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Giants vs. Cardinals: When the Giants have the ball

Let’s break down the matchup between the Giants’ offense and the Arizona defense

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Los Angeles Chargers v Arizona Cardinals
Patrick Peterson
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What will the matchup look like on Sunday when the New York Giants offense faces the Arizona Cardinals defense? Let’s look at some of the factors that could determine that.

Locked and loaded

The Giants could have star running back Saquon Barkley leading receiver Evan Engram back in the lineup this weekend. Barkley, the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, has missed three games with a high ankle sprain. Engram, who leads the Giants with 33 receptions and 373 receiving yards, missed Thursday’s game against the New England Patriots with a sprained MCL. Both were listed as full practice participants on Wednesday and seem to be on track to play vs. Arizona.

Shurmur indicated that if Barkley plays he doesn’t expect him to be on any type of pitch count.

“It’s the middle of October and we’re playing ball, so we’ll just see how that plays out,” Shurmur said. “Players that are deemed healthy, you try to use them to the best of their ability and maximize what they can do to help impact the game.”

Barkley, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 after gaining 2,028 total yards fro scrimmage (1,307 rushing, 721 receiving) was averaging 6.4 yards per carry (37 rushes, 237 yards) before being injured. In his absence, Jon Hilliman, Wayne Gallman and Elijhaa Penny combined for 201 yards on 59 carries (3.4 yards per carry).

“If a quarterback was going to pick two friends one would be the offensive line and then the other is a running back,” Shurmur said. “The ability to be protected so they can make throws and then a runner you can hand the ball to and gain yards. I think, obviously, Saquon being back — if he is — will be a big boost not only for the quarterback but for our whole team.”

Engram is tied for fourth in the league among tight ends in receptions and os is third in receiving yards despite missing a game. Per Inside Edge, Engram is second among tight ends in Yards Per Target (11.2), fourth in Yards After Catch (6.6 per reception), third in Receiving Yards Per Game (74.6) and first in Targets Per Game (9.6).

He has, obviously, been both a play maker for the Giants and a huge security blanket for the team’s rookie quarterback.

It’s all about the ball

Well, at least that is what Pat Shurmur always says. Unfortunately, the Giants have been more cavalier with the football than any team in the NFL through six games. The Giants have a league-worst 15 turnovers — eight interceptions and seven lost fumbles. They are 31st in takeaway/giveaway ratio at -7 (thank you, Miami Dolphins!).

Part of the turnover issue is simply the reality of life with a rookie quarterback. In four games, Daniel Jones has thrown six interceptions. Only five quarterbacks, all of whom have attempted more than the 140 passes Jones attempted, have thrown the ball more than the Giants’ rookie. Jones’ interception rate of 4.3 percent is fourth-worst in the league. Jones has also lost three fumbles, making the quarterback responsible for nine of the 15 turnovers.

Shurmur was asked last Friday if turnovers were more palatable when they come from a rookie learning the NFL ropes.

“I think, regardless of whether you’re in your first year in the league or you’ve been doing it for a very long time, what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. I think it’s fair to say that some of the things that Daniel’s going through, he’s going through for the first time,” Shurmur said. “... It’s a fine line between being aggressive and putting the ball in harm’s way. I think each play and each time he goes through it, he’ll learn something from it.”

Recently-released running back Jon Hilliman fumbled twice in 33 touches. The return of Barkley, who has one fumble in 400 NFL touches should help. Newly-signed running back Buck Allen has just three fumbles in 469 career touches, only one since 2015.

Whatever it takes, the Giants need to do a better job of taking care of the ball. They aren’t good enough on defense to give opposing offenses short fields, and aren’t good enough overall to overcome giving away points or missing opportunities by giving the ball away.

Dealing with Patrick Peterson

The good news for Jones and the Giants is that the Cardinals are the only team in the NFL that has not intercepted a pass this season. The Cardinals are 30th in passing yards allowed (1,687) , 31st passing touchdowns allowed (16) and, per Inside Edge, 31st in the league with a passer rating against of 121.8. The bad news is that three-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has 23 interceptions in eight seasons, will be back in the lineup after serving a six-game PED suspension.

There is speculation that the Cardinals might deal Peterson prior to the Oct. 29 trade deadline. Unless that happens before Sunday, though, the Giants are going to hav e to handle the player Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph calls the Cardinals “best player” on defense.

“He’s a special player, a lockdown corner,” Joseph said. “When you have a guy like Patrick, you don’t have to worry about one side of the field. If they decide to attack Patrick, shame on them, but you can make them attack Patrick by helping the other corner. When you have two young corners, it’s tough to help one and leave one by himself. A guy like Pat P makes it easy to call defenses because he can take away one side of the field.”

Just a guess, but Peterson probably gets Golden Tate all over the field on Sunday.

“Playing against Patrick in the same division when I was in Seattle, he’s a lock down corner. We expect him to follow if needed, his knowledge of the game is strong. He is one of the most athletic humans I have ever been around, he plays hard. You just have to be aware of where he is, he takes the right chances,” Tate said this week. “The thing you will probably hear me say a lot is it’s never about who we are playing or who they have, it’s always about how we perform when we pay attention to details and what we do. If we go out there and handle our business, it doesn’t matter who we go against.”

Last week vs. the New England Patriots Jones and the Giants made the mistake of not respecting All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He burned them with an interception and five passes defensed. He allowed one reception in six targets for 9 yards.

The Giants would be well advised to learn from that and find someone other that Peterson to pick on this time around.

Edge pressure

EDGE rushers Chandler Jones (4.5) and Terrell Suggs (4.0) have 8.5 of Arizona’s 14 quarterback sacks and nine of the team’s 30 quarterback hits. Left tackle Nate Solder, who has been charged with 3.5 of the 12 sacks the Giants have allowed, and right tackle Mike Remmers (1.0) will be largely responsible for slowing them down.

Whatever the reason, the mobile Jones has been sacked on 6.7 percent of his drop backs in four games while Eli Manning was sacked only 2.2 percent of the time in his two games as the starter. With three fumbles to go along with his six interceptions, Jones knows he is going to have to be aware of the Cardinals’ EDGE rushers.

“They are good players. I think from my standpoint, I need to be good at stepping up in the pocket and holding onto the ball. I think those things are always important,” Jones said. “They’ve got two good ones, but I’m confident we’ll do a good job. We’ve done a good job this season and I’m confident with our guys to protect. I have to make sure I’m doing my job stepping up and getting time.”