The New York Giants were one of the NFL's most disappointing teams in 2013, while the Arizona Cardinals ranked among its most pleasant surprises. Those trends continued into 2014, as the Giants opened with a blowout loss in Detroit and the Cardinals came back to beat the Chargers on "Monday Night Football."
These two teams meet Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, the home opener for the Giants and the first road game of the year for the Cardinals, who have to cross a couple of time zones and play in the early time slot Sunday. NFL Nation Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss are here with a preview.
Graziano: Josh, I was all set to bill this Eli Manning-Carson Palmer matchup as InterceptionFest 2014, but then I looked at the box score from Monday night and saw Palmer didn't throw any. Is this a typo? Or are things clicking on offense in Arizona? (And if it's the latter, please fill Giants fans in on what that looks like.)
Weinfuss: No, that's not a typo. He didn't throw a pick. But I think we could bill it as ShouldBeInterceptionFest 2014. I bet we can make some pretty cool T-shirts.
Palmer got lucky on a couple passes that should've been picked off, and those misses by San Diego essentially prevented the Chargers from blowing out Arizona. The Cardinals' offense isn't exactly clicking -- although it's probably better than the Giants' is at this point -- but when all the cylinders get fired, it's better than it has been. A lot of what the Cards showed on Monday night looked too much like last season, when Palmer threw 22 interceptions, the second most in the NFC behind Manning. Palmer didn't go through his progressions for much of the first three quarters, which led to Larry Fitzgerald not getting targeted for the first three quarters for the first time in his career. The offense came alive, however, in the final quarter thanks to some nifty footwork by Palmer -- something rarely seen around these parts. The offense looked good late but was far from clicking.
The 341 passing yards the Giants gave up Monday is a hefty number. Was that a product of New York's secondary not playing well and not being able to manage all of Detroit's options? Or was it just that Matthew Stafford played lights out? Like the Lions, the Cardinals have a boatload of offensive weapons. Could Arizona be in for a big passing day against the Giants?
Graziano: Stafford played out of his mind, but the Giants' defensive performance did raise some concerns that linger into this week. Cornerback was supposed to be the strength of their team, and on paper it is, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara, Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman and Trumaine McBride. But their plans for how to deploy all of those corners seemed a bit disorganized and not fully formed Monday night. Sometimes they wanted to single Rodgers-Cromartie on Calvin Johnson. Other times they didn't. And Rodgers-Cromartie didn't always seem to know which it was.
They may need to find a way to simplify their coverages, and especially to do more in zone, because from what I can tell it's not easy to pick your poison with this Arizona receiving corps. Twitter was abuzz all Monday night about Fitzgerald not getting any targets until the fourth quarter. But it's not as though those young wideouts are chopped liver, right?
Weinfuss: Let me just say this first: I'm not a huge fan of chopped liver. But you're right, third-year wide receiver Michael Floyd and rookie John Brown aren't minced meat. Floyd had 119 yards on just five catches in the season opener and is tough to defend for most corners and safeties because of his combination of size and speed. And he's learned from Fitzgerald how to use his body to get separation between himself and the ball. Floyd is quickly becoming one of Palmer's favorite targets, especially on deep passes because he can go up and make catches above defensive backs.
As for Brown, don't blink or you'll miss him. He's fast and shifty, which he showed during his 13-yard game-winning touchdown run against the Chargers. What makes Brown even more dangerous is playing for an offensive mastermind like Bruce Arians. There's a lot of hype for Brown -- and it's only been one week -- but he's been handling it so far.
So much has been made about the Giants' new offense, and by the looks of it Monday night with less than 200 total yards, it's resembling the Cardinals of 2013 in terms of not fully understanding a new scheme to start the season. How long do you think it'll take the G-men -- does anyone in New York call them that? -- to grasp the new offense and start flourishing in it?
Graziano: People in New York sometimes call them the G-men, but right now they're calling them things that aren't quite that nice.
I don't think it's a matter of grasping the offense. There's a little of that going on, but the Giants' biggest problem is one of personnel. They were hoping first-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. would be one of their starting receivers on the outside, with Rueben Randle on the other side and Victor Cruz in the slot. But Beckham missed all of training camp and is still out with a hamstring injury, so they're starting the somewhat overmatched Jerrel Jernigan in Beckham's spot, and teams seem to be devoting extra coverage to Cruz, which makes sense.
They have no reliable option at tight end, and they didn't run the ball well in the opener with Rashad Jennings. It's an underwhelming group of offensive players around Manning, and add in the troubles the offensive line is having in pass protection and you have an offense that wouldn't be able to do much with any scheme. This is obviously going to be a problem all year. If you're counting on a rookie who's never even practiced in the NFL to come in and save your season, you're not in the best shape.
This week looks like another tough test for that undermanned Giants offense, no? I thought Arizona's defense would struggle due to all of the personnel losses, but it looked awfully tough against San Diego. Do the Cardinals have a chance to repeat last season's performance on D?
Weinfuss: By the looks of how the defense played Monday, I think the short answer is yes, it's possible to post a repeat performance. However, it'll be tougher to be that good and that consistent this season because of those personnel problems you mentioned. Add in the recent injuries to defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, who was already replacing the injured Darnell Dockett, and to John Abraham, who has left the team following his latest concussion, and the defense is as thin as it's ever been.
But with Calais Campbell overpowering people in the middle of the line, Matt Shaughnessy still playing at a high level and veteran linebacker Larry Foote looking like he's 24 instead of 34, there's hope that this defense can has the long haul in it. What could be its saving grace this season is the secondary, which is as good as it's ever been in Arizona. Cornerback Patrick Peterson now has another top-flight corner across from him in Antonio Cromartie, which allows the defense to be more flexible on coverages.
The Cardinals' No. 1 rush defense from a year ago doesn't appear to have lost a step, holding San Diego to 52 yards. The Giants had 53 last week. How much of the Giants' offensive scheme is predicated on their running game?
Graziano: After Monday night's loss, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said that the inability to run the ball ranked with the pass protection as his top concern. The passing game remains a work in progress, as we've discussed here, so the Giants would like to be able to establish the run and operate the offense through Jennings and rookie running back Andre Williams. They will not go away from this plan, as they believe it to be their only hope.
Coughlin has said more than once that the inability to run the ball last year deprived the offense of balance and led to the league-leading 40 turnovers, so he and his coaching staff are determined to be able to run the ball reliably in 2014. They spent good money on Jennings in free agency and drafted Williams in the fourth round (which is high for a running back these days!), and they will continue to feed them the ball. But, man, you're right, things don't get any easier with these defensive fronts they're facing early in the season -- Detroit last week, Arizona this week, Houston next week. Life's tough in the big city.
Anyway, thanks, Josh. This was fun. Travel safe and I'll see you Sunday at MetLife.