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Remember a couple of weeks ago when we were talking about Rob Ryan potentially getting interviews for head coaching jobs this offseason?
That was premature, huh? In light of what went down on Sunday night against the Giants, it might be more productive to ruminate about whether or not Ryan should keep his current job than it would be to wonder about his chances of a promotion.
If that seems overly harsh, then you clearly spent your Sunday night doing something other than watching Ryan's defense embarrass itself in the fourth quarter. The team needed one stop in the final 5:41 to get a win that would make a diivisonal title theirs to lose. They needed one big stand to avoid another meltdown and they needed Ryan's defense to give it to them.
It didn't happen. Over two drives, Eli Manning took the Cowboys 138 yards in less time than it takes to heat up a frozen pizza. Both drives ended in touchdowns and both of them came with ample help from a Cowboys defense that failed magnificently in its biggest test of the season.
The failures start with the secondary which gave Giants receivers wide berth on both drives. Had the Cowboys been playing prevent and keeping things in front of them, that would be understandable. The Cowboys were trying to pour the pressure on Manning, though, and that meant the defensive backs were getting beaten in man coverage over and over again.
It started happening way before the fourth quarter. Manning was doing a lot of chucking under heavy rushes and he almost always had a wide open target for his passes down the field. On Mario Manningham's third quarter touchdown, it looked like he was standing alone on a prairie instead of in the middle of a football field with an entire defense tasked with stopping him.
Manningham had another golden chance for a touchdown on the final Giants drive, but dropped a pass while open in the end zone. It actually would have been better for the Cowboys if he had caught that pass, leaving them more time and two timeouts for their final drive, but that wasn't why Ryan's defense left him all alone.
A lot of teams have been shredded by Manning this season, so that alone isn't enough to slam Ryan and his unit. So we'll throw their inability to stop Brandon Jacobs onto the fire as well.
Before Sunday night, Jacobs' season consisted of a lot of talking and very little action. He's become as unpopular in New York as affordable housing, but he'll probably be seeing an upswing thanks to a Cowboys defense that found itself unable to stop a player that everyone else has stopped without breaking a sweat.
So the Cowboys couldn't stop the pass and they couldn't stop the run, yet they had a great chance to win the game in the final moments. They squandered that chance by losing all discipline. Three penalties on the final two drives helped the Giants keep rolling on down the field and none was more damaging than DeMarcus Ware's second offside penalty of the fourth quarter. It came on a shotgun snap that wound up eluding Manning, costing the Giants 15 yards and time off the clock that wound up haunting the Cowboys because Ware fell for a hard count for the second time in a matter of minutes.
Frank Walker followed up with a holding penalty before the final blow came down. It was the culmination of a night filled with undisciplined play by the Cowboys defense. Not all of the calls were good, but the Cowboys kept putting themselves in position to get flagged and that's not going to work out well when you can't stop the opposition from doing anything they want offensively.
That's total system failure, boys and girls, and it is why the Cowboys will need to win out to get a spot in the postseason.
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