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Cover 3: What we learned from Giants vs. Cardinals

COVER-3

Takeaways from the New York Giants' 26-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14:

John Schmeelk: Last week and in previous Cover 3 editions, I wrote about how the Giants had found a formula for winning. If they could follow the formula of winning the turnover battle, running the football and playing from ahead, they would have a good chance to continue to stack wins.

Sunday is what it can look like when the formula is not only left incomplete, but completely falls apart. During their four-game winning streak, the Giants won the turnover battle, 10-2. They have not lost the turnover battle in any of their five wins this season. Against the Cardinals, the Giants turned over the ball three times and failed to log a takeaway.

The Giants turned it over on their first possession, and the defense managed to keep the Cardinals out of the end zone. A subsequent three-and-out by the Giants from their own 1-yard line set up a short field, and the Cardinals took a 3-0 lead. The Giants' second fumble in the second quarter set up a Cardinals touchdown to give them a 13-0 lead with 6:53 remaining. From there, the Giants were in serious catch-up mode.

The Giants could not sustain any drives in the first half and went three-and-out three times. They ran it 10 times for 43 yards, but weren't consistent enough to move the ball effectively. The Giants had too many plays that failed to gain significant yards: three runs for 1 yards or less, six incomplete passes, and two sacks. Their third down attempts in the first half were for 3, 5, 7, 4, 7, and 21 yards. They were only 1-of-6 on those attempts. The Cardinals played sticky man-to -man defense and blitzed often. The Giants couldn't make them pay with big plays over the top. The Giants had no plays go for more than 15 yards in the first half.

The Giants' defense played well enough in the red zone to keep the team in the game, but didn't force any takeaways nor did it force any three-and-outs. They were not the dominant force that showed up in the previous game against Seattle. The result was an average starting field position for the offense at their own 18, without any drives starting outside their own 30.

The result was an offense that was forced to play out of its comfort zone and get away from the conservative approach that had served them so well in previous weeks. An offensive line that was not asked to block often in straight drop-back situations during the four-game winning streak, struggled with a relentless pass rush that knew the Giants had to throw the ball.

The Cardinals had eight sacks. The Cardinals got pressure on 69% of the Giants' pass plays, which was the highest rate of any team that played on Sunday afternoon - and they only had to blitz eight times to do it. The next-highest was the Bears at 55%. Daniel Jones struggled with his mobility to avoid the rush, and fumbled three times. He had to hold the ball a little longer with more pressure to make plays because the team was playing from behind.

The Giants' wins during their streak came by small margins in terms of score and how the games were won. Was the strategy of relying on winning the turnover battle, playing dominant defense and relying on the run game sustainable? Those things are not always going to fall in the Giants' favor. How would the team respond when part of the formula didn't add up? For one game, the results were poor.

The Giants will have to figure out how to win in different ways. As teams decipher the Giants' formula for winning, it isn't always going to be there. The next step for the team will be winning when things don't go right and they have to get out of character. Can they throw it for big yards when teams expect it? They'll have another chance to do it this week versus Cleveland on Sunday Night Football.

Dan Salomone: Winning is simple, but it is not easy. Sunday proved that as the Giants lost battles in -- among other things -- turnover differential (minus-3), time of possession (37:52-22:08), and rushing yardage (159-78). The Giants excelled in those areas before they lost for the first time since Week 8. It also proved that every game is independent of whatever happened in the past. Arizona didn't care that that the Giants were coming off a victory in Seattle, which was one of their biggest wins in recent memory. All that matters is executing on Sunday, which the Giants didn't do as well as the Cardinals. In the NFL, you're either on top of the world or at the bottom of it on any given week. The same people who praised them during their four-game win streak are now criticizing them. They just have to ignore the noise.

"I don't think we had any kind of a hangover from going out to Seattle last week," coach Joe Judge said. "I don't think that's the cause of it. Again, this game is completely independent of anything that has happened before. We simply didn't come out today and we didn't coach well enough and we didn't play well enough. That's the hard truth of it."

Lance Medow: If there were a few common themes that defined the Giants' four-game win streak, they were ball security, pass protection and a strong running game. Those three facets all troubled New York against the Cardinals and, no coincidence, that's why their recent rise came to an end. Over the previous four games, the Giants had a turnover differential of plus-8, surrendered a combined 10 sacks and ran for over 100 yards in each contest. In Sunday's loss to the Cardinals, those respective numbers were minus-3, eight and 78.

The Cardinals only scored seven points off the Giants' three fumbles (although Colt McCoy's fumble came at the end of the game), but the turnovers completely changed the battle of field position, which proved to be a significant advantage for Arizona. Of the Cardinals' 12 possessions, five of them started at midfield (once) or in New York territory (fourth times). The last thing you can afford to do, regardless of how well your defense had been playing, is to hand favorable field position to a Top 10 offense.

On the Giants' first possession of the game, Markus Golden recorded a strip sack and returned the ball to the New York 9. Even though the Giants' defense delivered with a goal-line stand and kept the Cardinals off the board, the Giants' ensuing possession started at their 1. After a three-and-out, Arizona took over at the New York 38. Christian Kirk's 24-yard punt return was a factor, but that first turnover essentially set forth a chain reaction for the rest of the game.

The turnovers and lack of a consistent run game also contributed to a noticeable disparity in plays and time of possession. The Cardinals ran 30 more plays than the Giants (79-49) and held the ball for more than 15 minutes (37:52-22:08). When you're playing from behind (mostly double-digits) the entire game, it's very difficult to maintain a ground attack. And then consider the Giants had just 49 snaps, meaning they needed to capitalize on almost every possession. Of New York's 12 drives, three ended with fumbles and eight with punts, including five three-and-outs. A unacceptable seven of the possessions had at least one negative play (sack, fumble, etc).

View photos from the Week 14 matchup between the Giants and Cardinals at MetLife Stadium.

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