By Jason Catania
Fox Sports Sponsored Post
Game: New York Giants (2-1) at Arizona Cardinals (1-2)
Date: Sunday, October 2
Time: 4:05 PM EST
Game of the Week Status
After looking terrible in their opening-game loss, the New York Giants have won two straight to save their start to the season, which is something the Arizona Cardinals are desperate to do following two straight defeats.
In Week 3, the Giants picked up a huge 29-16 win against the Philadelphia Eagles, an NFC East rival who had beaten New York six straight and came into the season with Super Bowl expectations.
The Giants, though, managed to exact some revenge for the brutal loss to Philly that kept them out of the playoffs late last season – otherwise known as DeSean-Jackson-punt-return-TD-on-the-final-play game – as the Eagles now sit at the bottom of the division, thanks to Eli Manning and New York’s defense.
Despite playing with a receiving corps limited by injuries to WRs Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon, the Giants quarterback threw four TD passes last week, including the first two scores of WR Victor Cruz’s career. And Big Blue’s D actually knocked Eagles QB Michael Vick out of the game for the second week in a row, this time with an injured hand after he came into the contest only days removed from suffering a concussion.
As satisfying as the Giants win was, the Cardinals loss was equally as crushing considering their opponent. Arizona lost their second straight game by three points or less with an embarrassing 13-10 defeat at the hands of the inept Seattle Seahawks on the road. Aside from an early TD catch by WR Larry Fitzgerald, the Cards’ offense didn’t do much of anything against a Seattle D that had allowed 33 and 24 points in the first two weeks.
New QB Kevin Kolb threw a pair of picks in his worst outing of the season so far, and Arizona managed just 90 rushing yards after having to dip all the way down to Alfonso Smith, their fourth-string running back, because starter Beanie Wells and backup LaRod Stephens-Howling were out with injuries and fill-in Chester Taylor struggled to get going. The all-around ugly performance cost the Cardinals a share of the NFC West lead.
What To Expect
The Giants return to the University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of their Super Bowl XLII championship, and will look to take advantage of a Cardinals defense that has been surrendering chunks of yardage at a time. In fact, Arizona ranks 27th in total yards allowed, and has been susceptible both on the ground (122.7 yards per game, 27th overall) and in the air (275 yards per game, 25th overall).
With the expected return to health of Manningham (concussion) and the emergence of Cruz in addition to top target Hakeem Nicks (team-bests of 14 catches and 185 yards), Manning will have plenty at his disposal in the passing game, and lead back Ahmad Bradshaw (4.4 yards per carry) is capable of teaming with battering ram RB Brandon Jacobs to balance out the Giants’ attack.
As for the defensive side, it’s looking like another injured Giant, DE Osi Umenyiora, may debut following offseason knee surgery, which would make New York’s front line – which already features fellow ends Jason Pierre-Paul, a blossoming second-year player with 4.5 sacks already, and veteran sack artist Justin Tuck – that much more imposing.
Coincidentally, if the Giants are going to slow down Fitzgerald, a five-time Pro Bowler who is Arizona’s top offensive threat, a lot of responsibility will fall on former Cardinals S Antrel Rolle, the franchise’ first-rounder back in 2005.
While Kolb will, no doubt, look Fitzgerald’s way often, it may in fact be the health of Wells’ lingering hamstring injury that has the biggest impact on the team. If their top back can’t go or is limited, the Cardinals will turn into a one-dimensional offense because of their lack of depth behind Wells.
For his part, though, Wells, who’s averaging 5.7 yards per carry in his two games, is confident he’ll be back this week, and Arizona will need him to make a few big plays. Same goes for the Cards’ defensive backfield, which includes three playmakers in safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes along with rookie CB Patrick Peterson, the fifth overall pick in last April’s draft.
Given Manning’s knack for making a few questionable throws over the course of a game, an interception or two in a key spot could turn the tide in this game – and the Cardinals’ season.