Who knew how much of a difference one player could make?
The Arizona Cardinals defense looked like an entirely new unit this Sunday afternoon, holding the home-team Giants offense to a mere 14 points and generating an eye-popping number of turnovers, sacks, and tackles for loss. Patrick Peterson's first play back from suspension was to force an incomplete pass on quarterback Daniel Jones.
Rainy conditions on the field led to a run-dominant offense by the Cardinals, who rushed the ball 38 times for 156 yards, and passed the ball 21 times for only 104 yards. Kyler Murray started hot, completing his first 5 passes to put the offense in position for Chase Edmonds' first 20 yard score. On the next drive the Cardinals again punched it in from 20 yards out with the 4th-round running back. Chase Edmonds, the clear offensive MVP of the game, scored all three of the Cardinals' touchdowns to earn a hat trick in a special performance. He finished with 126 yards on 27 carries, good for a 4.7 yards-per-rush average.
David Johnson appeared to be a healthy scratch, making an early appearance before Chase Edmonds took over duties as the feature back. Perhaps he isn't 100%- but know he knows he doesn't have to be for his team to still generate rushing yards.
The Giants' secondary, with its well documented struggles, did an excellent job of keeping Kyler Murray in check, who finished with 132 total yards on 21 passes and 10 scrambles. Unfortunately for the Giants defense, they broke when they needed to hold out, and the Cardinals were allowed to run all over their defensive line.
The Cardinals' offensive line was beset by penalties, but also held strong against a defensive line featuring exciting young players such as Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson, both of whom were kept in check. In the end, the Cardinals' offensive line gave up two sacks (one, near the end of the first half, should have been thrown away by Murray) and 5 tackles for loss- not bad for a unit which was on pace to give up over 80 sacks after their first few games, but now have only let Kyler Murray be sacked 23 times through seven games.
For the third game in a row, the Arizona offense finished without turning the ball over, an impressive streak considering the rookie playcaller and signal caller (though less impressive when you look at the defenses they've played). Either way, it's encouraging to have a quarterback who seems to put the ball where only someone in red and white can make a play (though there were a few close calls where Giants players had a pick dead to rights).
However, where the Cardinals really shined today was on the other side of the ball- the side that, this season, has often been maligned. As if the arrival of Patrick Peterson jump-started the heart of Vance Joseph's defensive unit, the visiting Arizona team put up absurd defensive numbers, making plays whenever the team needed it.
The Arizona defense held star running-back Saquon Barkley to only 72 yards and a score on 18 carries, good for a yards-per-rush-average of 4. Daniel Jones was similarly held in check, completing 22 of 35 passes for one score and a pick.
Speaking of which, the Cardinals' didn't have to wait long in their seventh game of the season to break their interceptionless streak; on the Giants' very first drive, Daniel Jones made an ill-advised throw into coverage which was jumped by Jordan Hicks. For the first time all season, a Cardinal came down with an opposing team's pass. This crucial play allowed the Cardinals to go up 14-0 early in the first quarter.
There were ebbs and flows to the game, of course, but through it all the defense gave us their most complete performance (with some exceptional standouts). After the Cards' went up 17-0, Kliff Kingsbury's offense seemed to waver for a bit, failing to generate first downs. The Giants responded with an offensive touchdown to Rhett Ellison (a tight end- who could have guessed?), and then a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown to cut the lead to three. After trading three-and-outs to start the 3rd quarter, the Cardinals offense was given prime field position by a Chandler Jones strip sack, setting up Chase Edmonds' third touchdown of the day and ensuring the Cardinals kept distance on the scoreboard.
From there, the floodgates opened. Outside of a Saquon Barkley rushing touchdown, the Arizona defense flooded New York's offensive line, generating eight sacks in total and two more fumbles late to bring the total to three. Saquon had several big chunk plays, but was also tackled behind the line of scrimmage for key losses (including a -8 yard pass which was Daniel Jones' first completion of the game).
Though the Cardinals won by six, it never seemed too easy after the first quarter. The Giants were always in the game, and many fans of this Arizona franchise surely began to sweat when Kyler Murray ran out of bounds at the Giants' 10 on third down with just over two minutes remaining and the Giants out of timeouts. Giving the Giants more time was a rookie mistake to be sure, but one the Giants didn't make the Cardinals pay for. Better teams will- but for now, against these New York Giants, the Arizona Cardinals leave New Jersey with a win to be proud of.
The win brings the Cardinals to 3-3-1, good for last in the NFC West behind the Rams (who trounced the Falcons to bring their record to 4-3), and the still-undefeated 49ers and one-loss Seahawks. The Giants, meanwhile, fall to 2-5, good for third in the Division ahead of the lowly one-win Washington Redskins.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have matched their win total from last year and added a tie for good measure in Kyler Murray's first seven games. The rookie has brought swagger to the team, and with a defense coming into its own, the Cardinals might just be a dangerous team sooner into this rebuild than they anticipated.
Next week the Arizona Cardinals travel to Louisiana to take on the high-flying New Orleans Saints in what may be Drew Brees' first game back, and what will surely be their stiffest test of the season; both teams are looking to keep win streaks alive. The Giants will compete against the 2-3-1 Lions, with both teams looking to get into the win column.