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Protection Key In Facing Giants

Cardinals want to keep Palmer clean during cross-country road trip to New York

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The offensive line, including center Lyle Sendlein (63), guard Ted Larsen (62) and tackle Jared Veldheer (68) got off to a solid start last week.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Carson Palmer's Houdini act on Monday night was a sight to behold, but as the Cardinals know, he's far from a professional escape artist.

Palmer showed rare agility in avoiding the Chargers' pass rush, and it played a significant role in the team's comeback 18-17 victory. On Sunday the Cardinals will play a Giants team which has long been known for its ability to get to the quarterback, and this time, the offensive line isn't interested in tempting fate.

Palmer perked up postgame when told of his 29-yard rushing total, but nobody wants him coming close to that number again.

"Mike Vick back in 2000 or something, that's the only time you want to run the ball at quarterback," right tackle Bobby Massie said. "We've got to keep the pocket cleaner for him and make sure he's comfortable."

The Giants have made a habit of pressuring quarterbacks for decades, from linebacker Lawrence Taylor in the 1980s and early 1990s

to more recent sack masters like Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. Jason Pierre-Paul is the latest in line and has a 16½-sack season to his credit, but he's been injured or ineffective for most of the past two seasons.

Pierre-Paul hurt his neck in the season-opening loss to the Lions and didn't register a sack, but is expected to play and still has the requisite athleticism to reach the backfield in a hurry. The Giants were held to one sack in their 35-14 opening-night loss to the Lions and coach Tom Coughlin believes it's a crucial component Sunday.

"They do an outstanding job with the running game and the quarterback and the play action and so on and so forth," Coughlin said. "They've built themselves quite a receiving corps as well, so in order to control some of that, you've got to be able to get people up the field. We didn't get that done the other night, and we're continuously working on it."

The Cardinals inked left tackle Jared Veldheer to a 5-year, $35 million contract in March precisely to slow down the likes of Pierre-Paul, and General Manager Steve Keim – a former offensive lineman – has put an eagle-eye focus on the position.

The offensive line wasn't satisfied with its performance in the opener, but center Lyle Sendlein called it an encouraging start. Palmer – who is listed as questionable for the game with a sore shoulder, though he's expected to play -- was sacked twice, including one which resulted in a lost fumble.

"Lot of positives," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "There were some negatives too. Obviously Bobby gave up the sack-fumble. But for the most part they did a solid job."

The offensive line has three new starters this season, with Veldheer, Massie and left guard Ted Larsen joining Sendlein and right guard Paul Fanaika. The road trip to New York will be the first test in a hostile atmosphere, and the noise level can sometimes lead to communication issues.

"It just is a nuisance when it's continual noise," coach Bruce Arians said. "It got to the Chargers. Our fans were unbelievable the other

night of steady noise and higher when they were at the line of scrimmage. When you're trying to call plays and you're trying to get snap counts, and the communication just between the guard and tackle to block out or block down, it gets really, really hard."

The Cardinals have pumped fake crowd noise inside their practice bubble this week in preparation, but it's hard to simulate the atmosphere.

"There's always going to be some bumps in the road in your first real road experience," Sendlein said.

The Cardinals' offense put up nice statistical numbers in the opener but only finished with 18 points, and will look to find a groove quickly in New York after perpetual offseason talk of a more explosive group. The Giants' secondary was torched by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (22-of-32 for 346 yards and two touchdowns) in the opener but features safety Antrel Rolle and cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Prince Amukamara and Walter Thurmond, so there is talent. Palmer said each line of defense for the Giants can give the Cardinals problems.

"They've been a great pass rush team getting after the quarterback for a long time now, but very talented top to bottom," Palmer said. "You look at the corners, both corners are very, very good players—very physical, very fast. Antrel Rolle is a great safety. The linebackers, they have a little bit of everything. They have some young, speedy athletic guys. They have (Jon) Beason, their middle linebacker, who understands the scheme, understands everybody else's role, gets guys in the right spots, a great veteran, a leader. So they have a little bit of everything."

The Cardinals will play without linebacker John Abraham, who left the team following a concussion in the opener and is pondering retirement. He has until early next week to decide, and the loss of his pass-rushing ability – whether temporary or permanent – adds another hurdle for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to clear. The Cardinals could get a boost in the secondary, as safety Tyrann Mathieu is listed as probable and could play in his first game since torn knee ligaments sidelined him on Dec. 8 of last year.

The defense faced questions about its myriad departures before the opener and held a high-powered Chargers team to 17 points. The Giants' offense did not click against Detroit, and if those results hold the Cardinals will have the upper hand.

However, Arians knows the Giants will look to atone for the slow start, and trips across the country are never easy. The Cardinals play their first NFC West game next week against the 49ers, and would love to return home undefeated, but they must execute at a high level to do so.

"I think (the Giants) are all chomping at the bit to show their fans that they're for real, especially on offense," Arians said. "It's going to be a great challenge for us, but that's what we go up there for. We're going there to win, not to do anything else."


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