The Arizona Cardinals are back in the playoffs, for the time being, and they appeared to have found the recipe Sunday to keep them in the postseason hunt.
Two parts defense, one part offense.
Sack a lot and let quarterback Kyler Murray run a little. Let sit for 60 minutes. The result was a 26-7 win by the Cardinals over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium that propelled them back into the seventh seed in the NFC thanks to a win and a Minnesota Vikings’ loss.
The Cardinals broke a three-game losing streak in part because of a swarming defense that produced seven sacks , allowed just 58 yards in the first half and ### for the entire game. While the defense was doing their job, forcing the Giants to punt eight times, the Cardinals’ offense found a rhythm for the first time in weeks. And as much as Murray has said recently that he doesn’t need to run for the Cardinals to either win or be successful, he proved the opposite Sunday.
He ran for ## times for ## yards. But the Cardinals are 7-1 this season when Murray runs at least 10 times. That came to fruition on Sunday.
It also helped the Cardinals that coach Kliff Kingsbury got DeAndre Hopkins involved more so Sunday that he had recently.
Hopkins had 136 yards on nine catches, his first 100-yard game since Week 10 against the Bills. He also has had 100 yards or more in all four of his games at MetLife Stadium.
Sunday, though, wasn’t perfect for the Cardinals. They struggled in the first quarter and were 2-for-7 in the red zone. Kingsbury also made a questionable decision on fourth-and-1 from the 1 in the first quarter. The play didn’t pan out and Arizona left points on the board. It didn’t matter Sunday but against a better team those three points could have been the difference.
The Cardinals have three games left, Sunday against the Eagles, and then home against the San Francisco 49ers and at the Los Angeles Rams to finish the year. If they can continue to play like they did Sunday, the postseason won’t just be a fight. It’ll be nearly secured.
Buy on a breakout performance: Tight end Dan Arnold had his third touchdown in two games on Sunday, continuing to show that he can be a vital part of the Cardinals’ offense despite not being an every down player. His 6-foot-6 frame has been a savior of sorts for Murray, especially when plays start breaking down. While Arnold still has work to do, namely in penalty discipline, he’s making the kind of strides that will keep him on the field in critical situations.
Buying more breakout performances: Cardinals outside linebacker Haason Reddick had a career-high four sacks Sunday. His previous high was two against the Dallas Cowboys back in Week 6 on “Monday Night Football.” And fellow outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck had 1.5 sacks against the Giants, giving him 3.5 sacks in MetLife Stadium this season.
Troubling trend: The Cardinals were 2-for-7 in the red zone on Sunday. Although they scored 26 points, the Cardinals missed four opportunities to put more touchdowns on the board. Against a team that could score, unlike the Giants on Sunday, that could be an issue for the Cardinals in the future.
Bold prediction for next week: Even though he finished 80 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, Kenyan Drake will get fewer carries in favor of Chase Edmonds because of his two fumbles in a span of three carries. The Cardinals recovered both fumbles but were lucky to do so. If they had not recovered either – or both – the game could the swung toward New York.
QB Breakdown: Kyler Murray ran for 52 yards on 10 carries, and threw for 244 and a touchdown on 24-for-35 passing. He struggled at times but, overall, played a fairly complete game. He looked as comfortable running the ball Sunday as he has the last few weeks.