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Giants vs. Cardinals: 4 things we learned from the Giants’ 26-7 loss

What can we take away from the Giants’ loss to Arizona?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants fell 26-7 to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in a loss that reminds of the bad old days early in the season.

The Giants loss lands them at 5-8 on the season, putting a winning season out of reach. However, the playoffs are still within their grasp as they’re just a half-game behind the Washington Football Team (as of this writing).

This was the kind of game the Giants had hoped they had put behind them over the course of their four-game winning streak. But it seems they haven’t completely outgrown their troubles from early in the season.

So what can we take away from this latest loss as we enter the final quarter of the 2020 season?

Credit to the defense

The Giants’ defense isn’t going to be thrilled with the box score this game. Arizona put up 26 points, 390 total yards, and 159 rushing yards, all of which are a big step backward for a defense which carried the team through a four-game winning streak.

But that being said, this game could have been much, much worse, and it’s a credit to the defense that it wasn’t.

The Cardinals’ first two possessions started on the Giants’ 9 and 38-yard lines, but only resulted in three points. All told, the Cardinals ran 27 plays in the Giants’ territory before the Giants ran one on the Cardinals side of the field (which didn’t come until the second half). But even so, the Giants held Arizona to 13 points in that half.

Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury pose a problem for just about any defense, but Patrick Graham’s unit did well to keep the score close until late in the third quarter despite carrying around one Giant albatross of an offense.

Familiar problems return

Over the course of the Giants loss to the Cardinals we saw a bunch of problems that lead to the Giants’ 1-7 start to the season. Turnovers, inaccuracy, lack of separation from the receivers, questionable offensive play calling, and bad pass protection all combined to hobble the Giants’ offense.

We don’t have to go through the complete litany of everything that went wrong for (and with) the Giants this game — suffice to say that not much has gone right when you get blown out by 19 points and the game wasn’t even that close.

But we do need to take a minute and address the Giants’ four offensive fumbles and their bad pass protection. Really, the two tie into one another — as well as the Giants’ issues getting receivers open. Daniel Jones didn’t throw any interceptions, but he struggled, completing just 11 passes (52 percent) for 127 total yards. Making matters worse, Jones was sacked six times and fumbled three times, losing one. Jones’ average time to throw was 2.97 seconds (per NextGenStats) and he threw into coverage on a third of his pass attempts, as Evan Engram was the Giants’ only receiving option to approach league-average separation.

It will take a second (or third) watching of the game to untangle the mess that was the Giants’ offense. But the offensive line took a definite step backwards, helped by Jones holding onto the ball for too long, at least some of the time waiting for receiving options who couldn’t work open.

Toughness only goes so far

It was something of a surprise that Daniel Jones started this week’s game after not being able to hand the ball off without pain two weeks ago and missing last week. And it was pretty clear from the start that Jones wasn’t right, regardless of what Joe Judge said.

Jones’ accuracy was questionable early in the game, over or under throwing receivers (even in the short area of the field). It was also obvious pretty early in the game that his greatest weapon, the ability to slow defenses down with the threat of a run, simply wasn’t available. So rather than scrambling for positive yardage, Jones held the ball and was unable to make defenders miss behind the line of scrimmage. Once Vance Joseph and the Cardinals’ defenders realized that, they were able to tee off and hit Jones relentlessly. Those sacks and hits added up quickly and Jones was clearly once again hobbled by the time he was pulled from the game.

Jones has a reputation as a “tough” player, but toughness can’t make a torn muscle work. And no matter how high your pain tolerance it will affect you. The Giants are in a “Must Win” situation and made the decision that starting a less-than-healthy Jones gave them a better chance of winning than Colt McCoy. We’ll never know if that’s true, but now we have to be on watch to see if Jones’ setback extends to next week against Myles Garrett and the Cleveland Browns’ defense.

Special teams remain a problem

For the third game in a row we need to talk about the Giants’ special teams. I’m not going to get on them for the fumbled kick return — ball security is always paramount, but it’s also hard to anticipate a rogue toe.

But we do need to talk about the Giants’ punt return coverage as Christian Kirk picked up 77 yards on six returns, an average of nearly 13 yards per return. For context, the NFL’s leading punt returner (with more than 1 return per game) is averaging 12.18 yards per return on the season. The Giants’ punt and kick coverage has given up favorable field position to their last three opponents, and it finally caught up to them. On the flip side, the Giants didn’t have any punt returns, and they averaged just 20.5 yards on their five kick-off returns.

There’s also the matter of punter Riley Dixon, who has struggled of late. He has been a great punter since joining the Giants, combining great leg strength with accurate placement. That’s helped the Giants’ field some of the better special teams units in the NFL in recent years, but this week he was just off. Dixon was only able to drop one punt inside the 20, and gave up a touchback as well.

It won’t make SportsCenter, and didn’t play as big a role as the struggling offense, but the Giants’ special teams definitely made the defense’s job harder.

Perhaps the Giants are missing some of the core special teams players they’ve lost to injury, but with three special teams coaches on the team, they need to get this figured out.