By Shawn S. Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys lost three straight after Tony Romo fell to a broken collar bone, but came out of the bye week making major changes and hoped that it would help them turn things around. While things worked better in some aspects of the game, they made way too many mistakes to win. As a result, the Cowboys dropped their fourth straight game and fell further back in the NFC East as the New York Giants won the game, 27-20. Here is a look at the Cowboys grades for the loss to the Giants.
The Dallas Cowboys made two major changes heading into the Giants game. First, they benched Brandon Weeden and brought in Matt Cassel to start at quarterback. Second, they brought in La'el Collins to start at left guard over Ronald Leary. However, a third change occurred after one quarter, and that change gave the Cowboys hope. After a week of fans speculating that Christine Michael would get the start over Joseph Randle, it never happened and Randle started the game. However, Randle went down with an injury and it was Darren McFadden who took over as the lead back.
McFadden responded with the best game of his Cowboys' career. It was also the best game by any Cowboys running back this year. McFadden had 29 carries in the game for 152 yards and a touchdown. It was one less carry than his busiest game of his career, and he looked great. It also helped that the Cowboys offensive line opened up the holes and Matt Cassel's arm forced the Giants to back up.
However, it was Matt Cassel that cost the Cowboys the game. While Brandon Weeden was benched because he wasn't making the long throws, it was the long throws by Cassel that helped the Giants win the game. Cassel threw three interceptions in the game, one returned for a touchdown and one that resulted in a Giants field goal. That is 10 points, and Dallas lost by seven. Cassel did get the receivers involved, with four passes to Terrance Williams for 70 yards and two passes to Devi Street for 25 yards and an amazing balancing-act touchdown that tied the game up at 20. However, Cassel's mistakes cost Dallas the win.
While the Dallas Cowboys offense made too many mistakes to win, their defense played well. There were a couple of moments in the game where it looked like Dallas forced a fumble or picked up an interception only to have the referees cancel out the turnover. While the turnovers weren't there, Greg Hardy continues to be a dominating force on that defensive line. He picked up his third sack of the season in just two games back from suspension and also finished with three tackles. Jack Crawford also sacked Eli Manning, and it is thanks mostly to Hardy making offenses focus on stopping him.
Sean Lee led the team with tackles, with nine, as he continues his impressive comeback season. Brandon Carr led the team with seven solo tackles, which is tough since he is a defensive back. However, the Cowboys really limited what Eli Manning was able to do on offense. Manning only had 170 passing yards and no touchdowns, but Dallas never forced an interception either. The problem is that Dallas couldn't stop random big plays. Odell Beckham Jr. was limited to four catches for 35 yards, but his catches made a difference. Ruben Randle only had two catches, but both were killers.
The running game put up 132 yards against Dallas, but it took four running backs to put up the numbers. Orleans Darkwa was the early star with eight carries for 48 yards and a touchdown, but it was Shane Vareen that led the Giants with 56 yards on four carries. The Giants moved the chains when they needed to on the ground, and Dallas limited them but it wasn't enough to win.
Special Teams: D
While Cassel's interceptions cost Dallas the real chance to win, it was the special teams that put the nail in the coffin. First, with Dallas scoring the tying touchdown with just over seven minutes remaining, former Cowboys special teams star Dwayne Harris returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards to score the final touchdown of the game, and put the Giants back in front 27-20.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Dallas' defense did what they needed to do and stopped the New York Giants with just over a minute remaining. Dallas came from behind to win the opening game of the season with about as much time, and the Giants just watched as they punted the ball back to Dallas. However, Cole Beasley tried to field the punt, and completely muffed it, fumbling back to the Giants, who then ended the game for the tough Dallas loss. It was two horrible mistakes that ensured Dallas would lose.
Lucky Whitehead had a nice game as the special teams returner for Dallas, with 44 yards on two returns, while Devin Street had 22 yards on another return. Cole Beasley was the punt returner and had seven yards on two returns and the fumble. Dan Bailey was perfect on the day with two field goals and two extra points. None of that could save the special teams from a poor grade for mistakes.
Jason Garrett coached a solid game. The Cowboys defense kept the Giants off balance, and the offense ran the ball a lot, which made the score close enough to make it a game until the end. The mistakes were from Matt Cassel, in his first game as starting quarterback in Dallas, and special teams. However, the Cowboys coaching was good enough to win.
The Dallas Cowboys are now 2-4 and the season is spiraling out of control. Next up is the always-tough Seattle Seahawks and then another divisional game with the Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas could realistically be 2-6 by the end of that before getting a break against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The next week, Tony Romo is back. Dallas will struggle to win the next two games, but if they do, they could still turn things around by Thanksgiving.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.
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