Sunday’s matchup between the Giants and Cardinals will be just the ninth game since the 1970 merger in which rookie quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 will start against each other. Daniel Jones will look to stop Big Blue’s losing streak at two games, while Kyler Murray tries to win his third in a row with Arizona.
Here are three keys to victory for the Giants in Week 7:
1. Keep Murray in the pocket. Pat Shurmur described the running ability of Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, as “unique.” First-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury brought the fast-break offense from Texas Tech to Arizona, and what better person to orchestrate it than the former Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma. The Cardinals, who have scored 60 points in the last two weeks, are heavy in structured runs for the signal-caller. Through the first six games, Murray averaged 6.5 rushing attempts per game (third in the NFL among quarterbacks) for 39.7 yards (second).
“I think the most dangerous thing in our league with a quarterback with his skillset is when they drop back to pass, and then he takes off and runs,” Shurmur said. “He’s done that on a consistent basis throughout (the season) and that’s where they’re dangerous, because then they have the ability to keep their eyes downfield and throw a late check-down for 60 yards, or continue to run and move the chains. That’s part of his charm, and he’s done a good job to this point.”
“I think our guys are excited about this challenge, a quarterback that’s really dynamic,” said defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who served in the same role with the Cardinals before he joined the Giants last season. “I have spent 10 games playing against Russell Wilson in Seattle, so I have seen some guys like this that can buy time with their feet who are accurate and can deliver the ball on time and on schedule, then create some off-schedule plays. They’ve created a good amount of explosives in the pass game off of that. Also, the read option, there’s designed quarterback runs where he is running it and there’s other plays where he is reading the scheme of the defense, tucking the ball and carrying it or giving it. It’s going to be a great challenge for our guys.”
2. Jones must protect the ball. His last time out, Daniel Jones threw three interceptions, which increased his total to six in four starts. The good news this week is that he faces the only defense in the NFL yet to intercept a pass. The bad news is said defense gets back cornerback Patrick Peterson. The eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection was suspended for the first six games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy.
“He’s extremely talented,” Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “He has great football awareness. You have to be very, very careful when you’re throwing the ball in his direction for a lot of reasons. He plays with a lot of confidence, as we’ve all seen throughout his career. Again, we have to be very, very careful throwing the ball that way.”
Additionally, the Cardinals, even though they recovered only three, have forced nine fumbles. That is the second-most in the league behind Houston. Jones has lost three, but none since his first NFL start in Week 3. The rookie had 10 days in between games to self-scout his first month at the helm of the offense.
“I think in the pocket, making sure I’m keeping two hands on the ball,” Jones said when asked what improvements he wants to make. “When I’m running, securing the ball. I think that’s part of it. Just making good decisions. I think being aggressive when the opportunity is there, and not when it’s smart not to be aggressive. Just kind of managing that, understanding those situations, and learning from them.”
3. Run the ball. The Giants averaged 7.6 yards per carry and 140 yards on the ground in the first two games with Saquon Barkley. Since Week 3, when he injured his ankle, their rushing totals unsurprisingly dropped to 3.8 yards per carry and 88 yards per game. Less than a month removed from suffering the high ankle sprain, Barkley has practiced fully leading into Sunday’s matchup. A healthy Barkley would alleviate pressure on Daniel Jones from Chandler Jones, who has 4.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
“I think the way I help him is just to come in and do what I do and be me,” Barkley said. “I think there’s a reason why the Giants drafted me here. I think that in one year I’ve gained a lot of attention and respect from not just the media, but from other players and coaches in the league. So, I think you’ve got to account for another person when I’m playing. I think that’s what I bring to the game and I think that’s a way I can help not only Daniel, but help the team.”
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