To say that the Arizona Cardinals defense was impressive Sunday night against the New York Giants is quite an understatement. While the box score might not blow you away (327 yards allowed and 17 points), the play on the field told a different story. The Cardinals defense played a game of cat and mouse that had Eli Manning and the Giants off balance for most of the game.
Eli doing his best Peyton Impersonation: From the beginning of the game it was clear that the Cardinals' defensive game plan was to make Eli think before the snap. Bill Davis had Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle moving all over the defensive front and Eli spent most of his pre-snap audibles trying to make sure that he accounted for their presence. The problem though is that Eli isn't quite Peyton when it comes to pre-snap audibles and he took two delay of game penalties because of it. To make matters worse, both penalties came on third downs.
Pressure leads to Success: Despite the Giants' previous success protecting Eli the Cardinals were able to harass and rattle him. The constant pressure led to three sacks and three interceptions, both numbers doubled his season totals coming into the game. The Cardinals supplied most of the pressure with blitzes although two of the three sacks were simply a result of a player beating their man. By the end of the game Eli was left with his worst statistical since last year's playoff loss to the Eagles (47.5 QB rating and 51.4 completion percentage).
Banged Up Secondary Still Does the Job: The biggest beneficiary of the pressure supplied by the front seven was the Cardinals secondary and they needed all of the help that they could get. With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie spraining his ankle and A-dub dealing with cramps, the secondary was forced to lean on some young guys including Michael Adams and Greg Toler. While neither finished with gaudy stat lines, it's a testiment to the depth of this team that the Giants weren't able to capatilize on the absense of DRC and A-dub.
Short Scoring Drives: Despite giving up over 300 yards and 17 points the Cardinals defense did a tremendous job on the Giants offense. Exactly half of their drives (7 of 14) were 'three-and-outs' and their two "legitimate" scoring drives both started in Cardinals territory. I'm using the word "legitimate" because the 62 yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks was about as fluky as they come. Had DRC's batted ball fallen harmlessly to the ground, as most do, that 75 yard TD drive would have been a four play drive that resulted in a punt. If you throw out the drive that included the fluke TD, the Giants didn't have a single drive that was longer than 30 until the fourth quarter.
- Calais Campbell: Campell continued his outstanding play with two tackles, a sack and a tipped pass that resulted in Eli's second pick. To make a long story short, he's playing a like a mad man.
- Alan Branch: Wait this can't be right, we're praising Alan Branch? Many of us, myself included, were hoping that Branch would be shown the door this off season but for the second straight game he's been a true force. Not only did he notch the first sack of his career but he also picked up the second sack. His move to defensive end is looking like a genuis idea.
- Karlos Dansby: Dansby's been under some fire lately for his lack of big plays (and his one tackle game against the Seahawks) but his first double digit tackle game of the season should ease some tension.
- Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle: I'm listing them together because they were equally impressive Sunday night. They both danced all over the formation causing Eli to jump from audible to audible, but they also produced some decent stat lines to boot. Together they accounted for 13 tackles and two picks.
- DRC: His intereception was nothing short of spectacular and his day would have been even better had it not been for that batted ball and his gimpy ankle.
All in all despite the yardage and points that the Giants put up, this was the best defensive performance of the season in my mind. Who else stood out and who deserves a game ball?