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Giants-Cardinals: When the Cardinals have the ball

The New York Giants travel to the Valley of the Sun in an almost must-win situation against the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday. Both teams lost in Week 1. Despite being an underdog, Arizona almost defeated the Washington Commanders on the road. Still, much of that had to do with the Cardinals’ defense, which had a strip-sack fumble touchdown.

The final score was 20-16, Commanders. The Cardinals – who are in a transitionary period, to say the least – started quarterback Josh Dobbs, who had been in Arizona for a cup of espresso. New Cardinals’ general manager Monti Ossenfort traded a 2024 fifth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Dobbs and a 2024 seventh-rounder; that trade transpired in late August.

Dobbs took his first snaps as a Cardinal in Week 1. He reportedly barely knew all of his teammates’ names. Although he’s a rocket scientist (yeah, he actually is one), the former Tennessee Volunteer was in a tough spot that was compounded by Arizona releasing savvy veteran quarterback Colt McCoy before the season. Dobbs joined a quarterback room that consisted of only one healthy player in a rookie fifth-round pick out of Houston, Clayton Tune.

Quarterback Kyler Murray is more than likely assisting behind the scenes as he is currently going through the rehab process from his torn ACL suffered last season. Murray is on the PUP list, and it’s uncertain when he will return to the field for the Cardinals.

Offensive statistics

The offense has a few skilled-position players who have talent. New offensive coordinator Drew Petzing has two undersized receivers in Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and Rondale Moore. Both players are known for their speed, acceleration, and explosiveness, but neither had more than five targets or 33 yards receiving.

Dobbs, and Daniel Jones, for that matter, had less than 4.5 yards per attempt in Week 1. Dobbs’ primary target was former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who saw 10 targets, but only managed 21 yards. At age 32, coming off an injury, the Cardinals are playing Ertz over 2022 Mackey Award Winning tight end Trey McBride. Ertz played 48 snaps to McBride’s 23.

The Cardinals 11 personnel package primarily consisted of rookie third-round pick Michael Wilson (56 snaps), Brown (52), and Moore (42). Wilson is a very talented player out of Stanford. He’s a deliberate, explosive, route runner who missed most of his college career with injuries.

The primary weapon for Arizona is still running back James Conner, who had a 16.7% target share in the offense while touting the rock 16 times for 62 yards (4.4 yards per carry). Backup running back Keaontay Ingram had five carries for -4 yards (-0.8 YPC). Conner’s status must be evaluated, for the running back popped up on Wednesday’s injury report with a calf issue.

Dobbs was sacked three times against Washington but was only under pressure on 15.2% of his dropbacks. The Cardinals’ conservative offensive game plan was one reason for the lack of pressure.

Dobbs ranked 23rd in intended air yards, and 24th in completed air yards, and Arizona was 31st in yards after the catch. Dobbs was third in turnover-worthy play percentage behind Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Jackson. His adjusted completion percentage was 73.3%, which ranked 20th of all the Week 1 quarterbacks.

Giants game plan

New York has to shut down the rushing attack and put Dobbs into second- and third-and-long situations. Even against Dallas – the few times it occurred – the Giants would bring a speedy pass-rushing package in on second-and-seven-plus. That package included Isaiah Simmons, someone Wink Martindale will likely attempt to scheme up for some sacks against his former team.

Shutting the run down and forcing the Cardinals to throw plays right into Martindale’s hands as an exotic schemer of pressure. We have grown to love and become accustomed to seeing heat poured onto opposing offenses; the Giants led the NFL in blitz rate last season. Martindale will pick and choose his spots, but the bluff simulated packages with seven dropping into coverage will be a part of the game plan.

The Giants were in nickel personnel 49.1% of the time and dime 25.5% of the time in Week 1. New York wants to use their sub-packages. Last week’s game got out of hand, and the Cowboys were in position to run the football down the stretch of the game, but the Giants remained in sub-packages for most of the plays.

However, although in sub-packages, and due to Dallas creating extra gaps with 12 personnel, the Giants aligned mostly in Cover 3 with safeties pushed toward the line of scrimmage. New York was in Cover 3 at a 36.4% rate. They were in quarters 9.1% of snaps – mostly earlier in the game – and 9.3% in Cover 6 looks; the quarters side of Cover 6 was typically to the weak side of unbalanced looks (3×1 sets). Teams do this to account for backside crossing routes.

The Cowboys’ propensity to use CeeDee Lamb in the slot was accounted for in man coverage, with robber players assuming inside leverage. The Giants won’t likely employ this technique full-time against Arizona; if they were to fret one receiver, it would be Brown, but he aligned in the slot on only 20% of snaps. With no Lamb to worry about, the Giants could look to help their young outside cornerbacks more with safety help in obvious passing situations; the rookies were frequently on an island against Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks, as Martindale dialed up Cover 0 at a 7.3% rate.

I’m inclined to believe that Martindale will look to remove the quick passing game (if Arizona establishes a rhythm), and rely on the cornerbacks against receivers like Brown, Moore, and Wilson. Dobbs has a career average of 5.1 yards per attempt. He doesn’t air the football out, and the Giants are comfortable surrendering small gains to position themselves in a manner to employ the exotic pressure looks/packages in later downs.

Arizona’s offensive line should have a problem with Dexter Lawrence. Left guard Elijah Wilkinson struggled against Jonathan Allen and the Commanders defensive line. Martindale will likely load the right side of the line to confuse Paris Johnson Jr. and former Giant Will Hernandez. Center Hjalte Froholdt was adequate against Washington, but will also see a lot of Lawrence at the nose. The Giants’ pass rush and defensive front should generate pressure against this unit.

Final thoughts

The Giants’ defense was put into a bad spot last week against Dallas but is primed for a bounce-back effort on the road against Arizona. New York improved their defense over the off-season, which should shore up the Giants’ inability to fit power/gap and counter concepts; we saw that slightly improve in Week 1. The Cardinals ran power/gap more than zone in Week 1, and I expect the Giants to do a better job against the concept.

New York should win this game. If they don’t, it’s full-on panic mode for the Giants. I’ll say this, though, teams that play on Thursday Night Football tend to struggle in the previous week, especially while on a two-game road trip. However, I expect this coaching staff to be very focused on the task at hand in Week 2, after the atrocious Week 1 outing against Dallas.


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