland and San Francisco has been dispelled over the past two games.
Bradshaw fumbled the ball yesterday and looked diminished by his chronic foot injury, which won’t be getting better as the season progresses. One play in particular stood out: On the Giants’ second series, on 3rd and 2 from the Cowboys 19 yard-line, they pitched the ball to Bradshaw, but he failed to outrun nose tackle Jay Ratliff to the perimeter. The Giants have been running that play for years, but that was with the old Bradshaw.
It was a rough game overall for the offense, which looked like it did during that non-starter mulligan on opening night.
Victor Cruz followed up his signature heroics with a stinker, in which he caught only two of the eight passes thrown his way. Hakeem Nicks continued to look hobbled, leaving open the question of whether he’ll ever be close to 100 percent this year.
The degree to which the receivers were outplayed by Dallas cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne brought back a familiar thought from Week 1: That the Cowboys’ new corners had gone a long way toward substantially closing the gap between last year’s first and second-place finishers in the NFC East.
Of course, because of a fingertip, that gap is now two-and-a-half games.
Which means: Let Tom Coughlin and the coaching staff worry about ironing out the flaws out. For the fans, bring on the post-game proclamations about the heart of a champion. Bring on the power rankings, which surely can’t downgrade the Giants after a win on the road against a dangerous team. And, with a 6-2 record, that familiar Coughlin-era auspicious but precarious mark, bring on another eventful second half.