The rebuild timeline for the NY Giants and their opponent this weekend, the Arizona Cardinals, mirror each other in many ways. With each team anchored by their second year quarterback, who’s better equipped for future success?
Before the 2020 NFL season, not many had the NY Giants and Arizona Cardinals vying for playoff spots.
The Giants and Washington Football Team were supposed to be battling for last in the NFC East, not first. On the other hand, the Cardinals were continually overlooked within their own division, experts instead focusing on the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
Alas, here we are – fast forward to December and these two squads are both battling to get into the playoffs. Entering their all important matchup, the Giants are hot – winning four straight, while the Cardinals are not – a DeAndre Hopkins Hail Mary away from five straight losses.
These two teams met last season, a game in which the Cardinals left MetLife Stadium with a 27-21 victory. Since then, both teams have improved immensely, the Giants overhauling their coaching staff and defense, the Cardinals adding key pieces like Hopkins and rookie Isiah Simmons.
Still, last season was a disappointment to both squads, as they were still drafting in the top ten. This season, they’re finding a new level of success – looking at key parts of each team’s rebuild, which of the two is better equipped for the future?
You have to start with the faces of the franchises first.
Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones will always be connected. One fateful night in Nashville, their lives were changed – Murray was expectedly drafted first overall to Arizona, while the Giants shocked the football world by drafting Jones five picks later.
Murray went on to have a great rookie season, throwing for 3,722 yards and accounting for 24 touchdowns (20 passing; 4 rushing) on his way to rookie of the year honors. He rewarded the Cardinals faith in him, his faith in himself – choosing the sport of football over a career in Major League Baseball.
With the Giants, Jones accounted for 26 touchdowns (24 passing; 2 rushing) and was on track to break Baker Mayfield’s rookie record, but an injury forced him to miss two games. Famously, turnovers plagued him, as he gave away the ball over at a record clip.
This season, it’s been Murray who’s taken the biggest leap. At one point, he was considered to be the front-runner for most valuable player, although those talks have dwindled as the season progressed.
Still, he’s been tremendous – passing for 2987 yards and 22 touchdowns, along with rushing for 665 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s helped make the Cardinals offense one of the most potent in the league, ranking sixth in total offense.
Jones’ season started off slow as he tried to find his footing in Jason Garrett’s offense, his numbers taking a hit while the Giants as a whole struggled. Currently, he’s thrown for 2335 yards and 8 touchdowns, while rushing for 403 yards and a touchdown.
Jones is important as anyone to the Giants’ offense, but Murray is the offense for the Cardinals. He’s taken steps to being one of the most productive quarterbacks in the entire league, and while Jones’ play was improving before his hamstring injury, he’s not near Murray’s level this year.
Next, the Cardinals and the Giants each went the path less traveled by when hiring their head coaches.
Cardinals head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, actually failed upwards – going from being fired by Texas Tech University to the head job for Arizona in a couple months. Still, he’s been touted as an offensive genius, bringing his air raid offense with him from college to the big leagues.
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Kingbury brought in former Denver Broncos head coach, Vance Joseph, to be his defensive coordinator. The defense was actually the worst in the league last season, but Joseph has them at 18th in the league right now – a respectable improvement.
The Giants’ were the first team to hire a special teams coach in years when they brought in Joe Judge from New England. Judge brought former Cowboys head coach, Jason Garrett, and former Dolphins defensive coordinator, Patrick Graham, along with him to head up those prospective units.
So far, so good for the Giants – Judge has helped usher in the new culture that general manager Dave Gettleman has been touting since his arrival, and Graham has his defense in the top ten of the league – a feat that seemed impossible before the season began.
Garrett was the subject to a lot of early season blame, but his play-calling has improved as the season progressed. That, along with improved play from the offensive line, has helped the Giants become one of the best rushing teams in the league over their win streak.
These two teams are built to win in different ways, and their coaches reflect that. The Cardinals are built to win by scoring, scoring and scoring some more, while the Giants are built to win by controlling the trenches, playing defense and running the football.
For that reason, I think both these coaching staffs fit their team’s to a tee. Kingsbury is the perfect head coach to build an offense around Murray, while Judge and his staff get the most out of a team that doesn’t back down from anyone.
It looks like the road less traveled should be traveled some more.
Finally, when comparing these two rebuilds, you have to look at their futures.
Gettleman and his Cardinals’ counterpart, general manager Steve Keim, have done well to provide their team’s with talent to win now while also not mortgaging the future to do so. Each team will have a good amount of money to spend on next year’s free agent class, while they both each are in possession of their first three draft picks for 2021.
The Giants’ traded their 2021 seventh round pick for corner Isaac Yiadom, and lost a conditional 2021 fourth/fifth round pick in the Leonard Williams trade, but both players have become starters on their defense.
The Cardinals lost their 2021 fourth round pick in the infamous DeAndre Hopkins trade, and actually traded the Giants their sixth round pick for edge rusher, Markus Golden. Hopkins was one of the biggest steals in recent memory, and Golden has helped give the Cardinals another gadget for their playoff run.
With each team set up well for the future, the question begs – whose future is brighter?
For the Cardinals, their future hinges on if their defense can catch up to their offense.
They can score enough points to keep up with the best in the league, but their defense has cost them wins this year against the Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions.
When your division features perennial MVP candidate Russell Wilson, and the two best offensive coaches in the league in Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, you need your defense to help you out. It can’t all fall on the shoulders of Kingsbury and Murray to outscore them everytime.
For the Giants, it all depends on Daniel Jones. The offensive line looks promising and is full of young talent, the run game has come alive and the defense is in great hands with Patrick Graham, the Giants just need Jones to prove them right.
Jones doesn’t have to be the best player on the field for the Giants to win, but he can’t turn the ball over, and needs to come through when the plays are there. He doesn’t have to produce like Murray does, but if he can take another step forward, the Giants’ offense can help complement a stout defense.
It’s really all about preference when you’re choosing between the futures of these two teams, but one thing is for sure – it’ll be fun to watch them square off this weekend, and the next couple years. They both compliment each other well, Murray and the Cardinals’ offense will challenge Graham’s defense and vice versa.
The careers of Murray and Jones will always be tied together, as well as the rebuilds of the Giants and Cardinals. This weekend’s game will show us not just that they both have bright futures – but who’s future is now.