Warner and Boldin and Fitzgerald - Oh, My!
Warner and Boldin and Fitzgerald - Oh, My!
Arizona passing game may be Giants biggest challenge yet
It's been mentioned in more than a few articles that Kurt Warner will want to make a statement against his former team. Let's get something straight; The Giants are Warner's "former team" in the same sense that Jason Alexander is Britney Spears "former" husband. Before hooking up with K-Fed, Britney spent a weekend in vegas getting inehbriated and marrying a slightly more attractive guy than the 'Jason Alexander' you're probably thinking of. The marriage lasted a whopping 55 hours. It's nothing that sticks in the forefront of pop culture; it's something that happened a while back, and once in a blue moon you may remember it - like "Oh yeah, that's right - I remember now...". Something so meaningless to the current landscape that it's been pushed aside. A footnote - forgotten.
Well that's sort of similar to the feeling Giants fans have about Kurt Warner. It may as well have been Kurt Russell under center for the first nine games of that season. Even after winning five of his first seven games, Eli Manning was given the starting job after some poor performances by Warner . Tom Coughlin after the season went just short of questioning the signing of Warner two months after trading for Eli on the day of the draft. No one in the Giants community felt it was anything more than a bridge to Eli's readiness, and many of us felt it was a questionable decision at best. Coughlin did admit that starting the season with Warner was probably a mistake. Coughlin said he should have played Manning in week 1 so he could gain confidence and experience right out of the gate. In 2005, Warner signed with Arizona, and with 3rd year wideout Anquan Boldin on one side, and the previous year's 3rd overall pick Larry Fitzgerald on the other side - Warner revitalized his career.
As it all turned out, Benching Warner for Manning in week 10 of the 2004 season was the best thing for both quarterbacks.
Even now when I think back on the beating Warner took in that last season with the Rams... as Mike Martz watched from the sidelines, waiting for the right moment to name Bulger the starter as he'd planned to all along just for the sake of public relations - still infuriates me. I'm inclined to think that one of the furthest things form Warner's mind right now is "proving" anything to the Giants. He wasn't mistreated in New York like he was in St. Louis - he new the deal going in. The only thing on Kurt's mind right now is 8-3. He wasnt the division title and wants the playoffs. I'm happy for Kurt Warner. Kurt's always struck me a stand-up guy and a true professional, and I hope he has continued success with Arizona. Just not this week.
Arizona can clinch the NFC West with a victory on Sunday, and the Giants just happen to be the the team standing in his way. If the Giants' gameplan week by week has been to take away the oppositions' key player (Frank Gore, Brian Westbrook, Ben Roethlisberger), then they'll be tripling their efforts this week. It will have to start with Warner at it's core, but Boldin and Fitzgerald can inflict a lot of damage with even a few complete passes.
THINGS TO DO on Sunday, November 23rd:
1. Rattle Kurt's Cage: Ok, so Arizona is a passing team and not a running team. We know that. Whatever their philosophy is, the Cardinals are averaging 86 yards a game on the ground, and are dead last in the NFL with 3.4 yards per carry. Any way you slice it, those numbers indicate that the Cards have a subpar offensive line, and the running game (while not being completely ignored) will not be the Giants main area of concern. The Cardinals pass protection has been pretty good of late, with the bulk of the 18 sacks they've allowed coming at the beginning of the year. Steve Spagnuolo will need to find creative ways to get to Warner without using his secondary. Arizona will score points, and they may score many of them in the early going. Spagnuolo will have to be diligent and keep after Warner, because the first part of the battle will be wearing down the o-line, the second half of the battle will be blasting through the o-line and pounding Warner. Kurt can't be dropped just a few times; he'll need to be under constant pressue and picking a lot of grass out of his facemask for it to have an affect on him.
2. Get physical with #11 and #81: Boldin and Fitzgerald will be without question the toughest, most talented and best prepared pair of wide receivers the Giants secondary will face this year. And it won't be the likes of Brad Johnson, Donovan McNabb or Joe Flacco throwing to them - it'll be a seasoned veteran they've built major report with. As the saying goes, they won't be able to stop them - they can only hope to contain them (which in and of itself will be a feat). The more physical Aaron Ross and Corey Webster can get at the line the better off they'll be. Providing a cushion to those guys is only delaying the inevitable, so getting in their faces and disrupting some of their timing while the line attempts to pressure Warner is really the only hope they'll have in keeping the scoring down. Safeties Kenny Phillips and Michael Johnson will be backing them up, and have to attack at the point of release. It's a risky proposition, but they cannot allow the underneath completions they did last week with Flacco, or the week prior with McNabb. Boldin and Fitzgerald will be a blur to them once they have the ball tucked in their guts.
3. Prepare for a shootout: More than likely, simply having the ball longer than the Cardinals won't work. In fact, in all but two games so far Arizona has dominated time of possession. The only two games they lost that battle were against (oddly enough) the Cowboys and Redskins - two NFC East teams. The Giants will undoubtedly look to continue that trend, but since the Cardinals can put 7 on the scoreboard faster than anyone, Eli Manning will have to be able to strike back with downfield passes - and that's something he hasn't had to do a whole lot of this season (he hasn't thrown for over 200 yards since week 4). The Giants are certainly capable of putting points on the board, and the running game with or without Brandon Jacobs will play a big part in that as always. But this matchup screams of an air show. Manning won't be under pressure to outgun Warner, but I will predict that if he's to hit the 300-yard plateau at any time this season, this will be the time. He just might need to for the Giants to win this one.
Sources: sportsline.com, pro-football-reference.com, nysun.com