Sitting at 1-2 and coming off back to back losses on the road the Cardinals will be looking to get their season back on track with a win over the injury plagued New York Giants who will be on a high after beating the Philadelphia Eagles in week 3. Coming back home will be a blessing for the Cardinals who since Ken Whisenhunt arrived in 2007 have won notable home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints in years the all won 10+ games. The last time two times these teams met has resulted in the visitors taking the win each time. Eli Manning will have nothing but good memories of the University of Phoenix stadium, two wins from two trips, including the Superbowl victory over the 18-0 Patriots. Hit the jump to see what it will take to break Manning's winning streak in Arizona.
1 - Establish and lean on the running game. After a week off with an injury Beanie Wells looks likely to be back in the starting lineup and ready to run. The Cardinals need to hand the ball to him early and often, get their pass rushers thinking about the ground game as well as the passing game, make them diagnose before they rush, give our tackles a fighting chance to protect their nice new asset in Kevin Kolb. It is not going to be easy to stick with the ground game; the Giants are allowing just 3.6 YPC so far this season, but if the ground game does not get going the Cardinals are limited in what they can do, and it essentially eliminates the deep ball in the passing game given the protection history of Brandon Keith and Levi Brown matched up against Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul. Establish the ground game and lean on it. Give Wells his 25 carries and let him do work with it, if Beanie can get 100+ yards on the ground it is going to make the job for Kolb and the rest of the offense that much easier.
2 - Get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. It seems far to simple and self explanatory, but it is something the Cardinals failed to do against Seattle. Larry Fitzgerald started well, he had 5 receptions and a touchdown in the first half, but he was thrown at just 3 times in the second half of Sundays game and the Cardinals offense suffered mightily as a result. Get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald at all costs, throw it to him on short routes and let him find YAC, throw it to him in jump ball situations and let him go to work, hit him with as many targets as reasonable. Let Fitz do his job and come down with 10+ catches over 100 yards and a couple of scores and the Cardinals win this football game. Period.
3 - Play good ball on 3rd downs. Third downs may seem like "just another down" in the context of an entire football game, but prolonged success or failure can win or lose you games. The Cardinals defense is currently playing pretty well on third downs allowing just 34% of them to be converted. Offensively however it is the opposite, just 31% of their third downs result in first downs, and not converting third downs leaves your defense on the field, and when your defense has been on the field too long they get tired and struggle as the game progresses. The Giants have actually been worse that the Cardinals this season on third downs, the key is the force them into third down situations (more on that in a bit). The Cardinals need to get back to what worked in weeks 1 and 2 (8/20) and away from what didn't vs. Seattle (3-14).
4 - Take advantage of the Giants lack of secondary depth. The Giants starters at CB are good players, Corey Webster is among the upper echelon of #1 cornerbacks in the league and Aaron Ross is a former #1 draft pick looking to establish himself again, but behind them is weak. Michael Coe (17 games, 0 starts in four seasons prior to 2011) and Brian Williams (Two seasons on the backburner in Atlanta since 2008) are the depth. The Cardinals have the receiving talent to spread them out and take advantage of the matchups. Use quick hitters and 3 step drops which serve the dual purpose of getting a receiver in space against lesser defender and negating the pass rush from the Giants that is sure to come in waves with Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul playing well and Osi Umenyoira returning from injury. Spread them out; test their depth against the likes of Doucet, Heap and Roberts and win the 1 v 1 matchups that come out of it.
5 - Keep the game in front of you. Eli Manning has thrown for 795 yards and 6 TD's, over half of that yardage and four of the TD's have come on just 14% of his pass attempts. The Giants have been able to create big plays this season and lead the league in passing plays gaining 40 or more yards, including two first quarter scores against the Eagles. The Cardinals are 30th in the league having allowed 16 plays of 20 or more yards in the air and sit 31st= in allowing 3 plays of 40 or more yards in the air. The Giants are going to try to exploit the matchups with younger CB's and safeties who like to play at or around the LOS, especially in the playaction game. The Cardinals defensive backs need to stay disciplined play their areas and not let receivers get behind them. On shorter routes they must be sure of their tackling and not allow the Giants to create YAC. Force Manning and the Giants to orchestrate long drives if they want to get points on the board.