For the New York Giants, the season opener on Wednesday night wasn’t pretty. DeMarco Murray rushed for 131 yards and Kevin Ogletree had two key touchdowns as they lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 24-17 victory over the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
For the first time in a while, the Cowboys appeared to dominate the Giants from start to finish. The Cowboys defense gave the Giants fits and their offense abused a shoddy, overrated defensive unit at will.
Tony Romo had what was arguably the game of his career—something NBC’s Cris Collinworth mentioned during the game—and appeared focused for victory as he passed for 317 yards and three touchdowns. After a baffling second-quarter interception, Romo had his redemption, picking apart the Giants’ depleted secondary one by one.
It’s certainly early—there are 15 games to go—but the loss and the manner in which the loss panned out must be a dramatic concern for Big Blue. This game raised far more questions than answers going forward, but here are five things we learned about the Giants:
1. The NFC East is going to be competitive this season.
As usual, the NFC East will come down to the wire. The Giants didn’t play pretty, but the Cowboys weren’t perfect either. This Week 1 matchup, as close on the scoreboard as it was, as a mere indication to the race we can expect to see within the division this season.
This game featured a ton of physicality, and make no mistake about it, the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins have some of their own to bring as well this season. I expected this game to be a high-scoring affair, but defense appears to have reigned supreme. The NFC East, like the AFC South, boasts some brutal, physical defensive groups that will make for some very competitive football in 2012.
2. The secondary is as bad as we feared it was.
Injuries have not been kind to the Giants, but the group of cornerbacks they fielded on Wednesday against the Cowboys was poor. Yes Michael Coe and Justin Tryon aren’t exactly superstars, but Corey Webster surrendered some costly plays as well, including a 38-yard reception to Dez Bryant down the sideline in the second quarter.
Unfortunately, you can’t expect things to get better. The players the Giants ran out there against the Cowboys are the same players you will see going forward—the same players that struggled to hold down the fort last season when the Giants finished 29th in pass defense.
Even with all the pressure Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck were able to bring forth on Romo, there was nothing the Giants could do to remedy their dismal secondary. Brace yourselves Giants fans, this could be a long season.
3. The offensive line is as bad as we knew it was.
For all the credit Jerry Reese gets, he did absolutely nothing to improve the offensive line this offseason and the Giants paid for it in their opener with the Cowboys. Divisional castoffs and proven inadequate stopgaps are not the answer, and the sooner the Reese and the Giants get that, the better the team will be.
Drastic changes must be made at nearly every position on the line. The run game had nothing to work with, tallying just 82 rushing yards—they averaged 89.2 yards a game in 2011—and Eli Manning played under duress all night long. The Giants cannot afford to have their quarterback taken the type of brutal hits he was taking in the pocket. That’s how your quarterback gets hurt, and that’s the last thing the Giants want.
What they can do at this point is unknown, but something must be done. With the type of dominant pass rushers that have run rampant in the NFL today, a shoddy offensive line like the one the Giants currently have on display can only result in failure.
4. Victor Cruz: One-hit wonder?
It had to be the Giants’ biggest fear heading into the regular season: could Victor Cruz be a one-hit wonder? His performance on Wednesday—or lack thereof—is not a particularly positive indication.
Though Cruz did a phenomenal job getting open, he dropped three key passes that hampered the team’s offensive attempts.
Should this be a concern? Absolutely. Cruz would not be the first NFL player to have an outstanding, breakout year only to follow it with a bad case of the drops (see: David Boston and Jermichael Finley).
Cruz enjoyed an offseason filled with fashion shows and book releases, but he must buckle down and get his focus back on the thing that gave him all his newfound fame—football. Because it doesn’t take long for all those “CRUUUUUUUUUZ!” chants to become “BOOOOOOOOOOOS!” when you play in New York.
5. The Giants must fix these problems fast.
The NFL season is only game in for the defending Super Bowl champions, but these issues demand attention immediately. The Giants’ first half of the schedule is a cakewalk that they must capitalize on while working out any kinks they may have, because come the second half of the season—which features matchups with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Eagles—the leap in competition will not allow for dismal play like they showed on Wednesday night.
Manning is going to strive to lead his team to victory, but his prowess as a clutch quarterback is meaningless with no pass protection to keep him in the game and no defense to keep the Giants within striking distance.
All “Fire Tom Coughlin” jokes aside—Twitter already has plenty of those—the 66-year-old coach might have one of his toughest jobs at hand this season. There are a lot of deficiencies evident after just one game for the Giants, and Coughlin and his staff must find a way to get their team to improve or else all aspirations of a title defense could be hopeless.