Saquon Barkley, 2-win Giants not a team to overlook for Cardinals
TEMPE, Ariz. — They may have the same amount of wins, but the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants couldn’t be more different entering Week 7.
The Arizona Cardinals come into their matchup with the Giants riding a two-game win streak, while New York enters the Meadowlands having lost a pair consecutively.
New York undoubtedly represents a winnable game for Arizona, one that was circled by many when the schedule first came out.
But while the Giants’ 2-4 record may look like one of the worst in the league on the surface, there’s more than meets the eye.
Two of the Giants’ losses came in the first two weeks of the season, with Eli Manning under center as the team’s starting quarterback. From there, however, rookie Daniel Jones took over under center, winning the first start of his career in Week 3. Even with star running back Saquon Barkley going down with an ankle injury early on in the win, Jones kept the momentum rolling, decisively taking down the Washington Redskins in Week 4.
Jones has had issues giving the ball away, recording six picks this season, but enters Week 7 with more than 900 yards and five touchdowns on 60.7% passing.
“The quarterback’s going to be a really good player,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said ahead of practice on Wednesday.
“You can tell when you turn on the film he’s got it. Got the moxie, moves around, makes plays. He cuts it loose, that’s one thing I always look for in young quarterbacks. When they see it, do they cut it loose? Sometimes they make mistakes, but he pulls the trigger and you can tell their offense believes in him.”
They may have started out as one of the worst-looking teams in the NFL, but under Jones, the team has managed a 2-2 record with their best player, among others, on the sideline.
That all changes in Week 7, with not only Barkley most likely returning from injury, but two of the team’s top receiving threats.
Barkley marks public enemy No. 1 for Arizona.
“He’s as good as anybody in the game. He has the ability to be one of the best all-time,” Kingsbury said. “You look at being able to catch it out of the backfield, being able to run with it, speed, power, he’s got it all. The work ethic is evident, the mentality. He’s as good as it gets.”
Last season, the running back burst onto the NFL scene, rushing for 1,307 yards and 11 scores on 261 carries (5.0 yards per rush), second in yards only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott. Barkley also impacted the passing game, catching 91 balls (13th in the NFL among pass-catchers) for 721 yards and four touchdowns. He clearly moved the chains, recording 80 first downs for New York in both facets of his game.
It may be only his second season, but Barkley is already showing signs of being one of the absolute greats to run the rock. He’s played less than three games this season, leaving in the second quarter of Week 3, but still leads the team in yards (237) and yards per carry (6.5) among rushers with at least 11 carries. He’s also caught 11 passes for 74 yards.
“If things go well and he plays, he’ll obviously give us a boost with not only with what he does as a runner, but his spirit in terms of leadership and all the things he brings to the team,” Giants head coach Pat Shurmur told Arizona reporters Wednesday.
Potentially joining Barkley on the gridiron this week is tight end Evan Engram, presenting yet another tough tight end challenge for the Cardinals defense.
Like Barkley, Engram, who is working his way back from a sprained MCL, was a full participant in the team’s practice on Wednesday.
When healthy, Engram has the ability to change the course of games. In five games this season, the tight end has reeled in 33 catches for 373 yards and two touchdowns. He paces all Giants pass-catchers in every statistical category.
That doesn’t bode well for a Cardinals team continually struggling to stop tight ends.
Against six starting tight ends this season, Arizona has allowed 506 yards and six touchdowns on 37 receptions. Other than the Cincinnati Bengals game, opposing tight ends have gone for at least 57 yards and a score each week, with three players going over the 100-yard mark.
Adding to the passing attack could be No. 1 WR Sterling Shepherd, who was also seen at practice Wednesday after dealing with a concussion.
Shepherd, who caught 66 receptions for 872 yards and four touchdowns last season, has missed the second-most games among the trio, sitting out for a pair.
Even then, the wideout sits behind only Engram among Giants pass catchers, recording 25 catches for 267 yards and a score.
Through six games this season, the Cardinals’ defense sits 30th in passing yards allowed per game (281.2), 25th in rushing yards allowed per game (132.8) and 29th in points allowed per game (28.5).
But there’s a silver lining to this week’s matchup in the return of cornerback Patrick Peterson to the starting lineup.
The cornerback may not be able to cover the trio of Giants all at once, but his presence back in the secondary provides an added boost to not only the Cardinals’ plan of attack, but his teammates as well.
“Just fired up to have him back,” Kingsbury said. “He loves the game, you can tell he’s very excited to be back around his teammates. He missed those guys and they missed him and he’s gonna bring just some good juice to the practice field this week.”