Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals, September 29, 2002: Long-time BBI’ers know that since I started the website in 1995 that I have always taken a very wary attitude with each upcoming opponent. While others have said we should “kill this team” or “have no problems” with that team, I have cautioned readers to not expect an easy game. To be honest, the Giants have not fielded any super-talented teams since 1995 that gave me any confidence that they could dominate an opponent.

Those days are rapidly coming to an end.

This is as talented an offensive team as the Giants have had since I started watching football. And while the defense may not be up to 1986 standards, it is darn good. The coaching staff has been relatively intact for six years and the special teams are finally improving. The biggest concerns remain: (1) Kerry Collins – can he continue to play at this level?; (2) continued improvement on special teams; (3) team health; (4) inexperience at key positions – offensive line, tight end, cornerback, and linebacker; and (5) a commitment to work hard each and every week and take each opponent very seriously.

If the Giants can get positive answers to all of those questions, then there is no team that they should be afraid of in the NFL. And likewise, there are teams that they should handle easily.

The Cardinals are one of those teams.

I have a great deal of respect for Arizona Head Coach Dave McGinnis. I think he has an excellent defensive mind and he is a very good motivator. His biggest problem is that he doesn’t have the talent. Oh sure, like all NFL teams, the Cardinals have their share of quality players such as WR David Boston, but they are not a very good team.

If the Giants come prepared to play, the Cardinals are a team the Giants should dominate. Shame on them if they don’t.

Giants on Defense: The Cardinals are more dangerous now on offense than in previous years because they are finally demonstrating an ability to run the football. The long-awaited emergence of HB Thomas Jones probably has more to do with the impressive acquisition of talent on the offensive line as it does with any difference in Jones himself. But whatever the reason, the new found ability to run makes the Cardinal offense two-dimensional and thus more difficult to defend. Jones is currently the leading rusher in the NFC. This makes the passing game more effective as well.

It is the job of the Giants’ defense to make them one-dimensional in this contest. In order to take away the run, the Giants’ front seven must out-play the Cardinals’ talent up front. That task is not as easy as it was in the past. This is not the typical Cardinals’ offensive line that we Giant fans have come to know and love. They’re darn big and pretty darn good.

Michael Strahan will have to face mammoth RT Leonard Davis – a very high 2001 draft pick who played at guard last year. Davis out-weighs Strahan by 100 pounds, is strong as an ox, and has good agility for one so big. Strahan will have to pull out all his tricks and play with outstanding technique in order to hold his ground in run defense. Same story with DE Kenny Holmes against LT L.J. Shelton – another first rounder with excellent size. Holmes will be out-weighed by 65 pounds by Shelton and keep in mind that Holmes isn’t known for his stout run defense in the first place. Things don’t get much easier inside, DT Keith Hamilton will square off against LG Pete Kendall, one of the better guards in the league. RG Chris Dishman is a 325 pounder who Cornelius Griffin will smack heads with. OC Mike Gruttadauria was the starting center on the Rams’ 1999 NFL Championship team.

The Giants’ starting defensive line has to come to Arizona prepared to play a physical, aggressive game. Because they will be out-sized, technique, experience, will power, and confidence will be everything. The Giants will have play with better quickness and leverage up front in order to hold their ground, get off blocks, and penetrate. The linebackers will all have to be aggressive in filling gaps and making sure tackles. This will be old style NFC East football. If the Giants can bottle up Jones, he really hasn’t demonstrated a consistent ability to make plays on his own. However, if the Giants give him a big hole to run through, he has the speed to break big runs.

Another key here will be the play of second-teamers such as Lance Legree, Frank Ferrara, and possibly Matt Mitrione. With the oppressive Arizona heat, the starters will have to be spelled.

The other big worry on the Cardinals’ offense is WR David Boston. One can legitimately make the argument that Boston is the best wide receiver in the NFL. He’s built more like a tight end than a wide receiver, but he has the speed to get deep and score touchdowns on a regular basis. He has given the Giants fits in recent games. Will Peterson will probably be locked up on him most of the day – this may be Peterson’s toughest test of the season. Frank Sanders is more of a possession receiver. He has also caused the Giants problems in the more distant past. The guy the Giants really have to be careful with is MarTay Jenkins – a very inconsistent receiver who has blazing speed. When he is on the field, I would like the Giants to keep Will Allen on him.

Making the passing attack more difficult to defend this year is the presence of TE Freddie Jones – an inconsistent player obtained in free agency from San Diego – but a guy who can hurt you in the passing game. With much attention being given to Boston, the Giants need to be careful that Jones doesn’t hurt them over the middle. The linebackers and Shaun Williams will play a role here. The undercoverage also has to keep an eye on Thomas Jones out of the backfield – he has almost as many catches as Freddie Jones.

The Giants’ pass rushers will be hamstrung more than a bit by the need to maintain disciplined pass rush lanes due to the mobility of Jake Plummer. This limits the amount of tools the defensive linemen have in their pass rush arsenal. As Kenny Holmes said this week: “(Against a drop-back quarterback) you might go into the game with four or five rushes you want to use. In (the Arizona) game, you would go in with two. You pretty much have to throw (the speed rush) out the window because you’re going to give him such a big void between the guard and the tackle that he’ll be able to run. You’ve got to kind of squeeze that. Your mindset is kind of different.” Jake Plummer is usually a much more dangerous quarterback out-of-the-pocket than in it. The Giants must play smart and stay disciplined. They also have to be wary of him scrambling forward in an effort to pick up yardage. Plummer played like crap last week against the Chargers, but he usually comes back strong after a bad game. The Giants had better not take him lightly.

Giants on Offense: The Cardinals’ defensive talent is not very good and their weak secondary will be severely undermanned by the absence of their best cover man – CB Duane Starks. The defensive line plays hard, but they are a sub-standard unit. The linebackers can run, but they are on the small side and not quite as athletic as most teams would like. The only reason that this unit is not outright terrible is due to McGinnis and his coaching staff as well as the work ethic of his players. The Cardinals throw a lot of different looks at the opposition. But let’s be frank. The Giants should cut through these guys like Swiss cheese.

Don’t screw around this week Mr. Fassel and Mr. Payton. Arizona has decent talent on offense and can score on your defense. Put the Cardinals away early WITH THE PASSING GAME. Starks is out. FS Kwamie Lassiter is the only other decent player they have back their in the secondary. The Cards don’t rush the passer very well. Arizona will likely blitz a lot just like Seattle did. Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Jeremy Shockey, and Ron Dixon should have a field day as long as the pass protection is sound and Kerry Collins plays well. Crush any hope the Cardinals have to win the game in the first half. I know you want to get your running game in order, but you can do that in the second half. If Shane Mathews can pass for over 300 yards against the Cardinals, you can’t tell me Collins can’t. If you don’t take advantage of this weakness, I question the ability of the offensive coaches to game plan against an opponent.

Toomer will most likely face right corner David Barrett most of the game. Ike Hilliard will match-up against back-up Renaldo Hill. That means the dime back will now become the nickel back. Look at these match-ups…it’s not rocket science. Hopefully, Jeremy Shockey will make fewer mistakes this week and create even more problems. WLB Rob Frederickson can cover – you’ve got to think that the Cards will put Frederickson on Shockey much of the time. Frederickson is a guy who gave the Giants problems last year.

Up front, Luke Petitgout probably has the toughest assignment against weakside end Kyle Vanden Bosch – one of those Nebraska DL’s who plays hard and can rush the passer. Mike Rosenthal will have LDE Fred Wakefield line up over his head. Inside, Jason Whittle will be up against Russell Davis and Rich Seubert will square off against Marcus Bell. Both are very big – over 310 pounds. But neither is a stand-out. I think the pass-first strategy works in the Giants’ favor here as well. This isn’t a strong pass rushing group. Have them struggle rushing the passer for a quarter or two – tire them out – and then hit them with the run.

Giants on Special Teams: One of the big potential trouble spots in this game is the kick return ability of MarTay Jenkins. As I said earlier, Jenkins is a speedster and he has a proven history of returning kickoffs for touchdowns – including one already this season. Matt Bryant needs to get good height on his kick-offs and the Giants’ kickoff coverage units need to get down their in a hurry, stay in their lanes, and make sure tackles.

As for the Giants, Daryl Jones needs to do a better job on kick and punt returns. So do his blockers.