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ARI 27 NYG 21: Banking on Chase and The Pow Jones

Arizona Cardinals v New York Giants Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals have won three straight games, one at home and two of them in the Eastern time zone and after 7 games, the team is 3-3-1.

Over these past three games, the Cardinals’ offense have employed a strong balance of run and pass plays, each leading to a 14-17 point leads—-in Cincinnati the 14 point lead was erased in a furious 5 minute 4th quarter span, and last week in Glendale their 17 point lead was quickly dashed again—-but yesterday’s 17 point lead was threatened in the downpours at Met-Life Stadium in the Meadowlands, but never squandered.

It was a spirited effort by the visiting Cardinals, highlighted by a breakout 126 yard 3 TD performance from 2nd year RB Chase Edmonds, zero turnovers in the rain and 8 sacks of QB Daniel Jones, 4 of which were delivered Domino’s Pizza style by Chandler ‘Pow” Jones.

What has become a common theme in recent weeks is how the Cardinals players are taking ownership of their play. A few weeks ago, Kyler Murray himself was sacked 8 times by the Carolina Panthers while spending most of the game trying to dink and dunk versus the Panther’s outstanding zone defense. However, following that stinging loss, Murray said the offense had become “predictable” and the Cardinals’ offensive linemen reportedly “got pissed” at Kliff Kingsbury for not running the ball enough to create offensive balance.

Obviously, Kliff Kingsbury was very open to the criticism and he listened very carefully to Sean Kugler’s (OL coach) and his linemen’s plea to open up the running game.

The first notable difference was that Kyler Murray became more aggressive in his role in the running game...and everything else has followed suit in terms of balance and production:

Cardinals’ Offense: Plays/Yards

CIN: Passing: 32/248; Rushing: 36/266 = 68/514 Score: W 26=23

ATL: Passing: 37/340; Rushing: 29/102 = 66/442 Score: W 34-33

NYG: Passing: 21/89; Rushing 38/156 - 59/245: Score: W 27-21

Yesterday, the Cardinals looked extremely well prepared to run the ball, despite David Johnson being sidelined and D.J. Foster being inactive. One of their primary objectives was to test the Giants’ edges and perimeters—-something that’s been a year to year vulnerability of defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s defenses.

It’s a rare day when a RB scores three times from the the 20 yard line and out. I can’t recall ever seeing that from a Cardinals’ RB. But what Chase Edmonds did better than any recent Cardinals’ RB is he timed his bursts into the holes perfectly and with a turbo-like thrust, and when he had to, he pinballed off of tacklers. Feats your eyes again on these TDs and at how natural and easy these look:

What we see here is not only Chase Edmonds’ perfectly timed bolts, but some top-notch, well coordinated blocks from the Cardinals’ offensive linemen, many of the blocks coming on the move and others’ coming on combos.

Where the Cardinals’ offense got into trouble was when Kyler Murray took a deep sack which pinned the punting team back to the goal line, which led to Andy Lee’s blocked punt TD by the Giants, aided and abetted by missed blocks up the middle and by protector Chase Edmonds, filling in for D.J. Foster.

Murray’s sack and later scooting out of bounds with 2:11 left in the game were his two biggest mistakes on the day—-but, I think that Murray was trying to protect himself from taking big hits on both of those plays—-something which in the long run is a good idea when his instinct tells him to. Sometimes the biggest shots a QB takes is when he opens his body up to throw the football away, and with converging defenders be able to heave it past the yard markers.

The problem in the 4th quarter of this tight game was for the first time all year, the Cardinals’ offense became almost completely one-dimensional. They were handing the ball or short passing the ball to Chase Edmonds on virtually every down. When you let a defense key in on one player, you are playing right into their hands—-and the Giants made the Cardinals and Edmonds pay.

Kliff Kingsbury said after the game that because his passing offense relies on a precise timing and rhythm passing scheme that because of the rain, he had to scrap it.

This seems like a way too conservative reaction—-and maybe some of you (Cardinals’ fans) were thinking what I was in the 4th quarter that the play calling got so conservative it felt like the Cardinals were playing scared to win.

However—-the fact is that Kingsbury’s decision to play things safe, combined with the reality that the Cardinals did not commit a single turnover on offense with a slippery, wet ball in those cascades of water—-and that the Cardinals’ defense was very well up to the task of closing the Giants’ out—-suggests very strongly that Kingsbury, in this case, did the right thing.

It worked—-and when it does, that’s all that matters.

We should acknowledge and give Kingsbury praise for his courage to go for it on 4th down back on the very first drive—-which was neatly converted on a quick out to pass to Pharoh Cooper—-the same kind of pass that Cooper dropped the week before in a late 4th quarter key third down situation. This 4th down conversion led directly to Edmonds’ first 20 yard TD and it put the Cardinals ahead 7-0 before the Giants had touched the ball. It was the first of leads the Cardinals this time were able to maintain throughout the entire game.

At the beginning of this season—-Kingsbury would have kicked the FG. Not now. That’s big, in my opinion because it smacks of confidence.

On defense the Cardinals did a commendable job of containing RB Saquon Barkley, who finished the game with 72 yards on 18 carries and 1 TD. For the first time this season, no RB or WR or TE had a 100+ yard day versus the Cardinals. That’s progress.

The return of CB Patrick Peterson was a boost, as the Cardinals played a similar type of “shell” pass coverage that the Patriots had used effectively on Daniel Jones 10 days ago in Foxboro. Credit Vance Joseph and the advanced scouts for picking up on that part of the team’s homework and preparation.

The defense gave up a bunch of underneath passes, but, aside from the 28 yard TD pass from Jones to TE Rhett Ellison that FS Budda Baker could have made a more aggressive play on, the Giants were basically relegated to short passes and whenever it seemed they wanted try to attempt longer passes the Cardinals’ pass rush converged on Jones—-punctuated by Jordan Hick’s interception (1st for the the Cardinals defense this season) Chandler Jones’ 4 sacks (forced fumble) and Patrick Peterson’s game sealing blindside CB blitz sack (formed fumble).

It was an auspicious time for the Cardinals defense to show they can close out a game with a good, strong pass rush. If the Cardinals defense can continue deliver on late game stops, based on the kind of points the Cardinals’ offense has been putting up in recent games, that’s a formula that can prolong winning streaks. The last real consistent glimpse Cardinals’ fans have seen of that formula goes back to 2015—-and it just so happens that the Cardinals haven’t won three games in a row since then until this year.