Dec 112020
 
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THE STORYLINE

There was a great disturbance in the Force last weekend. We all felt it. The New York Giants were not supposed to go into Seattle and rough up the Seahawks the way they did. There was nothing flukey about the win. The Giants were the better team on both sides of the football, even with back-up quarterback Colt McCoy facing off against MVP candidate Russell Wilson.

The Giants should have been dead at 0-5 and 1-7. They are now on a 4-game winning streak and tied for first place in the NFC East. Yes, it’s a crappy division. But the Giants have a real shot at making the playoffs if they can win two or three of their last four games. Three of those games are at home. The other is just down the road a bit Baltimore.

First up is the Arizona Cardinals, who were 5-2 in October, but have lost four of their last five games and are now 6-6. To be fair, the one win was against impressive Buffalo and their last three losses came against the respectable Seahawks, Patriots, and Rams. Nevertheless, this appears to be a game between two teams heading in opposite directions. The Giants are trying to keep momentum going and the Cardinals are trying to stop the bleeding.

THE INJURY REPORT

  • QB Daniel Jones (hamstring – questionable)
  • OT Matt Peart (ankle – questionable)
  • LB Blake Martinez (back – questionable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (knee – questionable)
  • CB Madre Harper (knee – out)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE
The big question is will Daniel Jones play? And if he does, how effective will he be and will he not re-aggravate his hamstring injury? It’s not just a matter of the injury limiting his rushing ability, but ability to throw the football forcefully with accuracy and velocity.

Colt McCoy did enough in the second half to win the game (and not lose it) last weekend, but the offense is clearly more limited with him at the helm. If he is called upon again, hopefully we’ll see a repeat performance, not making the killer mistakes and making a few clutch throws when needed. The Giants got by the then 5th-ranked Seattle offense by scoring under 20 points (again). They are tempting fate if they can’t score more than 20 against the now 5th-ranked Cardinals offense. Stating the obvious, the Giants need to score more points and take some pressure off of their own defense.

New York’s four-game “renaissance” has been sparked by two things: (1) defense and (2) the offensive line. For Giants fans who have become accustomed to shitty offensive line play for a decade, the rapid turnaround by the offensive line from a joke to clearly one of the best units in the NFL has been a revelation. Let me say that again, the New York Giants offensive line is now one of the best OL groups in the entire league. While there are the inevitable miscues by a young group still gaining chemistry and cohesion, the offensive line is simply punishing people up front.

The Giants (including fired OL coach Marc Colombo) were right about Nick Gates. If he stays healthy and grounded, he has more physical ability because of his size than renowned team centers Bart Oates and Shaun O’Hara. Gates plays with a nasty chip on his shoulder and I love it. After a very rough start, Andrew Thomas is now developing into a shut-down left tackle who mauls people in the run game. Fellow rookie Shane Lemieux brings more youth, spirit, aggressiveness, and mobility and seems to be stealing Will Hernandez’s job, despite the fact that Hernandez is still a solid player. The “old man” of the group, 30-year old Kevin Zeitler is reverting to his old solid form. The other veteran, Cam Fleming, is the weak link but with four games left to play, the Giants may not want to tinker too much with the OL down the home stretch with the playoffs on the line. Still, Matt Peart (if he can stay healthy) is pressing him.

The biggest beneficiary of the offensive line play has been Wayne Gallman, a back who seemed to be out of favor with the previous and current coaching staffs. Remember, Joe Judge and Jason Garrett didn’t turn to Gallman when Saquon Barkley went down but in-season pick up Devonta Freeman. When Freeman got hurt, they had little choice but to turn to Gallman. As has been pointed out by many, Gallman is running with a toughness greater than his more linear build would indicate. He’s showing nice patience, instincts, and elusiveness. He’s also starting to break off some big runs.

This all bodes well against an Arizona Cardinals team that is middle-of-the-pack defensively (18th) and 21st against the run, allowing 123 rushing yards per game. Statistically, the Cardinals are better against the pass than the Seahawks, but much worse against the run. The Cardinals have some talented familiar faces in the secondary, including corners Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick. Our old friend Markus Golden is also starting at linebacker.

“This is a blitz heavy team,” said Joe Judge. “We have to be alert for a lot of movement, a lot of pressure throughout the game plan. They do a very good job of changing up on you. They’ll blitz linebackers, DBs, whoever’s involved, everyone is going to get a turn.”

Stay with what is working. Pound the rock. Wear down the Cardinals. One of the ways to really frustrate and really hurt blitzing defenses is to run the ball down their throats. All of that trickery doesn’t matter when you are lying on your ass.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE

Like Seattle, Arizona’s strength is clearly on the offensive side of the football. The Cardinals are 5th in the NFL in yards gained and 9th in points scored, averaging almost four touchdowns per game. With the Giants still averaging less than 20, you see the problem. The defense needs to come up big again against a quality opponent.

There has been some excellent discussions in The Corner Forum about how Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme is relying more on size, strength, and power up front to create pass rush issues than employing the typical dominant edge rushers in a 3-4 system. That does not mean that the edge rushers aren’t making some plays, or that Graham isn’t sending inside linebackers and defensive backs on blitzes. But the chaos is starting up front with Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill getting a push up the middle. All quarterbacks hate pressure up the middle and it is the quickest way to disrupt a passing play.

Savvy veteran Russell Wilson was clearly frustrated last weekend by the pressure up front and confused by what the team was doing in the secondary. Just as importantly, the Giants’ pass rush was disciplined. Wilson continuously spun out of trouble only to find yet another defender preventing him from escaping outside of the pocket. That same discipline will be needed against quarterback Kyler Murray.

The very first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the undersized (only 5’10”) Murray can throw the football. But he is whirling dervish who reminds me of Bo Jackson in the old Nintendo Techmo Bowl video game…

Murray is 67 percent passer who has thrown for 22 touchdowns (against just 10 interceptions). He’s not just a runner. Literally one-third of his passing yards have gone to wideout DeAndre Hopkins (85 catches, 1,019 yards, 5 touchdowns). But he will spread the ball around to the other targets: WR Larry Fitzgerald (43 catches), RB Chase Edmonds (42 catches, 3 touchdowns), WR Christian Kirk (35 catches, 6 touchdowns), among others.

That all said, it’s his running ability that really scares defenses. Murray has rushed the ball 102 times for 665 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and an astounding 10 touchdowns. And with Murray receiving so much attention because of designed QB runs that often fool the socks off defensive players, running backs Kenyan Drake (4.3 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns) and Chase Edmonds (4.9 yards per carry) can and will hurt you. Overall, Arizona is 3rd in the NFL in rushing, averaging over 150 yards per game. The Cardinals can run it. And they can throw it. This is a very tough match-up for the Giants.

“This is a team that’s very explosive,” said Judge. “(Head Coach) Kliff (Kingsbury) does a great job in terms of scheme, using tempo, really creating match-ups for his players and letting them play to their strengths. (Murray) is obviously a dynamic player… This guy does a great job improvising on his feet, extending plays, keeping his eyes down field and making big throws. He has a rocket for an arm, and this guy can be as aggressive as he wants to because he’s very, very accurate with the ball. You put that along with the receivers he has to throw to. This is a group of weapons that’s very explosive. Offensively though, it really starts with the running game with them. Drake and Edmonds, these guys are both having good seasons. They do a very good job of getting the ball downhill at you. They have a very good zone run game. They’ll also mix up some game plan runs and pulls and gap schemes. Kliff does a good job of mixing that in with the tempo and keeping you on your toes.”

The focus must be on stopping the run and keeping Murray in the pocket. Mix and match coverages and try to confuse him in the passing game. The good news is this should be a similar game plan to what the Giants did in Seattle. The bad news is that LB Blake Martinez and CB Darnay Holmes are “questionable” for the game. The Giants need both to play.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS

I’m not sure what is going on with the Giants special teams all of the sudden, but a Giants team that is encumbered with an offense that struggles to score 20 points simply cannot afford to have repeated major breakdowns on special teams. New York escaped the last two games despite bad special teams play. But they are playing with fire if the don’t turn it around. It’s time to return to this being asset for us.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH

Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham on Kyler Murray: “Murray is true speed. When I’m talking to the players, true speed. Not fast, not quick, we’re dealing with true speed. Any mistake, it can be a touchdown at any given moment. That’s what you’re dealing with, with this guy. Whether it’s the run game or the passing game, he can get away from you and then get the ball down the field. That’s what I mean by true speed and the ability to score a touchdown at any point on the field. He’s pretty dynamic. We have a big challenge ahead of us.”

THE FINAL WORD

Heading into last week’s game, I figured the best the Giants could do over the course of the upcoming two games was lose to Seattle, but beat Arizona. Beating Seattle took a lot of immediate pressure off until Washington upset Pittsburgh. Despite the fact that the Giants have won four in a row and Arizona has lost three in a row, this is clearly a very dangerous game for the Giants. The Cardinals are desperate. I just can’t see New York escaping with a win unless they score more than 20 points. They can do that, but it’s been a challenge for them all year. Again, my emphasis would be running the ball. This will help control the clock and keep Arizona off of the field. But can New York stop Arizona from running the ball? This might be one of those rare games that ends before 4PM.

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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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