NFL Nation: Giants-Cardinals

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals are allowing 89.5 yards rushing per game after holding the Giants' league-leading rushing attack to 87 yards on 27 carries.

The Cardinals' opponents are averaging 3.7 yards per carry. One of the Cardinals' last six opponents -- the 49ers with Frank Gore -- averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin offered high praise for Arizona's run defense.

"They are an outstanding defensive team against the run," Coughlin said. "They probably play their eight-man front scheme as well as anybody that we have played."

Linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Adrian Wilson deserve consideration for the Pro Bowl.

I have a better appreciation for Wilson's impact after watching the Cardinals every week. He's a skilled blitzer, sure tackler and hard hitter. He can also make plays on the ball. Not many safeties could make the type of interception he made against the 49ers on Monday night.

Wilson is a threat to knock out the opposing quarterback every week. He came close to getting a blind-side shot on Eli Manning, but the Giants had a screen called and Manning threw the ball.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals' defeat was no cause for discouragement, and there wasn't any from coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says there was no mystery behind the Cardinals' defeat to the Giants. Turnovers and field position played decisive roles.

Also from Somers: Rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie continues to improve. Eric Green? Not so much.

More from Somers: The Cardinals think their ground game is close to producing. Their run defense against the Giants was top notch.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals should have been able to win at home after the Giants lost Brandon Jacobs and Plaxico Burress to injuries, but their inability to do so wasn't particularly troubling.

Also from Bickley: Ralph Brown's inability to field a perfect onside kick stood out as a key play. Brown admitted to taking his eyes off the ball as the Giants converged on him.

Somers and Richard Obert dissect Neil Rackers' free kick. Also, Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson has a shoulder injury of unknown severity.

Also from Obert: The Giants' backups came through against the Cardinals.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says there wasn't much new to learn from the Cardinals' defeat.

Also from Urban: A look at the Cardinals' special-teams problems.

More from Urban: Wilson says the Cardinals are past moral victories. Playing the Giants tough wasn't anything to celebrate.

And this from Urban: Do the Cardinals miss Tim Hightower on special teams? It's looking that way.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says Eli Manning might make a better MVP candidate than Kurt Warner after the Giants' quarterback tossed three touchdown passes.

Kyle Odegard of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals were generous hosts, supplying the Giants with everything they needed for a 37-29 victory.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- The Cardinals won't have to worry about facing an opponent as complete as the Giants until the playoffs. That's a good thing for Arizona.

The Giants pounded quarterback Kurt Warner once they proved that Arizona posed no threat on the ground. Warner's ability to get rid of the football quickly has usually been enough against lesser opponents. The Giants also showed they could cover downfield, however, throwing off the timing of the Cardinals' receivers.

A Cardinals victory would have vaulted Arizona into the race for home-field advantage in the NFC. That goal was never very realistic. As a result, nothing much changes for the Cardinals after losing this game. They'll still win the NFC West and host a playoff game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- Officiating generally isn't a hot topic until the flags have flown (or not flown, or been picked up after being thrown).

But the referee assignment for the Giants-Cardinals game caught my attention. Peter Morelli, whose crew botched key calls during the Cowboys-Cardinals game in Week 6, gets the assignment at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 12.

Morelli's crew assessed 12 penalties against each team during the Cardinals' 30-24 overtime victory over the Cowboys in Week 6. Two calls involving Darnell Dockett's attempts to take down Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo nearly cost the Cardinals a victory. The plays became secondary story lines once the Cardinals prevailed. As I wrote at the time:

The blown call on Dockett's fumble-forcing sack might have become the story had the Cardinals lost this game.

Referee Peter Morelli and crew needed a replay reversal to fix the other play involving Dockett. The reversal, though warranted, shined light on the confusing and controversial tuck rule.

The NFL loses when officiating decisions threaten to influence outcomes while defying logic.

Expect a follow-up item if the Cardinals sack Eli Manning and force a fumble, only to have officials rule Manning down by contact. On a side note, the NFL might be moving past shielding referees from games involving aggrieved teams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

New York Giants (9-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

No game involving an NFC West team has generated more buzz on the blog. We're pushing 900 comments on the Wednesday preview item, which picked up where the Hot Topic item left off. Kickoff can't get here quickly enough.

X-Philer might have put it best: "Can anyone believe we are talking about the AZ Cardinals possibly winning their division in week 12. I was in U of P stadium on Monday night when the Cards played the 49ers and let me tell ya the place was rock'n, even when all seemed lost the crowd stayed in it. These guys are tough to beat at home."

The Cardinals are seeking their fifth consecutive home victory this season. The team hasn't won five consecutive home games in one season since 1976, the longest drought of any team in existence that long. A victory over the Giants would end the streak and establish Arizona as more than just a good team in a bad division.

Washington Redskins (6-4) at Seattle Seahawks (2-8), 4:15 p.m. ET

The Redskins have been at their best running the ball with Clinton Portis and relying less on the arm of quarterback Jason Campbell. But with Seahawks icon Jim Zorn returning to Seattle for the first time as Redskins coach, he'll be tempted to beat his old team through the air.

Zorn's familiarity with the Seahawks on both sides of the ball could work to his advantage. I'm interested in seeing how both head coaches manage their passing games.

Seattle's third-down offense is one of three in the NFL averaging fewer yards per play passing (3.59) than rushing (3.92), not a good sign. The Redskins' ability to drop into coverage and match up with opposing receivers has the potential to frustrate Matt Hasselbeck.

San Francisco 49ers (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (6-4), 1 p.m. ET

The 49ers enter a brutal stretch with four of their next five games on the road and all four scheduled to start at 10 a.m. PT.

Interim coach Mike Singletary will have to earn the job for 2009. The schedule certainly isn't going to give it to him. A victory over the Cowboys -- in his home state, no less -- would dramatically upgrade Singletary's profile.

This is also a time for the 49ers to evaluate their recent drafts. Second-year receiver Jason Hill is getting an extended look. Rookie Chilo Rachal figures to play and possibly start at right guard. Third-year tight end Vernon Davis is showing signs of becoming more effective in the end zone. Second-year left tackle Joe Staley faces a tough matchup against Demarcus Ware.

Chicago Bears (5-5) at St. Louis Rams (2-8), 1 p.m. ET

The Rams have scored more points against their own fans than against opposing defenses lately. Guard Richie Incognito's untimely barbs at allegedly unfaithful and clueless supporters might distract from the product on the field, but only briefly.

While Incognito ripped fans this week, interim coach Jim Haslett targeted his underachieving players in a desperate attempt to reverse a four-game streak of Sunday surrenders.

No matter. This team appears on the fast track to a second consecutive 3-13 season. After Chicago, the Rams face the Dolphins, Cardinals (road), Seahawks, 49ers and Falcons (road).

 
 Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE and Rich Kane-US PRESSWIRE
 Will the Giants running game be able to keep Kurt Warner and Arizona's explosive receivers off the field?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Arizona Cardinals keep taking steps.

They finished 8-8 last season, their best record since 1998.

They outlasted Dallas in Week 6 this season when the Cowboys were 4-1, an outcome that helped establish Arizona as tough to beat at home.

They gained confidence on the road during a 27-23 defeat at Carolina in Week 8. Arizona has outscored opponents by 37 points over its last 14 quarters away from University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Cardinals have exorcised demons in prime time and at Seattle's Qwest Field over the last two weeks.

Podcast: Football Today
Today's focus is on the Cardinals as Jeremy Green talks with Mike Sando, who tells us Arizona could be the first team since 1998 to clinch a playoff spot with only eight wins.

The next step -- finding a way to beat the 9-1 New York Giants on Sunday in Glendale -- might qualify as a leap if the Cardinals can make it happen.

"I'm picking them over the Giants this week because they possess the ball and their defense is never on the field for sustained periods," said ESPN's Trent Dilfer, the last quarterback to beat the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. "They don't get to third down. You see defenses change and Kurt Warner and [offensive coordinator] Todd Haley have an answer. You see perfect defensive plays against them and it's a 12-yard gain."

That's all good, but the Cardinals haven't faced an opponent as complete as the Giants.

"I don't think the Giants are going to have much of a problem," said Tag Ribary, who joined Scouts Inc. this year after evaluating talent for the Carolina Panthers in recent seasons. "What they did to Baltimore doesn't get enough credit at all. The No. 1 run defense in the league and they put 200 up on them. It's unthinkable, almost."

Until recently, unthinkable meant the Cardinals having a shot at clinching a playoff spot in Week 12. A victory over the Giants could make it happen. At 7-3, Arizona stands third in the NFC with six games to play.

"If they can beat the Giants and then get the Eagles on Thursday night, they could be in the hunt to play at home through the playoffs," Keith Kidd of Scouts Inc. said. "I don't think that will happen, but they could be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. They can win a playoff game at home." (Read Kidd's take on the matchup between the Cardinals' defense and Giants' offense here.)

The Cardinals arguably haven't had a game as meaningful as their Giants matchup in a decade. Dilfer, Ribary and Kidd joined Hot Topic respondents in helping us break it down 10 ways, and then some.

(Read full post)

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