The Giants try to break their two-game losing streak when they host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Metlife Stadium.
Here’s what I saw watching Arizona’s last four games on tape:
When The Cardinals Have The Ball
The Spotlight: Quarterback Kyler Murray
Kyler Murray’s improved play is a big reason for Arizona’s two-game win streak. After a career at Oklahoma behind an outstanding line that allowed very little pressure, Murray was sacked 20 times in his first four games in the NFL. He was sacked only once against the Bengals in Week 5 and wasn’t sacked at all last week against the Falcons. He is getting rid of the ball quicker, showing good pocket presence, and is willing to throw it away in the face of pressure. According to Next Gen Stats, Murray has only been pressured on 12.4% of his dropbacks, the lowest rate in the NFL. He is releasing the ball in less than 2.5 seconds on 56.7% of his dropbacks, the fourth highest rate in the league.
Murray is only 5-11 and has had five passes batted at the line this year, which is fifth most among NFL teams. Against the blitz, Murray has a quarterback rating of 60, with three interceptions and eight sacks.
Murray is an accurate passer (64.3% comp) who can throw with anticipation and has the arm strength to make all the throws. He is not afraid to get the ball downfield, with three completions that traveled more than 40 yards in the air. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), on passes that have traveled 20 or more yards in the air, he is 12 of 26 for 442 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. On throws between 10 and 20 yards, he is completing only 48% of his passes. His four interceptions have all come against zone defense, but he has been less productive against man defense looks. According to PFF, he is 43 of 85 for 442 yards against man defense.
Murray’s legs are a weapon. Coach Kliff Kingsbury uses him on designed runs, and in traditional read-options with jet sweep pre-snap motion. He uses his legs to buy time to complete a pass, or to run for critical yardage. He has the speed and quickness of a slot receiver and can outrun defenders in the front seven. He has 238 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but is making a concerted effort to operate from the pocket.
The Matchup: Running back David Johnson
Johnson has proven to be more of receiving threat this season. He has 315 receiving yards on 30 receptions versus 298 rushing yards on 76 carries. Three of his five touchdowns have come as a receiver. Johnson is not just a check-down receiver. He is often on the field with fellow running back Chase Edmonds, and will motion out as a wide receiver. Johnson will run a variety of downfield routes and even has a few contested back-shoulder catches. The Giants have allowed the third most receiving yards in the league to opposing running backs this year.
Johnson is a downhill runner who has short area quickness and rarely leaves yards on the field. He has been fighting back and ankle injuries. According to PFF, only 27% of Johnson’s yards have come on runs of 15 yards or more, ranking 41st in the league.
Scheme and Tendencies
* Kingsbury employs the Air Raid system that he used in college that includes spread formations and vertical routes down the field. The Cardinals have 38 completions of 15 or more yards, which is ninth most in the NFL. They use RPO’s, read options, and operate primarily out of the shotgun. They often motion their running back out of the backfield and use empty sets. They employ a vertical pass game that is complemented by quick passes to receivers at the line of scrimmage if opponents give them advantageous looks to gain easy yards.
* According to PFF, the Cardinals’ most frequently use 10 personnel (45% of the time), which features one running back, no tight ends and four wide receivers. Wide receiver Christian Kirk has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, and the Cardinals have shifted to 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, 3 wide receivers) as their primary group. They have used running backs Johnson and Edmonds to create deception in the backfield. Whether Kirk plays this week will likely determine what personnel group the Giants will see most.
* With Johnson battling injury, Edmonds’ snap count has increased to 47 over the past two weeks. He has 102 yards on 13 carries in those two games and is fast and explosive. He also has five catches for 51 yards.
* The Cardinals offensive line has been healthy this year and has done a solid job pass protecting in recent weeks. Former Giant Justin Pugh is the starting left guard and has combined with right guard J.R. Sweezy and center A.Q. Shipley to keep the inside of the pocket clean. Offensive tackles D.J. Humphries and Justin Murray have combined to allow three sacks, two quarterback hits, and 23 hurries. The group has been less successful in creating room in the run game.
* The Cardinals’ Achilles heel on offense has been red zone production. They’ve scored touchdowns on just 37.5% of their red zone possessions, tied for the third worst percentage in the league. The Cardinals have passed it 54 times in the red zone and run it just 27 times.
* Larry Fitzgerald remains the Cardinals most prolific wide receiver with 427 yards on 35 catches and two touchdowns. He has a huge catch radius and runs great routes. Christian Kirk isn’t far behind, with 24 catches for 242 yards in only four games. He is only 5-11 and 200 pounds but is very quick and can win in a variety of ways. The rest of the receiver snaps are split between KeeSean Johnson, Damiere Byrd, Trent Sherfield and Pharoh Cooper.
* The Cardinals are not shy about using trick plays, running flea flickers, option passes and throwbacks to the quarterback in the backfield. The Giants defense will have to be ready for trickery and deception.
* The Cardinals are one of two teams (the Bears are the other) that have not lost a fumble this season. They only have one fumble overall.
Keys for the Giants Defense
- Prevent big plays in the passing game
- Contain and get pressure on Kyler Murray
- Control David Johnson in the pass game
When The Giants Have The Ball
The Spotlight: Linebacker Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones is one of the best pass rushers in football. At 6-5 and 265 pounds, he uses length, power, great hands and the ability to bend the edge to get to the quarterback. His 4.5 sacks have come from bull rushes, inside swim moves and with speed around the corner. According to PFF, he also has 2 quarterback hits and 21 hurries. He does a good job of going after the football and has three forced fumbles. In the past, Jones was used mostly as a right defensive end, but now he is being lined up almost evenly on the left and right sides, swapping back and forth with Terrell Suggs.
The Matchup: CB Patrick Peterson vs Golden Tate
Patrick Peterson makes his return this week following a six-week PED suspension. It will be interesting to see how many snaps he is able to play. Even if he is just used in obvious passing situations, he will have a huge impact on the game as a matchup man-to-man cornerback. Peterson is an 8-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro and can shut down an entire side of the field. With Sterling Shepard out because of a concussion, it is possible Peterson is assigned to the Giants’ most accomplished receiver, Golden Tate.
Peterson has 23 career interceptions, 76 pass deflections and five touchdowns. According to PFF, he has never had a season where he allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 60% of their passes to the receiver he covered. When defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was asked where his unit had missed Peterson the most, his answer was simple: “Your best player? Every down.”
Scheme and Tedencies
* The Cardinals acquired linebacker Terrell Suggs as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and he has been productive as a pass rusher. He will swap playing the left and right sides with Jones and has four sacks and three forced fumbles. His violent style and ability to bend the edge makes him a consistent pass rusher.
* The Cardinals run a 3-4 scheme but are often in their sub-packages, which feature a four-man front. Interior defensive lineman Corey Peters has been disruptive in the middle of the defense.
* Jordan Hicks was an offseason addition at Mike linebacker and plays alongside Haason Reddick, who was drafted as an edge player. Reddick was moved him inside this year and is still adjusting to his new responsibilities. According to PFF, the Cardinals have struggled defending the middle of the field. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 18 of 27 passes for 355 yards and a touchdown on passes between the numbers that travel 10-20 yards in the air.
* On balls that travel more than 20 yards in the air between the numbers, opposing quarterbacks are 5 of 7 for 140 yards with two touchdowns. Budda Baker is an effective coverage safety and is versatile enough to play the nickel cornerback position. Rookie fifth round pick Deionte Thompson moved into the lineup at the other safety position two weeks ago.
* The Cardinals have played man only a bit over 30% of the time this season, according to PFF. Their coverage, however, seems to be game plan specific. Against the Falcons last week, they only played cover one or cover zero 14% of the time. The prior week against the Bengals, they were in those schemes over 45% of the time. If I had to bet, their percentages this week will be closer to what they did against the Bengals than the Falcons.
* Rookie second round pick Byron Murphy and veteran Tramaine Brock have been the starting cornerbacks. Murphy will likely be the other starter across from Peterson. He was a better zone cornerback when he played for the University of Washington. Brock slides inside to play nickel cornerback, a role he is likely to keep with Peterson’s return.
* Arizona is allowing more yards per play (6.9) on first down than any other team in the league. They’ve struggled defending the pass on first down, allowing a 139.5 quarterback rating, the highest number in the league.
* The Cardinals rush defense has been a problem all season, allowing 132 yards per game, which ranks them 26th in the NFL. Their 20 runs allowed of 10+ yards is tied for 25th in the league. Fifty percent (50%) of opposing teams’ rushes go for four or more yards. Only three teams have a worse rate.
* Only two teams have allowed more than Arizona’s 25 passes of 20 or more yards. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 128.1 when attempting passes that travel more than 20 yards in the air. Only two teams are worse on those kinds of plays. The Cardinals are the only team in the NFL without an interception this season.
Keys For The Giants Offense
- Make explosive plays in the middle of the field
- Daniel Jones must protect the ball when under pressure or getting hit
- Have success on early downs
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