The Cardinals run an Air Raid offense, right? Kyler Murray is coming off of a 340-yard game which earned him NFC Offensive Player Of The Week honors, right? They are going to air it out all over the Meadowlands and the game is going to be a Big XII style track meet.
Or so people thought.
Instead, the Cardinals took the air out of the ball and decided to lean on the run game on a chilly, soggy afternoon at MetLife Stadium. It paid off and backup running back Chase Edmonds had the Giants chasing him all over the field en route to a huge 126-yard, 3- touchdown day. So with that in mind, we should probably talk about the Giants’ run defense, right?
But I want to take a minute to talk about a Giant who played well on run defense — slot cornerback Grant Haley.
The Giants played the game in light sub-packages, and Haley played nearly every snap as the slot corner. By taking a linebacker off the field it puts a lot of stress on the slot to show up in run defense. That’s why (contrary to “common sense”) lighter offensive personnel sets are generally better for running the ball.
But in this case, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound second-year former UDFA slot corner stepped up and proved to be an asset as a run defender and not just in coverage.
Second Quarter, 9:52
First-and-10, Arizona 25-yard line
Chase Edmonds had himself a career day against the Giants’ defense as they struggled to adapt to the Cardinals’ offensive speed, unconventional concepts, and some better-than-anticipated blocking from their offensive line.
This play, however, doesn’t get chalked up in the “win” column.
The Cardinals line up in an 11-personnel formation, with two receivers and a tight end lined up close to the offensive line to create something of a “heavy” look. The Giants are in their nickel set with Haley lined up in the slot over Larry Fitzgerald.
Haley shows some excellent football IQ and processing speed on this play and saves it from being another long run.
Haley immediately darts inside at the snap of the ball, quickly and accurately reading the inside run and scraping over to fill the gap behind Dalvin Tomlinson. Tomlinson makes a great play to quickly discard the block from the center and wins the right A-gap and could have had the tackle for a loss. Unfortunately, Dexter Lawrence isn’t able to stand up to the double team from left guard Justin Pugh and left tackle DJ Humphries, opening up the left A-gap for Edmonds to escape through.
But Haley is there to make a great form tackle, reacting to the snap and reading the play so fast that Fitzgerald isn’t able to block him.
This goes down as a “routine” three-yard gain on a run play in the rain, but it’s a nice play by Haley that shows why he is a valuable nickel defender on any down.
Fourth Quarter, 15:00
First-and-10, Arizona 25-yard line
Fast forward to the beginning of the fourth quarter, by now the teams are tired and thoroughly soaked by the rain. These are NOT ideal conditions in which to do anything except be miserable — which is exactly why I wanted to show this play by Haley.
The Giants start out showing a 4-2-5 nickel package, apparently playing man coverage under a 2-deep zone shell. But things aren’t always — and rarely are — what they appear.
Just before the snap, we can see Haley, lined up over the slot receiver on the offensive left, jump a bit closer to the line of scrimmage. That’s our first clue that something is up and this isn’t a basic 2-man coverage scheme. The Giants are playing a hybrid cover scheme, sending Haley on a slot blitz while Antoine Bethea is actually in coverage on the slot.
It is a solid disguise and would have been perfect if Haley had timed the snap a bit better. Had his jump to the inside happened with the snap of the ball instead of a few beats before, he might have had enough of a jump to get into the backfield just as Kyler Murray and Edmonds were meshing for the play-action fake.
But Edmonds is instead easily able to get in position and pick up Haley’s blitz. Thus far this is a win for the offense. The Giants’ defense reacted to the play-action and there is enough of a cushion that Murray might have been able to deliver the ball to the slot receiver deep down the field. However, the timer in Murray’s head goes off and he bails on the pocket, electing to scramble and keep the clock moving rather than try for a long pass and risk stopping the clock.
Not content to stay blocked, Haley takes on Edmonds’ block well — in fact, many linebackers could learn a thing or two from it.
Haley is aggressive with his hands, striking first and getting inside leverage on Edmonds. He creates separation and does not get tied up by the block. From there he is able to position his hips on the inside, putting himself in Murray’s rushing lane and allows him to disengage. Because he took on the block so well, he is able to get off quickly enough to get the shoestring tackle on Murray as he darts past. It isn’t as impressive as a full form tackle, and might not have worked in better conditions, but it is enough to bring him down. Had Murray been able to run through the tackle, or Haley not able to disengage, only Alec Ogletree would have stood between Murray at full speed and a long gain.