Justin Pugh returns to play the NY Giants for the second time as an Arizona Cardinal.
The Arizona Cardinals come to play the NY Giants in a much different game than they anticipated at the start of the season.
The Cardinals, who were off to a red hot start to the season, have gone 1-4 since their bye week in Week 8. The Giants, meanwhile, have gone 4-1 since then, after starting the season 1-6 and now sit atop the NFC East standings.
The game is a must win for both teams to keep playoff aspirations alive. It’s also a game for former Giants guard Justin Pugh to prove his worth, to both teams. But to do that he’ll have to play a surging Giants defensive line.
Pugh played his first five seasons with the Giants after being drafted 19th overall in 2013 out of Syracuse by the Giants. Over that stretch, he was part of a putrid line on a bad team, which had only one winning season. That season, 2016 when the Giants lost the Wild Card, Pugh played in 11 games.
He only played one full season for the Giants, his 2013 rookie year. That year, the Giants were only able to rush the ball 83.3 yards per game, which was in the bottom 10 of the NFL. In fact, three of the five years Pugh anchored the Giants offensive line, the Giants rushing yards per game were in the bottom 10.
Injuries and penalties seemed to plague Justin Pugh. After playing 16 games in 2013, he played 14 games for two consecutive seasons before playing in 11 in 2016 and dropping to just eight in 2017. He had 19 penalties during his career as a Giant, and allowed 18 sacks.
Still, PFF gave him the highest grades of his career during his Giants tenure. In order of his seasons played, he recorded grades of 75.1, 70.3, 78.8; 81.1, and 64. And the Cardinals believed in the first rounder’s potential enough to lock him in with a five-year deal worth $44.8 million, though there is a potential opt out clause after this season.
But his two biggest problems followed him from NY.
Pugh only played in seven games in his first season for Arizona. He played in all 16 in 2019, and had his best year perhaps since his rookie season. He played 98 percent of the offensive snaps, the Cardinals had a top 10 rushing team, and Pugh only had two penalties. PFF graded him a 66.8.
But he’s personally taken a step back this season, racking up 8 penalties by himself — tied for second among offensive lineman. His PFF grade is a 65.5.
He and the rest of the Cardinals’ line will need to be at the best when they travel to New Jersey this week. They may have a top 10 rushing offense, with 150.6 yards per game. But they play the Giants top 10 rushing defense, which only allows 96.7 yards per game.
Justin Pugh himself will have to ace the hardest part of the test. Pugh plays on the left side of the line, and will have to defend the right side of the Giants’ defensive line, home to Leonard Williams.