By Paul Dottino
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The Giants appear to have regained much of their swagger heading into Arizona – and this may be the most visible benefit of last weekend’s 29-16 upset victory in Philadelphia.
Coach Tom Coughlin’s top priority this week has been to use that win to build momentum for his players. Of course, they should not need any reminders of how they bungled their season opener against an inferior Redskins squad – but that’s the danger they face in playing the Cardinals.
The Cardinals, who expect to have RB Beanie Wells (hamstring) this week, have a mediocre offense led by a young quarterback who relies on a pedestrian offensive line and badly needs a strong running game to help him out. In addition, Arizona’s defense (which made the conversion to a 3-4 this season) is a work in progress that features two rookie cornerbacks.
On paper, is there much doubt which team should be heavily favored? Right, I didn’t think so. But remember what happened in Washington.
So, here are three key matchups to watch this week:
1. Giants pass rush vs. Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb. Kolb has made less than a dozen NFL starts and his inexperience has shown over the Cardinals’ first three games.
Despite having a long-distance arm and the ability to make plays, the mental part of the game often seems to go too fast for him at this stage of his career. He does not show the necessary patience in the pocket and doesn’t do a good job going through his progressions. The evidence? He’s favorite target has been TE Todd Heap. No way this should happen when big-play WR Larry Fitzgerald is on the roster.
The Giants are best served by showing blitz and then dropping out to confuse Kolb and, of course, getting enough consistent pressure from their front four – whether it has DEs Justin Tuck (neck, groin) and/or Osi Umenyiora (knee) or not.
2. Giants punt coverage vs. Cardinals rookie PR Patrick Peterson. Peterson is averaging 18.4 yards per punt return, including an 89-yard touchdown on eight tries.
To make it simple, the former LSU star (6-1, 219) has 4.3 speed to go with his size and strength, making him a dangerous weapon when trying to establish good field position. Given Kolb’s inexperience, the Cardinals want to tilt the field for him as often as possible.
3. Giants WRs Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham vs. Cardinals rookie CBs Peterson and A.J. Jefferson. Manningham is expected to play after coming back from a concussion, although Victor Cruz caught two TD passes in his place against the Eagles. Cruz likely will see much time in the slot, likely against former Panthers CB Richard Marshall.
Was Cruz a one-hit wonder or can he produce if called upon for a second week in a row? The Cards are expected to double Nicks and there’s no telling how effective Manningham will be in his return.
PREDICTION: Giants 24, Cardinals 10
PREDICTION RECORD VS. THE SPREAD: 1-2
What’s your prediction for Giants-Cardinals? Give Dottino your best shot in the comments below…