Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Giants (0-1) head into their home opener versus the Arizona Cardinals (1-0) in a tale of two teams traveling seemingly in opposite directions. On one hand, the Giants are coming off a short week in what can simply be described as an embarrassing loss on the road versus the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.
The team looked out of sync on both sides of the ball, as any team struggling to find their identity would. With so many new faces and a new offensive scheme being installed, the Giants are clearly still a work in progress. But Big Blue has to get it together quickly if they want to beat the upstart Arizona Cardinals.
The Cards are also coming off a short week, defeating the San Diego Chargers in come from behind fashion that was sealed when Chargers QB Phillip Rivers literally let the victory slip through his hands as he mishandled a snap from center leading to the game winning march.
Historically a west coast team travelling coast-to-coast on a short week usually spells defeat, and that could be the case when the Cards walk into what will surely be a fired up Metlife Stadium. In order for that philosophy to hold true, however, the Giants must feed off the energy from the crowd and come together with all groups being on the same page.
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The Giants must execute their game plan thoroughly to pull off the victory against a very talented Cardinals team. It’s much easier said than done for a Giants team that looked lost on the field just six days ago, but there’s something to be said for a home team with a chip on its shoulder. This is a game that can go either way and I will break down the key matchups that will decide its fate.
Giants Receivers vs Cardinals Secondary
On paper the Cardinals secondary looks to be the superior unit in terms of talent. Giants WR Victor Cruz will probably see a heavy dose of Cardinals star cornerback Patrick Peterson who now has Antonio Cromartie playing across from him at corner. While Peterson and Cromartie are both seen as top-tier corners by many, they are prone to getting beat on coverages if you closely analyze their game film.
The Giants could possibly take of advantage of this if their bandaged offensive line can hold off a battered Cardinals defensive front and give both Eli Manning and his receivers time to make plays. With Giants first round pick Odell Beckham Jr.once again ruled out with a hamstring injury, this puts pressure on Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle to put their money where their mouths are when they called for more targets after last Monday’s game and create separation in the secondary.
Cardinals FS Tyrann Mathieu is listed as probable for this game but could be on a restricted snap count coming off a major knee injury last season, so it will be interesting to see what impact he will have if he sees enough field time.
Giants Offensive Line vs Cardinals Defensive Front Seven
This matchup could be the most unpredictable of all because both units have been riddled with injuries and have seen departures of key veteran players. The Giants have seen LG Geoff Schwartz go down and veteran Pro Bowl RG Chris Snee retire due to lingering injuries. Their line is full of question marks that have only grown more profound after last Monday’s game. LT Will Beatty was inconsistent, LG Weston Richburg is a rookie who will make some mistakes, and who will start at RG remains a debate between Brandon Mosley and John Jerry.
Maybe another week of practice will help but it will be another tough test against a Cardinals front seven that overachieved last week versus the Chargers. The Cards have lost veteran LB Karlos Dansby to the Browns in free agency and have also lost veteran pro bowl DT Darnell Dockett for the season. DE John Abraham has also taken a leave of absence from the team due to lingering concussion issues.
Despite all the losses that would seemingly limit any defense, their line still performed well against the run with the help from their linebacking corps which has also been bitten by the injury bug. LB Alex Okafor is out this week with a thigh injury and veteran LB Larry Foote is looking to prove last week’s performance wasn’t his swan song and that he can still play at a high level.
A key injury this week to Arizona’s defensive line could potentially help the Giants with DT Frostee Rucker ruled out with a calf injury, leaving Tommy Kelley to fill in at his spot. It will be interesting to see if the Giants can somehow take advantage of the Cardinals lack of depth on the defensive line and open up their rushing attack, but the Giants will have to look out for Cardinals DE Calais Campbell, who put a lot of pressure on Phillip Rivers last Monday night.
Cardinals Wide Receivers vs Giants Secondary
Much talk has been made about this revamped Giants secondary, yet they went out last Monday and looked out of sync with each other, which led to several blown coverages and huge plays for the Lions. Megatron took full advantage of that last week, and you can bet this Cardinals talented receiving corps will do the same, if not more, due to their superior depth vs the Lions receivers.
If the Giants wish to avoid a similar outcome, yes they need a more consistent pass rush, but they also need to be more aggressive with the Cardinals receivers and have much better back line communication to limit the big playmaking abilities of WRs Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and rookie John Brown (who the game-winning TD last Monday).
The Giants also have had issues covering tight ends since cutting safety Will Hill, so it will be interesting to see if the Giants assign LB Jacquian Williams to Arizona TE John Carlson despite William’s lackluster performance last Monday.
Cardinals Offensive Line vs Giants Defensive Front Seven
The Cardinals offensive line did a solid job of protecting QB Carson Palmer last Monday, only allowing two sacks against an improved Chargers defense. The Giants however, were only marginally successful at getting pressure on Lions QB Matthew Stafford last Monday, and also struggled to contain him in the pocket thanks to mistakes by DE’s Damontre Moore and Mathias Kiwanuka.
The Giants did well against the run last Monday, but need to step up their pass rush and improve on outside containment by the defensive ends. If they can do this, they will force Carson Palmer to get rid of the ball quicker, throwing off the timing between him and his receivers and not letting big plays down field to develop. They can also force him to make bad decisions which Palmer is prone to doing. If the Giants cannot get pressure up front without blitzing, then Palmer can extend plays with his underrated feet and will have all the time in the world to pick apart the Giants secondary with that talented Cardinals receiving corps.
One thing to keep an eye on is Cardinals RB Andre Ellington, who is expected to play despite being listed as questionable this week with a foot injury. If he plays and is reasonably healthy, he should make an impact with his speed and receiving skill that is hard to match up with defensively. If he cannot go, it makes the Giants’ front seven’s job much easier to stop the run, especially LB Jon Beason who is still trying to get into game shape after missing all of this preseason with a broken bone in his foot.
Upon Further Review
Like I said before, this is a game that could go either way, even though on paper the Arizona Cardinals have more talent on their roster than the Giants do. The Giants can win this game if they can communicate effectively on both sides of the ball, control the pace of the game early to build their confidence (which has lacked so far), and win the battles in the trenches to control the line of scrimmage. The Giants have the X-factor of playing at home against a west coast team traveling cross-country on a short week.
On the other hand, if the Giants still look as mundane as they collectively did last week, the Cardinals are way too talented not to take advantage and control time of possession just like the Lions did to Big Blue last Monday, making this game eerily similar to last week’s crushing loss. The Giants have a lot to prove, let’s see if they come out looking to silence those critics in their house or if they once again look like the team that simply lacks the personnel to succeed.