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Giants-Cardinals: 5 plays that changed the game

Arizona Cardinals v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The New York Giants improbable 17-12 victory a week ago at Lumen Field against the Seattle Seahawks initiated feelings of hope for a team that was once a cellar dweller. That sentiment is more bleak after the Cardinals defeated the Giants, 26-7, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The division is now truly up in the air, and the Giants could finish first, or last, depending on the outcome of the final three games. To compound the brutal loss, the rest of the NFC East teams won their respective games.

New York struggled offensively against Arizona. Daniel Jones looked uncomfortable and immobile, the offensive line was manipulated by the stunts/twists of Vance Joseph’s defense, and the Giants were -3 in the turnover battle. The offense was outgained 390 to 159 (a 231-yard difference), and the Giants lost the time of possession battle 37:52 to 22:08. The defense did a solid initial job slowing the Cardinals down, but they played 79 snaps and wore down towards the end. It was a demoralizing loss, so let’s dive into five plays that help explain the game.

Play(s) 1: Two early turnovers

I know it’s the holiday season, but these turnovers were not sweet.

The Giants had a solid opening drive where they picked up a few first downs and were running the football effectively. That ended on the second-and-10 play-action pass you see above. After the game, coach Judge Judge stated that there were multiple players who made a mistake on this play. I can’t be totally sure where the primary fault lands, but Kaden Smith (82) was the outside tight end once Evan Engram (88) released for his route. Former Giants defensive end Markus Golden (44) received a free release into the backfield and completely took Jones by surprise to force the fumble. These are rough protection mistakes to make at any point in the game, let alone on an opening drive. This play helped set the tone for an unfortunate Sunday in North East New Jersey - a Sunday where Giants quarterbacks were sacked eight times.

New York’s defense was able to keep this game within reach for quite some time, but this Dion Lewis (33) fumble was a devastating blow that put the defense, who had just held the Cardinals to a field goal on an 11-play drive, back on the field. The ball was quite literally kicked out of his hand, which I’m still not certain if that is legal, but I’m sure it’s deemed incidental. This fumble led to the next play you’ll see below.

Play 2: Hey, Arnold

After an extended drive and a special teams turnover, the Giants forced the Cardinals into a third-and-goal at about the 7-yard line. I like the design by Patrick Graham; he acted as if he was bringing seven pass rushers and dropped three off into either coverage or spy position, but this held interior offensive linemen inside and allowed Cam Brown (47) to be a free rusher off the edge. Kyler Murray makes an incredible throw to his gigantic tight end Dan Arnold in the back of the end zone. Murray put the ball high and allowed his tight end to high point the ball over Giants defenders who were out of position. Logan Ryan (23) seems like he lost Arnold for a second and thought he was going more horizontal, but the tight end found a soft spot in the middle of the field and it led to a 13-point lead.

Play(s) 3: Missed offensive opportunities

This missed opportunity came right after the Arnold touchdown. I love to see Jones push the ball vertical, and we’ve seen Tate make this catch (in this game even), but credit has to be given to Byron Murphy (33) for making a good defensive play to knock the ball away.

Here, Jones forced the ball to Evan Engram on this third-and-7 incompletion that led to a punt. There’s a lot going on in a quarterback’s mind pre-snap to post-snap, but Jones failed to notice that Lewis was wide open in the flat (bottom of screen). He’s looking at other route combinations, but if he saw Dre Kirkpatrick (20) trailing Engram, and he knew where the defenders were pre-snap, then he would have known Lewis was unoccupied in the flat. I love the mesh concept call against man, with the dig over the top, but the open route happened to be the check-down. This would have been a huge gain in the early part of the second quarter.

The Giants had just picked up 9 yards on a Wayne Gallman run, but they elected to throw the football on third-and-1. I’m fine with decisions like this, and the concept would have worked if you look to the bottom of the screen and see Smith wide open at the sticks, on a nicely designed natural pick against man. Jones wanted more, though, and decided to throw a slot fade to a well covered Sterling Shepard (87). I don’t like this decision by Jones. The defense was on the field so much and they needed a break. The Giants offense needed to sustain some semblance of a drive. I appreciate the aggressiveness of Jones, but the first down was a cupcake, and Shepard had little leverage on the route. However, the throw was just out of reach, and the drive ended.

Play 4: Early stand

I wanted to give the defense a play and this early goal line stand against the Cardinals was impressive. This play was after the Jones fumble and Arizona started with the football on the 9-yard line. Murray and the offense ran a double play action with a fake reverse roll to the right and the Giants played it really well. Arnold tried leaking into the flat after selling run; Ryan and Tae Crowder (48) transitioned off of Arnold smoothly and Crowder closed width on Murray. This forced Murray to try and throw a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, but James Bradberry (24) was there to swat the ball away.

Play(s) 5: Luck of the Drake

On the first and third plays of the fourth quarter, with the score 20-7, Arizona running back Kenyan Drake put the ball on the ground. Drake fumbled first on a counter run after Jabrill Peppers (21) hit him in the waist. Fast forward two plays later and he fumbles after David Mayo (55) strips him, but the Cardinals fall on both footballs. The Giants offense wasn’t exactly doing enough to inspire hope if the Giants did fall on the football, but it could have changed the outcome. It was always unfair to assume that Niko Lalos would always be there to fall on the football.

Final thoughts

The Giants had the keys to the NFC East, but the car stalled. Arizona was opportunistic, got pressure with four-man packages, played effective coverage, and stymied this offense that showed a lot of promise in the last few weeks. The Giants defense was on the field far too often and wore down towards the end of the game. New York has a tough road ahead with games against Cleveland, at Baltimore, and then against Dallas. If there’s any saving grace to this loss, let’s hope that it will refocus the Giants, while also allowing the Cardinals to ride the momentum into Week 15 against Philadelphia.