Cardinals on offense
Rob Moore's injury isn't the only one that's handicapped the Arizona offense. Running back Michael Pittman, a 6-0, 215-pounder who doesn't avoid many tacklers, sustained two concussions in three games in part due to his hard-nosed running style. Pittman, a 1998 fourth-round pick, had rushed for 310 yards and 2 TDs on 87 carries (3.6 avg.). He suffered the first concussion early in a 20-13 loss at Chicago. Pittman temporarily left the game, but fumbled later when stripped from behind by safety Mike Brown.
Cornerback R.W. McQuarters returned the loose ball 69 yards for the game-winning TD. Pittman was slated to undergo further evaluation. With his health in question, the Cardinals could turn to Thomas Jones, a disappointing second-year player. The seventh overall pick in the 2000 draft had rushed for just 138 yards on 41 carries (3.4 avg.) this season. Another possibility is rookie Marcel Shipp, who turned some heads in the preseason. No one has helped fill the void created by Moore's absence better than third-year wide receiver David Boston. The eighth pick in the 1999 draft ranked third in the NFC with 589 receiving yards and fourth with 38 receptions through October, but he had just one TD.
Complementing Boston is Frank Sanders, who had 19 receptions for 248 yards and one TD. Arizona's third receiver is MarTay Jenkins (12 catches for 213 yards and 1 TD). Moore's return would provide a huge boost, but the veteran might be placed on Injured Reserve. Center Mike Gruttadauria and guards Leonard Davis and Pete Kendall anchor Arizona's offensive line. Davis, a mammoth rookie, has gained recognition for his brute strength. A few weeks ago he picked up Chicago's 202-pound Brown and spiked him to the ground as if he were a paper cup.
Arizona's passing game is also hampered by an injury to starting tight end Terry Hardy, who remains out with a bad shoulder. The inexperienced Tywan Mitchell is the only other tight end on the Cardinals roster. With Hardy out, fullback Dennis McKinley will pull double duty as Mitchell's backup.
Key Matchup: Giants defensive end Michael Strahan vs. Cardinals tackle L.J. Shelton.
Shelton will have his hands full with Strahan, who led the NFL with 12.5 sacks and is on pace to record an eye-popping 29 this season. Strahan was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month after registering 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for the defending NFC champions who have struggled of late with a three-game losing streak. Strahan will look to unleash his entire repertoire on the younger Shelton.
How to beat the offense: Focus on stopping the run and dare Plummer to beat you. The 6-2, 198-pounder has displayed a penchant for late-game dramatics, but no one is more prone to big mistakes.
That was evident in the loss at Dallas when linebacker Dexter Coakley returned a Plummer interception 10 yards for the game-clinching TD. Cardinals on defense The loss of Vanden Bosch was critical for an Arizona defense that ranked 25th overall (27th against the run, 22nd versus the pass). The rookie was one of the club's best players before he suffered two torn knee ligaments. Vanden Bosch sparked a 21-20 upset win at Philadelphia by returning a fumble for the game's first touchdown. Thomas Burke has done an admirable job filling in, but the line – and specifically the pass rush – is Arizona's weak leak on defense.
The other starters are rookie Fred Wakefield at end and Barron Tanner and Russell Davis at tackle. The line's inexperience showed in the loss at Dallas when Cowboys quarterback Clint Stoerner, making his first NFL start, raced for a 6-yard TD on a quarterback draw.
The defense is anchored by outside linebacker Rob Fredrickson, who shared the team lead with Burke with two sacks. Arizona's other outside linebacker, Raynoch Thompson, is in Coach Dave McGinnis' doghouse after being cited for DUI. "This is not something that I take lightly," said McGinnis, who's in his first full season as head coach. "The character of this team, the reputation of this team that we are building, is not something anyone can be flippant with." McGinnis might replace Thomas with Zack Walz, who has been bothered by serious knee and leg injuries the past two seasons.
Even with the free agent loss of Aeneas Williams, the strength of the Arizona defense is its secondary. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, strong safety Pat Tillman (ankle) and cornerbacks Tom Knight (hamstring) and Corey Chavous (foot) have missed time with injuries. Tillman, the leading tackler last season, is expected to return to face the Giants, but replacement Justin Lucas has performed well. David Barrett has yielded a few big plays while taking turns replacing Knight and Chavous.
While his teammates heal, free safety Kwamie Lassiter has stepped up to fill the void with an interception in three straight games. Reserve Adrian Wilson had the club's longest interception return this season, a 36-yarder.
Key Matchup: Giants receiver Amani Toomer vs. Cardinals cornerback Corey Chavous. Toomer had his most productive game of the season in a recent loss to the Redskins, catching nine passes for 109 yards and 1 TD. With the Giants in need of a jump-start after three straight losses, Toomer could provide that lift against an injury-depleted Cardinals secondary. Chavous' foot most likely will still not be 100 percent, something the cagey Toomer will look to exploit.
How to beat the offense: Without Vanden Bosch, the Cardinals have little ability to generate pressure on the quarterback. That should give Kerry Collins and the Giants an opportunity to establish a productive passing game. Collins ranked 12th in the NFC with a 75.9 quarterback rating.
Offensive player WR David Boston Ht: 6-01 Wt: 215 Boston is bigger, stronger and faster this year after a rigorous offseason workout regimen. The star wide receiver from Ohio State has termed the work "explosive lifting." "I wanted to get my body in the best shape possible," Boston said. "I changed my diet, I lifted weights. I gained about 25 pounds."
The extra weight hasn't slowed Boston down. That was evident recently when he turned a short pass into a 23-yard TD pass against the Kansas City Chiefs — one of seven receptions for 131 yards in a 24-16 victory.
Defensive player LB Rob Fredrickson Ht: 6-04 Wt: 240 Fredrickson is a rare every-down linebacker in this age of specialization who is considered one of the league's best cover linebackers. He joined the Cardinals in 1999 after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Raiders (1994-97) and Lions (1998). In the 2000 season opener against the Giants, Fredrickson recorded three tackles for loss, two on Ron Dayne and one on Tiki Barber.