By Justin Henry
Cold, Hard Football Facts NFC East champion
The streak of eight consecutive kickoff night games won by the defending Super Bowl champions, and 12 Week 1 wins overall for the champs, ended with a resounding thud on Wednesday.
The New York Giants, winners of Super Bowl XLVI, lost 24-17 to the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday night in a game plagued by injuries, ineffectiveness, and miscues.
Tony Romo finally got his revenge on the Giants after engineering two solid performances against the division rival last season in consecutive defeats.
He completed 22 of 29 passes (75.9%) for 307 yards (an awesome 10.6 YPA), 3 TD, 1 INT and a 129.5 rating.
Romo was also elusive against a usually stifling Giants defense, which sacked him nine times over two games a year ago and finished the season No. 3 forcing Negative Pass Plays according to our Defensive Hog Index.
But the Giants could muster only two sacks on Wednesday, neither of which came from ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck.
DeMarcus Ware had a milestone night, recording two sacks; the first of which made him the second-fastest player in NFL history to record 100 career sacks (behind Reggie White).
But the breakout star of the night was wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, a four -year veteran with only 294 career receiving yards coming into the game, and zero touchdowns. Ogletree took it to the champs, hauling in eight passes for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns; the hallmark performance of his young career.
Here are five Cold, Hard Football Facts from the big Dallas victory:
1. Giants Offense Sluggish
A Giants offense that averaged 385.1 YPG in 2011 (308 passing from Eli Manning) proved to be downright anemic in the first game of the season. Manning struggled to get the ball down field, averaging just 6.6 YPA (21 of 32, 213 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 94.9 rating), while the offense mustered only 269 total yards.
The Giants averaged 15.8 Yards Per Point Scored (only slightly worse than their 15.6 average in 2011), but they failed to cash in on opportunities. New York was 4 for 12 on third down, and possessed the ball for just 25:53.
Manning was also bested by Romo in terms of handling pressure. Dallas’ signal-caller took just two sacks for a loss of 17 yards. Manning was dropped three times for 26 yards lost. One sack from Ware was good for 14 yards by itself.
Romo also outgunned Manning when measured by Real Passing Yards Per Attempt, which accounts for sacks. Romo averaged 9.4 Real Passing YPA; Manning, just 5.3 Real passing YPA. Winning that battle is historically the difference in three out of four NFL games. Last year, teams that won the Real Pass YPA battle went 186-70 (.727).
The Giants were No. 4 in that indicator last year, averaging 7.67 Real Pass YPA, behind only the Packers, Saints and Patriots. It didn’t help Manning’s cause that Victor Cruz, a breakout story in 2011, dropped three passes that were right on target.
Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Martellus Bennett were the only Giants receivers with a catch in the first half, in which the team could only score on a field goal.
2. Giants Running Game Still Shaky
Yes, the Giants had the worst rushing offense in the NFL a year ago (averaging 3.47 yards per attempt), and while on the surface their 4.3 yards per carry tonight looks to be an improvement, that number is very deceiving.
Ahmad Bradshaw shouldered the running load for the Giants, carrying 17 times for 78 yards and a touchdown, to the tune of a healthy 4.6 YPA. Take away a 33-yard fourth-quarter dash, as well as the touchdown run (10 yards), and Bradshaw only averaged 2.3 yards per carry.
Rookie David Wilson had his “welcome to the NFL” moment in the first half, fumbling on one of his two carries, and being used sparingly in the second half.
The disparity in balance was evident in New York’s gains through the night, as only three of the Giants first downs came on running plays. None of those plays came in the first half.
3. Dallas’ Offense: Night and Day
That fateful New Year’s night when the Cowboys coughed up an opportunity at the NFC East title, and mainly the final playoff spot, was relegated to the dustbin after a livelier effort from the Cowboys offense here in week one.
In that final regular season game a year ago, Dallas only put up three offensive plays of over 15 yards. Against New York this time around, that number increased to eight, which included two touchdown passes of 40 and 34 yards.
Dallas averaged 5.8 yards per pass play in that game eight months ago, upped to 9.4 this time around. Romo also reduced his being sacked by two thirds (six sacks to two) by showing more elusiveness and guile out of the pocket.
But there are some mitigating circumstances in play. New York used their No. 4 cornerback, Michael Coe, in the starting spot after injuries to Terrelle Thomas and Prince Amukamura. After a hamstring injury to Coe sidelined him, Justin Tryon was forced into action. Tryon would find himself picked on throughout the fourth quarter by Romo, and ended up the hapless victim on Miles Austin’s 34 yard touchdown strike.
Without DeMarco Murray a year ago, the Cowboys could only run for 49 yards on 16 carries (Felix Jones was the leader with 30 yards, 11 carries). With Murray restored, the Oklahoma standout trucked for 131 yards on 20 carries, stymieing a Giants front four that couldn’t keep him hemmed in after closing initial holes.
The Giants’ run defense a year ago wasn’t anything special, giving up 4.46 yards per attempt (tenth worst in the league). Contrast that to the 5.5 yards given up to Murray, Romo, and Lee Vickers, and you have to ask if Murray would have made a difference in the finale last year.
4. Ogletree Breaks Through
So, who did you dump from your fantasy team to make room for Kevin Ogletree?
The oft-ignored Cowboys receiver lit up New York’s struggling secondary with the performance of his career. As mentioned, the pine-riding Dallas regular netted 8 catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns, playing a large role in facilitating the first win of the year for the Cowboys.
To put it in perspective, look at it like this: Ogletree’s previous single-game high was three catches, which he’s done three times. The most yards he’s ever had in a game was 50, which he achieved against San Francisco in week two last season.
In his first three seasons, Ogletree only went over 20 yards in five games. He only went over 30 yards in three of those instances.
Ogletree’s watershed performance, or possible one-hit wonder, overshadows the New York receivers, including ones that brutalized Dallas’ secondary last season. Hakeem Nicks went for 163 and Cruz posted 178 in their respective games last season, but the best of the opener here was Cruz, with 6 catches for 58 yards. He’d have had nine, but those dropsies bit him, and the Giants, hard.
5. Where Do They Go From Here?
In their seven defeats in 2011, the Giants managed to rebound in three cases. After an opening loss to Washington, New York came back to win three straight. A loss to Seattle in week five led to another three game winning streak. New York would then lose five out of six (including four straight) before embarking on their six game winning run through the Super Bowl.
New York’s next opponent is Tampa Bay, who is working to find its identity with a new, discipline-minded coach, and several rookies in prominent roles.
Dallas a year ago was 8-8, which included a four game winning streak in the same time frame as New York’s bleakest run. Generally, through the first half of the year, the Cowboys were win one-lose one-win two-lose two. This was before the win streak, as well as the plummet at the end, where they lost four out of five (including the two to the Giants).
Dallas will head to Seattle in eleven days to face rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, as they hope to go 2-0 for the first time since 2008.