Shooting for special teams’ success two weeks in a row: The Cardinals have been outstanding on special teams in the first three games of the season. A.J Jefferson and LaRod Stephens-Howling are both averaging 30 yards per kickoff return.
Lawrence Tynes has five touchbacks on the season and will need to improve on his distance in a stadium where the ball does not travel well. Tynes needs to consistently hit six yards deep into the end zone to do all he can to prevent Jefferson or Stephens-Howling from bringing them out and giving their high powered offense good field position.
The game plan for Steve Weatherford should be no different than a week ago in Philadelphia. Keep it away from return man and number one draft pick Patrick Peterson as much as possible. In addition to being the defensive player of the year in the SEC in 2010, Peterson took home the honor of special teams player of the year as well.
He has been able to bring that success with him to the NFL by averaging 18.4 yards per return with one touchdown of 89 yards, good enough for fourth in the NFL.
Get the offense off the field: With an offense full of dynamic wide receivers, the Giants need to be able to make plays on defense as they did a week ago in Philadelphia. Larry Fitzgerald will get his catches, as he is able to against just about any secondary in the NFL.
But Early Doucet and Andre Roberts are averaging 58 and 30 yards per game respectively and frequently draw single coverage because most teams have to double Fitzgerald. The Giants’ pass rush will be the best Arizona has faced this season and will need to get after Kevin Kolb quickly to keep the big play ability of the Cardinals in check. The Cardinals have not been as efficient on offense as they had hoped either. Kolb has been responsible for three interceptions and faces a Giants defense that has forced six turnovers in the first three games. And the offense as a whole only sports a 31% third down conversion rate.
If the Cardinals have one big weakness, it’s clearly the defense and falls within the linebackers. They are onto their third defensive coordinator in five seasons in Ray Horton and it’s clearly taking them some time to adjust to his system.
Through the first three games, the unit is averaging 397.7 yards against, including giving up 422 passing yards to rookie Cam Newton in his first game, 172 rushing yards to the Washington Redskins and 261 yards to the Seattle Seahawks, a season high for the Seahawks - making it clear the defense does not excel in either stopping the run or the pass. Arizona has found a way to get to the quarterback, with nine sacks in three games.
Though with Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, two aging veterans anchoring the linebackers, the unit has trouble following opposing running backs out of the backfield and does not get a strong enough push to limit teams running both inside and around the edge. However, the secondary is where the Giants could really expose Arizona.
Patrick Peterson is an extremely talented cornerback but still only a rookie and A.J. Jefferson is only in his second year. Even with Adrian Wilson, who’s playing while still recovering from a torn biceps muscle, and a shaky free safety in Kerry Rhodes, the Giants should be successful by getting the corners to jump on the play action pass because of the aggressiveness both play with.
Wilson and Rhodes will need to play deep off the ball to prevent the big play, which will help the Giants in the run game as well since Wilson is such a big factor when getting up field and into the backfield.