For the first time in nearly four seasons, the Arizona Cardinals have won three straight games. They accomplished the feat on Sunday, dispatching the New York Giants by a score of 27-21 at MetLife Stadium. The victory pushed the Cardinals to .500 on the season and have Arizona one game behind the third-placed Rams. Today we take a look at what led to Arizona making it three in a row in the win column.
Chase the Lead
Entering the season, it was unclear as to how involved Chase Edmonds would be in the Arizona offense. David Johnson was the incumbent starter and offered the most in terms of overall ability. However, after a slow start to the season, Edmonds has demanded more and more of the snaps on offense. On Sunday, Edmonds finished with 126 yards rushing on 27 carries, and three scores. Edmonds has been the better runner this season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, nearly two yards better than Johnson. The second-year running back out of Fordham trails Johnson on the season by 13 yards on the ground but has carried the football 26 fewer times.
With Johnson nursing an ankle injury, Edmonds was the go-to running back for Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals offense. Johnson was in uniform and found the field for three plays, hauling in a reception for two yards. With the production from Edmonds, the Arizona offense scored three touchdowns. Edmonds scored from 20 yards out twice in the first quarter. After the Giants scraped back to within three points, Edmonds took an outside zone run 22 yards for his third touchdown and a valuable cushion for the Cardinals. Considering the sustained rainfall on the day, the performance by Edmonds was paramount to the Arizona victory.
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Sunday’s game featured a matchup of first-round rookies at quarterback between Arizona’s Kyler Murray and New York’s Daniel Jones. Much has been made about Jones’ ascension into the starting job for the Giants. However, Murray has undoubtedly performed the best this season. Murray threw for just 104 yards on 14 of 21 passing, as the Arizona offense focused on the ground game. The Arizona rookie got himself and the Cardinals into trouble in the second quarter. On a third-and-five from the Arizona 19-yard line, Murray attempted to scramble and keep the play alive. Instead, he was brought down for a 15-yard loss by former Cardinals defensive lineman, Olsen Pierre. Punting from his endzone, Andy Lee‘s kick was blocked then subsequently recovered for a touchdown by another former Arizona player, running back Elijhaa Penny.
By contrast, Jones faced an unrelenting pass rush. The rookie quarterback was sacked a total of eight times. He also fumbled thrice, losing two of them. Jones threw for 223 yards on 22 of 35 passing for a touchdown and interception. Running back Saquon Barkley received a hit on his previously injured ankle, further hampering the New York offense. Jones showed flashes of the talent which led to his first-round selection, hitting tight end Rhett Ellison on a 28-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. It was a nicely placed throw over Tramaine Brock Sr. and in front of safety Budda Baker. It was a tale of two offenses looking to find consistency. The less than ideal weather made it difficult for the game to have the expected offensive flow. However, the team whose quarterback limited mistakes found themselves celebrating a victory.
Blackjack! Peterson Delivers Boost
Over the first six weeks of the season, the Cardinals were without the services of their Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback, Patrick Peterson. Having obeyed a six-game suspension, Peterson returned on Sunday and made an instant impact. In his first game action this season, Peterson finished with seven tackles, one sack, and a forced fumble. Peterson helped stabilize a woeful Arizona defense. The Cardinals have yet to solve their issue of covering opposing tight ends but they were able to hold up better on the outside with the addition of Peterson. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph primarily used Peterson on the wide side of the formation rather than having him shadow the opposing top receiver. While it did not have the immediate lockdown affect one would have hoped for, Peterson’s presence on the field did enough to slow down the New York air attack.
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Midway through the final quarter, with the Cardinals holding a three-point lead, Peterson came on a corner blitz and hit Jones as the rookie began his windup to throw. The impact popped the football loose, eventually recovered by the Cardinals. The play led to a Zane Gonzalez field goal and effectively put the game out of reach for the Giants. It was a welcomed sight for a defense that has struggled mightily in Peterson’s absence. It remains to be seen how the rest of the unit adjusts to the addition of Peterson. The Arizona defense was able to hold the lead and carried its weight on Sunday. Peterson isn’t a magical tool that will fix all the ails of the defense but he does go a long way to finding a solution.
The Road Ahead
After failing to find victory through the first four weeks, the Cardinals now stand at 3-3-1 in the NFC West, one game out of third place. Arizona’s three victories have come against Bengals, Falcons, and Giants, not much in the way of stiff competition. Arizona linebacker Chandler Jones is quietly having another monster season. Jones tallied four sacks on Sunday including a forced fumble and recovery. He now has 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles on the season. The next two weeks bring major tests on the road in New Orleans then back home for a Halloween night clash against the currently undefeated 49ers. Kingsbury has his team playing together and they are dangerous. We shall see just how good they can be.