For the third straight week, the Arizona Cardinals find themselves underdogs against an inferior (record-wise) opponent—the New York Giants are 3-point home favorites in Sunday’s game. What’s more is that 7/10 ESPN experts predict the G-Men to win as well. This despite the fact that the Giants come into the game with a bottom-10 offense led by a shaky rookie QB and a bottom-5 defense that has only stopped a woeful Washington team.
Insert the Rodney Dangerfield quote here.
The Redbirds have bucked expectations for two weeks in a row now. Can they make it a third? Let’s take a look at each phase of the game and identify the keys to making this latest East Coast swing a winning one.
Key #1 – Passing Offense: Play a Clean Game
The Giants’ secondary is one of the worst in the league, giving up 285.0 YPG (#31) at an eye-popping 9.3 YPA (also #31), making them the #28 pass defense by DVOA. The reason for that interesting, if slight, 3-spot difference? The G-Men have nabbed 8 INTs, good for 8th in the league. Of course, they picked off Washington QBs 4 times and Jameis Winston once, but they also nabbed an INT off Tom Brady last week. So this secondary is vulnerable, yes, but also opportunistic—and interceptions on the road are killers. Fortunately, Kyler Murray hasn’t thrown a pick in his 69 attempts during this nice 2-game win streak. To give the Redbirds the best chance at a third-straight victory, he’s got to keep that streak going. He should put up healthy numbers once again—with or without Christian Kirk—but the number in the INT column needs to be another 0.
Key #2 – Rushing Offense: Feed the Three-Headed Monster
The Redbirds’ rushing attack underwhelmed against the Falcons last week—29 attempts for 102 yards (3.5 PYC) and 1 TD. The performance caused our rushing DVOA ranking to plummet from #1 in the league all the way down to… #4. So this is still a capable rushing attack, which should prove key in an outdoor East Coast game. But the G-Men aren’t pushovers in the running game. Yes, they give up 127.3 YPG (#24), but that’s because they have faced the 4th-most rushing attempts (181). Their 4.2 YPC against is actually top-15 in the league, as is their rushing DVOA (#13). So it won’t necessarily be easy sledding all day for Kyler, David Johnson, and Chase Edmonds. Nevertheless, I expect Kliff Kingsbury to unleash this three-headed monster early and often on the road. Mark Kyler down for another 8-10 attempts, and DJ will get his usual touches. But Cardinals fans should hope Edmonds (do we have a nickname for him yet?) gets double-digit touches. If he does, I see another W on the horizon.
Key #3 – Passing Defense: Rekindle the Pass Rush
First things first: Yes, our #30 pass defense (both by yards and DVOA) gets Patrick Peterson back this week. Maybe he snags the Cardinals’ first pick of the season (Daniel Jones has thrown 6 in 4 starts), but it’s hard to know what to expect from Pat Pete as he returns from a 6-game suspension. It’s probably not realistic to expect elite, shutdown CB play right away, but he’ll also undoubtedly make the defense has a whole better. So given that uncertainty, I’ll instead turn my attention to the pass rush, which has disappeared of late. After racking up 11 sacks over the first 4 games, Chandler Jones, Terrell Suggs, and Co. have only dropped opposing QBs twice in the past 2 games. Fortunately, rookie QBs are prone to sacks (remember Kyler against the Panthers?), and Jones is no exception—he’s taken 10 in his 4 starts, including 5 against the Buccaneers and 4 against the Vikings. Getting that many on Sunday would obviously be huge, but I’d certainly take 2-3—especially if one is a strip-sack. Here’s hoping the improved coverage with Peterson back gives our pass rushers time to get home.
Key #4 – Rushing Defense: How Healthy Is Saquon Barkley’s Ankle?
The rest of these keys, while important, are just window dressing—Saquon’s ankle is the key to the entire game. He hasn’t been officially declared active yet, but it seems like an eventuality at this point and he’s talking a big game. But how likely is it that he comes back at full strength after missing just 3+ games with a high ankle sprain? Remember that he was originally given a 4-8 week timetable. If he comes back at 100%, the Redbirds’ porous run defense (#26 YPG, #25 DVOA) is in for trouble—as is anyone playing against him in fantasy. But if he’s not 100% and Wayne Gallman and/or Javorious Allen wind up getting carries, it’s a clear advantage for the Cardinals. We likely won’t know how healthy Saquon is until gametime, but anything less than 100% health increases our chances to win.
Key #5 – Special Teams: Turn Things Around
This goes for field position as much as it does DVOA rankings, where the Redbirds have tumbled all the way down to #24 after a strong showing last season and the first few weeks of 2019. Zane Gonzalez has now missed three FGs after starting the year 9-9, and our kickoff returns and coverage have both been negative value. At least both punting units have been strong. We need to play a solid, mistake-free game on the road this week. Fortunately, our opponent is #26 in those DVOA rankings, so they might do us a favor and beat themselves in this phase. Just as long as we don’t do it to ourselves first, we’ll be in good shape.
With a win Sunday, the Cardinals would get back to .500 for the first time since… well, since that Week 1 tie, technically. But really we haven’t been a .500 team in wins and losses since Week 17 of the 2017 season—the last game of the Bruce Arians/Carson Palmer era. So the stakes are fairly large.
I do think we’re the better team even though we’re underdogs—and the +3 line actually suggests Vegas thinks we’re evenly matched on a neutral field. But evenly matched against an unimposing 2-4 squad? Sounds like Vegas doesn’t respect us too much.
I don’t want to do anything like predict a win and jinx the team, but I will return to my point above and say the key is Saquon Barkley. If we hold him under 100 yards, we’ll return to the desert a .500 team. If he goes over the century mark, it’ll be a depressing flight home.
Your turn to weigh in, Cardinals fans. Do you think the team should be getting more respect after winning two in a row? Or do you need to see more? And don’t forget to give your keys and predictions for Sunday’s game. Have at it in the comments!