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Eye on the Arizona Cardinals: Breaking down the matchup

12-21-eyeon.jpg's Michael Eisen scouts the opposing offense, defense, and special teams

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –The Giants will play their final road game of the 2017 season when they face the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in Glendale. The Cardinals lost last week in Washington to fall to 6-8. The Giants have lost four in a row and are 2-12. The teams last met on Sept. 14, 2014, when the Cardinals scored 15 unanswered fourth-quarter points to defeat the Giants in MetLife Stadium, 25-14. The Giants won the last two games between the teams in Arizona, most recently on Oct. 2, 2011. Including their victory in Super Bowl XLI, the Giants are 3-0 in University of Phoenix Stadium.

What is the Cardinals' biggest strength?

The defense. Arizona is seventh in the NFL in yards allowed (319.9 per game) and sixth defending the run (92.1, including just 85.4 yards in Arizona home games). Opposing teams are averaging just 3.5 yards a carry. The defense has been particularly stingy in the last four games, giving up a league-best 236.0 yards a game. The Cards allowed just 27 points in their last two games, including a 12-7 victory over Tennessee.

Which player is key to the Cardinals' offense?

This week, it could well be Drew Stanton, who will start at quarterback for the first time since Nov. 9 (against Seattle). Blaine Gabbert started the previous five games. Of course, Stanton and Gabbert got their chances to play only because Carson Palmer broke his left arm on Oct. 22.

Despite that, we'll go with ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald, the 14-year veteran who is one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history (his 15,371 career yards are the third-highest total of all-time). Fitzgerald was selected to his 11th Pro Bowl this week. The Cardinals line him up in different spots and find ways to get him the ball. Fitzgerald is the sixth-most targeted receiver in football with 133. Fitzgerald's 92 receptions are a remarkable 59 more than anyone else on the team and nine more than the rest of the team's wideouts combined. He leads the Cards with five touchdowns. And Fitzgerald has posted those numbers despite playing with three quarterbacks, four running backs, and seven offensive line combinations. Opposing defenses know Fitzgerald is Arizona's primary weapon, but they can't prevent him from catching passes.

What is the strength of the Cardinals' offense?

In the last four games, it has become the rushing attack. Over the first 10 games, Arizona averaged just 69.3 yards a game on the ground. But in their four most recent outings, the Cardinals have run for 108, 118, 136 and 141 yards, an average of 125.8 yards. Kerwynn Williams started the last three games, but hurt his quad last week in Washington. Elijhaa Penny, who had five NFL carries before last week's game, had 10 attempts for 45 yards and could become the team's fifth starter at the position this week (including leading rusher Adrian Peterson, who is on injured reserve, and David Johnson, who was expected to be the backfield star but dislocated his left wrist in the season opener).

Which player is key to the Cardinals' defense?

That's easy. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones leads the NFL with a 15.0 sacks, 25 tackles for losses, and 35 quarterback hits. He had at least one sack in 12 of the season's first 14 games. Disruptive vs. both the run and the pass, Jones has an NFL-best 39 tackles for losses since the start of the 2016 season. Jones has missed just 17 snaps all season.

What is the strength of the Cardinals' defense?

The unit's aggressiveness and ability to put pressure on the quarterback. The Cardinals have been particularly effective when blitzing or bringing an extra pass rusher. Arizona has good players all over the defense. Chandler is the most prominent, but cornerback Patrick Peterson (chosen this week for his seventh Pro Bowl) and safety Tyrann Mathieu (the Honey Badger) are among the best players in the league at their positions. Linebacker Karlos Dansby has been a productive player throughout his career and leads the team with 90 tackles (72 solo). Nose tackle Corey Peters is having a solid season.

What is the strength of the Cardinal's special teams?

Rookie Budda Baker has been the starting strong safety since Week 11 but has been a standout all season on special teams, where he has 15 tackles. Baker this week was selected as the special teams player for the NFC Pro Bowl team.

Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?

Find a way to run the ball against a team that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher at home in two seasons. The Giants can mitigate the defensive front's ability to apply pressure and the secondary's coverage skills by successfully running the ball. And maintaining control of the ball will reduce the opportunities Fitzgerald has to get it in his hands.

Statistics you should know:

*The Cardinals' six victories have been by an average of 4.82 points.

  • Stanton has a 9-6 career record as a starter.

*Arizona is last in the NFL in red zone offense, with league-low percentages in touchdowns (38.6 on 17 scores in 44 trips inside the opposition 20-yard line) and scoring (79.5, with a touchdown or field goal on 35 of those 44 opportunities).

*In their last four games, the Cardinals have allowed an NFL-low 83 points.

A look at the key playmakers from the Cardinals roster heading into Week 16

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