Mention the so-called "green zone" to New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin and his look tells it all.
In an injury-plagued season in which the Giants (4-7) lost their first six games, their failure inside the opponents' 20-yard line ranks right next to turnovers among the reasons why they are likely to miss the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
The Giants were tied for 26th in the 32-team NFL entering this week, scoring touchdowns on 46.4 percent of their chances. Over the past two weeks, they are 2 of 6 against the Packers and Cowboys, going 1 of 3 each game. If they converted two against Dallas this past weekend, the crushing, last-second 24-21 setback might have had a different result and New York's postseason hopes would be higher.
"Thank you for that observation. I hadn't thought about looking at the tape in that area," Coughlin said sarcastically. "I'd like to know why. You look at it, you have a minimum amount of snaps. You have a lot of people poured into the same area. You don't get started on first down right away with a play that's not successful, you're behind the 8-ball right now. That's kind of what has happened."
It's happened all season in the area everybody but Coughlin calls the red zone. He calls it the "green zone" to emphasize the job of going ahead and finishing.
Unfortunately, his green zone has had stop signs this season.
If you're wondering why that's bad news, look at the NFL statistics in the red zone. The top seven teams are Denver (9-2), Carolina (8-3), Dallas (7-5), Cincinnati (7-4), Detroit (7-5), San Francisco (7-4) and Seattle (10-1). Five of those teams are leading their divisions and the other two are in second place and in contention for wild cards.
Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said the reasons for failing in close have varied: from penalties in the zone to miscommunications to plays being a finger-tip away from success.
"You wish it was one thing and then you could solve that problem, but the bottom line is we've had chances," Gilbride said.
The Giants had first-and-goal situations from the Dallas 9 and the Dallas 4 in the second quarter this past week.
On the first one from the 9, Gilbride called a throw-back screen to tight end Brandon Myers, a play the Giants rarely run.
In preparing for the game, Gilbride had noticed Dallas usually played its cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage almost all the time. Coming off a bye week, the Cowboys had switched the defense and cornerback Brandon Carr dropped Myers for a 1-yard gain.
"Then we ran and didn't gain a yard. So now it's third-and-7 and they played a little different coverage," Gilbride said. "They played a coverage that we'd expected, but they played it a little differently, so we couldn't throw where we had intended to throw it. So we had to come back inside to Andre (Brown) and we picked up 5 yards and the bottom line is, if you don't stay close enough where you can run or pass and you get yourself backed out of it, it's hard."
The next time the Giants got close, they ran Brown on first down from the 4 on a day he rushed for 127 yards on 21 carries. Someone, however, missed a block on linebacker Kyle Wilber and Brown was tackled for a 6-yard loss.
"It's frustrating because they were great drives and they need to culminate in points and touchdowns," Gilbride said. "When you don't do that, you're disappointed that you didn't finish it the way you'd like. Probably even more disconcerting is you'd know the potential for it being a difference in the outcome of the game is usually pretty significant, especially in an evenly matched game like that."
The Giants were able to tie the game with a touchdown on their final trip into the red zone, but the points missed earlier were the difference.
"We're just not in focus," receiver Victor Cruz said of the red-zone problems. "We have to look at what plays we have to install and be able to execute them. That's the bottom line. Scoring points in the red zone is execution and getting the job done.
"Sometimes you get a coverage you didn't see on the film, but you have to play above the Xs and Os."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org