Cardinals defense not overlooking Saquon Barkley, scoreless Giants

Sep 15, 2023, 12:04 PM

Saquon Barkley carries the football...

Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants rushes during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium on January 15, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

TEMPE — You couldn’t find a worse offensive showing in Week 1 than what the New York Giants rolled out against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.

Averaging just 2.6 yards per play, the Giants totaled 171 yards of total offense across 12 drives, coughed up the ball three times, went 0-2 in the red zone, gave up seven sacks and got shut out in a 40-0 beatdown.

The Arizona Cardinals aren’t oblivious to the poor outing. They’re also not oblivious to the fact the Giants possess a lot more talent than the result from showed from Week 1.

“You look at it all,” defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said Tuesday. “Obviously, they’ve had some roster changes this offseason that you definitely have to take into account, into consideration. Some really good players that they’ve added.

“I know it was how they planned to have that game go the other night, but you got to take in every bit of information and try to funnel it to, ‘What is this story telling us for how we got to go out and play on Sunday?'”

It all starts with running back Saquon Barkley.

Despite being held to 51 rushing yards on 12 carries — game flow certainly had a hand in his usage — and three catches for 12 yards, the running back remains one the top offensive threats in the game just a year removed from a 10-touchdown, 1,650-yard 2022.

“He’s very good at hitting that hole and making moves off whoever it is,” safety Budda Baker said Thursday. “He’s a very downhill runner, a guy who can make all the cuts. They also like to throw him the ball as well. An all-down, every-down back.

“One of the great backs in this league and a guy that we’re of course going to be heavily dialed into in the game.”

And while debates will continue about whether or not quarterback Daniel Jones deserved his big payday this past offseason, he adds a dual-threat aspect that can cause defenses fits if not well prepared.

Helping lead the Giants to a playoff berth in 2022, Jones turned in one of his best seasons as a pro behind career highs in passing yards (3,205) and completion percentage (67.2%) while setting new marks as a runner (120 carries for 708 yards and seven touchdowns).

“Daniel’s got a big arm, he’s hard to sack, he extends plays, he breaks tackles and he’s a runner,” Arizona head coach Jonathan Gannon said Wednesday. “They use him in a way that makes it hard on a defense.

“That’s shown up from when we were playing them in the same division, that showed up against Dallas and that’s going to continue to show up because they do a good job of maximizing (Jones and Barkley).”

For Gannon, Rallis and the Cardinals defense, it’s all about mixing in the new with the old.

Yes, the Giants’ makeup is not exactly the same as it was when Gannon and Rallis were members of the Philadelphia Eagles, but there’s still a successful blueprint to follow.

As defensive coordinator for the Eagles from 2021-22, Gannon’s unit allowed just 13.6 points per game to the Giants across four regular-season games and a playoff game on Philadelphia’s way to a 4-1 record over the division rival.

Gannon’s group was especially stingy when it came to limiting Barkley’s output, which in turn impacted New York’s running attack and overall game plan.

In four appearances against the Eagles the past two seasons, the running back was held out of the end zone and averaged 11.5 carries, 40.3 rushing yards, 2.3 receptions and 12.5 receiving yards per game.

Getting similar production from Gannon’s new team when it comes to stymieing the running game and Barkley specifically can go a long way in forcing Jones to beat you more through the air more so than on the ground, eliminating a big aspect of his game in the process.

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