Three Positive and Negative Takeaways from Cardinals Win Over Giants – Sports Illustrated

Posted: December 14, 2020 at 1:57 am


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The Arizona Cardinals have earned their playoff spot back. Minutes after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took down the Minnesota Vikings, the final whistle blew in the Meadowlands as Arizona took down the New York Giants, 26-7. At 7-6, the Cardinals now lead Minnesota by one game in the wild-card chase with three weeks remaining.

Arizona's defense on Sunday was stellar, special teams provided a boost and the offense found a rhythm at times that it hasnt seen for three weeks.

"I felt it yesterday at the hotel," quarterback Kyler Murray said. "The vibe was different, more free, everybody just relaxing and having fun, not putting any pressure on anybody. And today we came out and played."

Pros

Defense (Haasons Show)

Across the board, the defense had perhaps its best performance of the season by far on Sunday. It allowed single-digit points for the first time by setting the edge and getting to quarterback Daniel Jones, with great coverage and forcing turnovers.

The Cardinals finished with eight sacks (the same number as last year against New York), five tackles for loss, five pass deflections and three forced fumbles. They got started early, as former Giant Markus Golden stripped Jones on the Giants' opening drive.

"I thought Marcus set the tone, which is kind of poetic to come back here and get that strip-sack," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Overall, a great plan by (defensive coordinator Vance Joseph)."

Outside linebacker Haason Reddick made team history with his career day.

He finished with five sacks, setting a franchise record, with six quarterback hits and three forced fumbles. Reddick now has 10 sacks this season after having 7.5 over his first three years combined.

"I cried at the end of the game, filled with joy," Reddick said.

He out-did Chandler Jones, who had four sacks against the Giants last year to fall a half-sack short of the team record.

"The look in his eyes this week, rushing all week, I knew he was going to have a big one," Golden said.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph talked during the week about stopping the Giants on third downs, and Arizona held them to 3-for-12. They also contained New York to just 159 net yards, a season low.

Everyone essentially made an impactful play. The Giants hardly threw in cornerback Patrick Petersons direction all game, but he deflected a pass early on. Dre Kirkpatrick stepped up with solid coverage and had a couple pass breakups. Linebacker Dennis Gardeck had two sacks at MetLife Stadium earlier in the season against the Jets and he picked up two more in the same building Sunday.

Linebacker Devon Kennard had a tackle for loss, cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. knocked a deep ball away and linebacker Jordan Hicks led the team with eight tackles.

"Everybody got it going today," Golden said.

Offensive rhythm

The Cardinals scoring 26 points isnt near the top of their season outputs and they certainly left some points on the field.

But, there were spurts where the offense looked like the one that scored at least 30 points in five straight games earlier this year.

They utilized an up-tempo, calling roll-outs, the protection for quarterback Kyler Murray improved and he was able to find some running lanes. Plus, he hit 24 of 35 throws, which opened up the game for the rushing attack.

Arizona gained 159 yards on the ground, 80 from Kenyan Drake and 47 from Murray, the teams highest output since Nov. 15.

"We had a good week of practice," Murray said. "We adjusted to the plan, what they were doing. I had a lot more running lanes, they were dropping eight at a time, dropping in coverage a lot."

Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins connected nine times for 136 yards.

"For the most part, we were efficient, ran the ball," Kingsbury said. "I thought Kyler made plays with his feet. D-Hop obviously had his deal.

"We still know there's a lot of room for improvement."

The offense scored only two touchdowns and left the rest for field goals, but they found the rhythm that had been lacking in several stretches against one of the better defenses on their schedule.

Special teams

For the second consecutive week, the special-teams coverage unit forced a fumble that led to a Cardinals touchdown, this time on a kickoff. Kylie Fitts inadvertently stuck his leg up and kicked the ball away from returner Dion Lewis, and Trent Sherfield recovered.

Kicker Mike Nugent filled in for Zane Gonzalez, who was announced to be out with a back injury Saturday. Nugent made all four of his field-goal tries. None were more than 37 yards, but he did his job.

Punter Andy Lee helped the Cardinals win the field-position battle, pinning the Giants within the 10-yard line on three of four kicks.

As for returns, Christian Kirk set up multiple scores, averaging 12.8 yards per return.

Lee, Kirk and turnovers helped the Cardinals' average starting position be on their 47-yard line while New York's was on their 18.

Cons

Missed red-zone chances

While the defense got off to a hot start with Goldens strip-sack, the offense took a while to break into the end zone. Golden returned the fumble to the 9-yard line, but after reaching the 1-yard line, the Cardinals were stifled on third and fourth down resulting in no points.

After the Giants punted on the next drive, Kirk had a 24-yard return to the New York 38. The Cardinals could only muster a field goal after getting back to the red zone. This essentially happened again two drives later, as a Cardinals drive stalled at the 19-yard line.

"We started slow," Murray said. "We had possessions where we moved the ball, flipped field position, but we didn't end up scoring. There was still a lot out there."

The Cardinals finished 2-for-7 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone after entering the game with the best touchdown percentage in the NFL.

Consistent running with Drake

While Murray was able to find space ahead of him, Drake did not often. He finished with 80 yards on 23 carries, but 18 of his rushes went for three yards or fewer. Part of the reason the Cardinals did not get in the end zone sooner was that they could not find a hole with their lead running back.

Drake also fumbled twice on one possession, although both were recovered by the offense.

Jordan Phillips

Phillips was activated from reserve/injured on Saturday in time for Sunday's game. He had missed four games, which was a big loss for the defensive front.

Five plays into his return, he went down with a hamstring injury again.

"I've got to get in there and talk through that but I know we have got some guys banged up and so we have to address that," Kingsbury said.

The Cardinals next chance to hold onto their playoff spot is a week from Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles in Glendale.

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Three Positive and Negative Takeaways from Cardinals Win Over Giants - Sports Illustrated

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December 14th, 2020 at 1:57 am

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