Oct 182019
 
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Evan Engram, New York Giants (September 29, 2019)

Evan Engram – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants, October 20, 2019

THE STORYLINE

If there is any remote possibility that the New York Giants make the 2019 season about more than the development of rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, then Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals is a must-win. The Giants currently stand at 2-4 (1-1 in the NFC East), one game behind the 3-3 Dallas Cowboys and 3-3 Philadelphia Eagles. If the Giants can get to 3-4, they will still be very much in the hunt. However, if the Giants lose to the 2-3-1 Cardinals and fall to 2-5, then the season will probably be all but officially over in terms of playoff possibilities.

Brewing in the background is growing fan discontent with Pat Shurmur, who continues to make questionable in-game decisions. While it is difficult to see the Giants parting ways with their third coach in five years, especially given his “quarterback whisperer” relationship with Daniel Jones, the franchise must decide if Shurmur is capable of becoming a winning head coach. This is a big game for Pat Shurmur too.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • RB Saquon Barkley (ankle)
  • RB Wayne Gallman (concussion)
  • WR Sterling Shepard (concussion – out)
  • TE Evan Engram (knee)
  • DL Olsen Pierre (concussion)
  • CB Corey Ballentine (concussion – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE

Predictably, Daniel Jones is experiencing a rough patch after a hot start. This was exacerbated by facing two of the League’s top defenses (Patriots and Vikings) without his best weapons. While the ups and downs will continue, what we want to see are more ups than downs and increasing consistency. Jones seems to have the right attitude:

Looking back on the month, kind of up and down. I’ve been inconsistent overall. I’ve been good and been bad. I think there are certainly a lot of things to learn. When you look at the scheme or some of the decisions, some of my habits or bad habits, I think there are a lot of things to learn. So, I’ll kind of separate those problems, (and) those individual issues and try to improve. But also, just getting more comfortable and getting more accustomed to what we are doing. I think I’ll continue to learn and grow, but I’ve certainly had the opportunity to learn a lot this month… I think in the pocket, making sure I’m keeping two hands on the ball. When I’m running, securing the ball. I think that’s part of it. Just making good decisions. I think being aggressive when the opportunity is there, and not when it’s smart not to be aggressive. Just kind of managing that, understanding those situations, and learning from them.

What Daniel Jones said above is exactly what this learning process is all about. And he seems to understand the process. It’s not fun and can be painful, but he is not running away from the challenge. When this season is over, Daniel Jones will have four preseason games and 14 regular season games to go back and study and learn from. He is getting first-hand experience about the speed and complexity of pro defenses, when to take chances, and when not to. But also keep in mind that player development is not always linear. There will be dips.

Think of  how Eli Manning developed. He was atrocious at times during his rookie season, but provided a ray of hope with his comeback win against the Cowboys in the 2004 season finale. Then in 2005, he led his team to a division title, upsetting the Denver Broncos in memorable fashion. But Eli really didn’t “arrive” until the 2007 playoffs, with three and a half years of starting experience under his belt. Same story with Phil Simms, who was despised by half the fan base from 1979 until he finally rid himself of the bulk of those critics in January 1987, when he was 31 years old!

The good news for Jones is he will have Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, and Evan Engram back. But Sterling Shepard is still out. Nevertheless, as long as the offensive line does a reasonable job, Jones should be able to do some damage against the Arizona Cardinals’ 30th-ranked defense. This will be a nice change for the Giants’ offense after facing the Cowboys (9th), Bills (3rd), Vikings (5th), and Patriots (1st). All four New York Giants’ losses came against those teams, as New York scored a total of 55 points (13.75 points per game, which included a defensive score). On the other hand, the Giants’ two wins came against the Buccaneers (22nd) and Redskins (26th), as New York scored a total of 56 points (or one more point than the other four games).

The Cardinals have not been able to stop the run or the pass. However, outside linebackers Chandler Jones (4.5 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (4 sacks) can rush the passer. And the Cardinals get back All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson this Sunday after he missed the first six games due to an NFL suspension.

Many eyes will be on Saquon Barkley. Is he truly healthy enough to play? How much of an issue will the ankle be? He’s a difference-maker as a runner and receiver if he is good to go.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

The Giants’ defense is coming off of their best effort of the season, but one game does not make a trend. And while the defense was much better against the Patriots, the team still gave up 27 first downs and 427 yards of offense. The Cardinals play fastbreak football, spreading teams out with four-WR packages, which opens things up for their super-athletic, but diminutive, rookie quarterback, Kyler Murray, as a runner and passer. After struggling early, Arizona’s offense has played much better the past two games. Moreover, the Cardinals’ quarterback and receivers are eyeing New York’s 31st-ranked pass defense, being very familiar with ex-Cardinal Antoine Bethea.

Aside from Murray, who was the first player taken in the draft. The Cardinals still have dangerous weapons. Running back David Johnson is a threat running and catching the football (2nd on the team in receptions with 30, including three receiving touchdowns). Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is still productive, leading the team with 35 catches.

Murray has thrown for over 300 yards in three of his six starts, completing over 64 percent of his passes. He also has rushed for 238 yards, averaging over 6 yards per carry. Historically speaking, these type of mobile quarterbacks have always given the Giants fits. The Cardinals employ the read-option with designed running plays specifically for Murray.

Not to sound like a broken record, but the defense is showing some signs of improvement because the defensive line and edge rushers are playing better. Markus Golden is starting to look like the guy he was in 2016 before he tore up his knee. Dexter Lawrence is really coming on and pushing the pocket. Much now depends on the ability and consistency of inside players such as Alec Ogletree, David Mayo, Jabrill Peppers, and Antoine Bethea. The middle of the defense continues to be the area that burns this team. When they play better, it shows up immediately on the field.

The game plan is fairly obvious. Contain Murray, maintain disciplined rush lanes, even if it negatively affects the pass rush. The secondary will be stressed by the multiple WR sets combined with Murray’s ability to keep plays alive. There will be times when the linebacker or defensive back will have to make an instant judgment as to whether or not to stick to his man in coverage or come up and chase Murray. That’s a dangerous situation.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

With Corey Ballentine out, either Darius Slayton or Cody Latimer will be returning kickoffs. Riley Dixon’s punting has become erratic again.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Defensive Coordinator on David Mayo and Jabrill Peppers: “I love what David Mayo has done, I really do. He’s come and worked his tail off. David’s another guy that loves the game. This guy really loves the game, he’s tough, he’s physical. It’s not shade on anybody that’s on our roster anywhere. What it allows us to do is put another DB on the field. I think just going back to what I believe, the more spread they get, the more space the game becomes, the more second level players you want to try and get on the field. I think Jabrill, we know he can do just about anything. It’s just us doing a good job managing the situations and the things we put him in so he can play fast and we don’t slow him down.”

THE FINAL WORD

This is a must-win game for the Giants if the team wants to keep any playoff hopes alive. What will be interesting to watch is if the offense can get back on track and score more than 20-24 points, and see if the defense can build upon their last performance. This is an unusual opponent and the Cardinals’ offense is quite capable of embarrassing this defense.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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