Sunday couldn’t have gone any worse for the New York Giants. Not only did they get blown out 26-7 by the Arizona Cardinals, but each of their NFC East rivals won. At 5-8, Big Blue now sits second in the division, a game back of the Washington Football Team, half a game up on the Philadelphia Eagles, and a game up on the Dallas Cowboys. New York needs to realistically win two of their remaining three games to grab back first place and earn a playoff berth.
The Giants’ loss can be pinned primarily on failing in two areas in which they’d heretofore been excelling: turnovers and the offensive line.
New York had been feasting on takeaways during their just-snapped four-game winning streak. They had a plus-8 turnover differential over that time, only giving the ball away twice. The Giants’ recent fortune didn’t carry over to Sunday, however. They lost three fumbles, including one that led to the Cardinals first touchdown.
The first came on the Giants’ opening possession. New York had gotten a couple first downs and were facing a second-and-10 from their own 44-yard line. Quarterback Daniel Jones dropped back to pass and got hammered by an unblocked Markus Golden, who was traded from New York to Arizona earlier in the season. Jones had just begun his throwing motion when he took the hit, so the ball skittered free and was recovered by Golden, who returned it all the way to the Giants’ nine-yard line. Arizona got stuffed on a fourth-and-goal on their ensuing possession, so Big Blue was able to avoid paying for the turnover on the scoreboard. It still, however, killed the Giants’ promising opening drive and forced them to take over possession at their own one-yard line.
The second came on a second-quarter kickoff following an Arizona field goal that put them up 6-0. The usually reliable Dion Lewis had the ball inadvertently kicked out of his hands by the Cardinals’ Kylie Fitts. Arizona recovered the fumble on the Giants’ 21-yard line, and capitalized on their terrific field position with a seven-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyler Murray to tight end Dan Arnold.
The third came on New York’s final possession with just under two minutes left, when the game was already out of reach. Colt McCoy, who had come in to replace the struggling and limping Jones, got strip-sacked by Haason Reddick, allowing Arizona to kneel out the rest of the game.
Just as frustrating as the Giants’ turnovers was the defense’s inability to get a takeaway of their own. The Cardinals put the ball on the ground multiple times, but New York couldn’t find a way to take back possession.
Nothing was more disappointing than the performance of Big Blue’s offensive line. Prior to Sunday, New York had rushed for over 100 yards in seven straight games, and had given up just five sacks over the last three games. The offensive line struggled mightily in both of those departments against Arizona, more closely resembling the lousy unit from earlier this season than the one that made major strides in recent weeks. New York only rushed for 78 yards, although that is at least partially due to game script. What’s more disconcerting was New York’s terrible pass protection. The Giants allowed a season-high eight sacks, two of which were strip-sacks that led to turnovers. Rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas regressed badly after stringing together five solid games, and right tackle Cam Fleming didn’t fare much better.
Perhaps of greatest concern to the Giants is the health of Jones. The second-year quarterback attempted to return from a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 12, but his mobility was severely hampered. Jones sported a limp that only seemed to worsen as the game wore on. He struggled to push the ball downfield with his usual loft and accuracy. His general ineffectiveness throws into question whether he’ll start next Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. The Giants need a healthy version of Jones to make a playoff push over these last three weeks.
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Defensively, New York wasn’t dominant like they were last week in Seattle, but they were still solid enough. They only allowed Arizona to put together one legitimate touchdown drive, and kept them to just 4.9 yards per play. If it wasn’t for the offense consistently putting them in bad situations, they would’ve held the Cardinals to under 20 points.
Here are your Week 14 “Podium/Sodium Players”, i.e. three players Giants fans would like to reward, and three they’re feeling pretty salty about.
Gold Medal: S Jabrill Peppers
Peppers continued his Pro Bowl-quality season on Sunday. He led the team in both total tackles with 13 and solo tackles with eight. He even tied for the team lead with two tackles for a loss, which is especially impressive as a safety. Peppers constantly found his way to the football, and made a number of clutch stops to keep Arizona either out of the endzone or short of first-down yardage. His level of play is giving the Giants no choice but to sign him to an extension.
Silver Medal: ILB Blake Martinez
Martinez was questionable to even play in this game after he suffered a back injury last week in Seattle. The Giants are sure happy he did. Martinez finished tied for third on the team with seven total tackles, including five solo. He made a critical goal-line tackle on Christian Kirk in the first quarter, which kept Arizona out of the endzone and enabled New York to complete their goal-line stand.
Bronze Medal: DT Dalvin Tomlinson
On the whole it was a fairly underwhelming performance from Big Blue’s defensive line, but Tomlinson was the exception. He got into the backfield on multiple occasions, tallying two tackles for a loss and the Giants’ only sack. Tomlinson also bolstered New York’s run defense, which held the Cardinals to 3.7 yards per rush.
Salty: CB James Bradberry
Bradberry has done a fantastic job all year of holding down opponents top receivers, but he wasn’t quite up to the task of corralling DeAndre Hopkins, perhaps the NFL’s best. Hopkins had a big game with nine catches for 136 yards. Some of that production came against zone, when Bradberry wasn’t locked up with Hopkins one-on-one. But still, covering Arizona’s top wideout was Bradberry’s primary objective, and it’s one he wasn’t able to meet.
Saltier: TE Evan Engram
With running back Saquon Barkley out for the year, Engram is the most talented weapon left on New York’s offense. Yet he all too frequently makes little to no impact on a game. The tight end had just two catches for 18 yards on Sunday, both coming on the Giants’ last possession. Big Blue’s passing game was a complete flop, and Engram’s lack of contribution was a big reason why.
Saltiest: OT Andrew Thomas
Thomas had gained some good will with the fanbase after playing much better since the halfway point of the season. In this game, though, he decided to go back to letting pass rushers run around him like a pylon. Reddick set a Cardinals franchise record with five sacks, and most of those came against Thomas. The Giants rookie first-round pick had difficulties earlier this season dealing with inside moves. On Sunday, he seemed ill-equipped to handle Reddick’s speed around the EDGE, as he continually got beaten to the outside.Thomas had been showing great improvement, so hopefully this game will prove to be a speed bump in his continuing development.