Once again the Cowboys ride out into the desert to confront the Cardinals. Arizona has not been a friendly place for our Boys, and once again they can look forward to a tough battle.
If you are what your record says you are; the Arizona Cardinals were a 5-11 team last season, it must be remembered that, at one point, their record was an impressive 4-0. Stop me if you have heard this story before, but the Redbirds were well on their way to a decent season until the defense was decimated by injuries. Before the onslaught, the stingy Arizona defense was allowing just over 15 points per game; and that includes appearances against both Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. If any team can share the perspective our beloved Cowboys had last season, it is the Cardinals. They are a good football club.
For the Birds, a new era begins; former interim Head Coach of the Colts, Bruce Arians will assume the mantle on a full time basis. Filling in for Chuck Pagano while he battled leukemia last year, Arians lead the horseshoe brigade to a 9-3 mark. For that effort he was named the NFL Coach of the Year. Now he attempts to right the ship in the desert. Early indications are that the front office is making some solid moves to make Arians' job as easy as they can. From my point of view, it looks like the flock that they are putting together is going to be a bunch that the Cowboys are going to have to be concerned with over the next several seasons. Without further ado, lets take a look at the upcoming foe.
At the helm of the Redbird offense is former Oakland Raider and Cincinnati Bengal signal caller Carson Palmer, who replaces the departed Kevin Kolb. Even though he is nowhere near the quarterback he once was, according to Arians, Carson still "throws the prettiest deep ball I've ever seen." Given an offense that features Larry Fitzgerald as its top receiver, Palmer might just find the spark to finish his career on a high note. Harold Goodwin, the offensive coordinator, has already shown that he is likely to go early and often to the quick strike offense. C DeVeau of sister site Revenge Of The Birds had this to say:
Aggressive pass calls, deep strikes. Interception by Patrick Peterson and what do the Cards do? Coach Arians dials up a quick deep strike for a score, Carson Palmer connects with Andre Roberts who redeemed himself by finding the end zone.
In addition to Fitzgerald, the Cardinals QB will have 2012 first round pick Michael Floyd as an outside receiver. Although he started off his rookie year in a slow manner, things started to come together for Floyd at the end of the season and he closed the year with a pair of outstanding games. Andre Roberts should man the slot, and tight end Rob Housler will also figure highly in the Arians-Goodwin passing game. The primary weakness at the offensive skill positions will be feature back Rashard Mendenhall, formerly of the Steelers. So far, Mendenhall has been hampered by knee tendonitis, but in his stead Stepfan Taylor was impressive in the Cards 17-0 win over Green Bay.
Some of us remember that, despite our own offensive line woes last year, other teams experienced even worse. Arizona was one of those. The 2012 offensive line surrendered an atrocious 58 sacks. During the off season the front office invested heavily in solving that problem. To start things off, they used their first round selection to take Jonathan Cooper to be their left guard. Not content, the Redbirds went back to the well in the fourth round and selected Earl Watford to potentially man the right side. He could play early as veteran Daryn Colledge, the presumed starter, has suffered a "nerve injury" to his leg. Either way, former Texas Longhorn Lyle Sendlein provides a veteran presence at center. The bookends will be left tackle Levi Brown, who is returning from a torn triceps, and Eric Winston, another veteran whom the Birds brought in to plug a leak. According to Alex Mann at ROTB, the new look offensive line is gelling quite well. Interestingly enough, Arizona has stiff competition for both men, according a report from Jess Root at our sister site:
One key pair of positional battles for the Arizona Cardinals are the offensive line bookends -- both right and left tackle. Heading in to the offseason, they had three guys for those two spots, but added Eric Winston. Now it is a two man battle for each spot -- Levi Brown and Nate Potter at left tackle and Eric Winston and Bobby Massie on the right side.
Head coach Bruce Arians said to the press (via azcardinals.com) that the competition is going well. He named Brown for having a very good week of camp. However, as Arians noted, "We could flip those guys daily if we wanted to."
I don't know about you, but, if I were Dallas, I might be watching closely in case one of those guys finds himself on the outside looking in.
As stated earlier, before injuries took a toll, Arizona's defense was dominating. Up front, defensive ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell return, giving the Cardinals 3-4 defense a strong pair of inside pass rushers. In 2011, Dockett and Campbell combined for 11.5 sacks. This weekend they should provide the first real test of the Cowboys inside pass protection. Inside, nose tackle Dan Williams is a solid run stuffer, and will provide Travis Frederick a challenge when they lock horns.
At linebacker the Birds have two more faces familiar to the burnt orange portion of the Dallas faithful. Third year linebacker Sam Acho will remind fans of Anthony Spencer. He is not much of a pass rush threat, but he will be around the ball consistently. He is joined by rookie Alex Okafor, who is more of a pass rusher. Both young men are Dallas natives; as well as former Longhorns, so you know that this is a big game for them. Over the summer, Arizona also brought in John Abraham to help give the team an outside pass rush. Across the board, the Cardinals should be able to get in the quarterback's face frequently this season. Inside, the Birds do have a stud, Daryl Washington. Even though he is suspended for four games to start the year, Washington is available during the preseason. He will be joined by Karlos Dansby and second round draft pick Kevin Minter.
In the secondary, Patrick Peterson is the biggest gun in the arsenal. It wasn't that long ago that he was high on the wish list of Cowboys fans. At the opposite corner things are not so solid. Among the contenders to start are Antoine Cason, who was torched frequently in San Diego last season, and Jerraud Powers who often tasted smoke in Indy. At safety the Cardinals have rookie Tyrann Mathieu out of LSU. The "Honey Badger" is playing with a chip on his shoulder after his fall on draft day, and he looks determined to show the 31 teams who passed on him that they made a serious miscalculation. RTRTOB writer Seth Cox observed:
Mathieu did exactly what you expect of him, he lined up everywhere in the secondary, was asked to blitz, and ended the night with a pass break up, a sack and a nifty 24 yard punt return.
Special teams are a strength out in the desert. Well known is that Patrick Peterson is one of the most dangerous return men in the game. As a rookie he took four kicks to the house; and last season teams made it a point to kick away from the demon in red. Arizona adding Tyrann Mathieu is going to force opposing kickers to pick their poison this time around. On the other side of the equation, Arizona did not surrender a single touchdown in the kicking game last year. Placekicker Jay Feely was 25 for 28 in 2012, including a perfect two for two beyond 50 yards. Punter Dave Zastudil lead the lead in punts inside the 20 yard line last season, and was also fifth in net average. Dallas cannot afford the special teams breakdowns that we saw last week.
The Arizona Cardinals, in spite of what their 2012 record may lead us to believe, is by far the best team the Cowboys have faced thus far in the preseason. They have a quick strike offense that has the potential to test the Dallas-2 scheme, especially the safeties. On the other side of the ball, they feature a pass rush that will provide the Dallas line with its first real test as well. If Dallas escapes with a solid performance from our ones, I will breath a deep sigh of relief. The front seven should also challenge the Cowboys running game. All in all, this is a game that will tell us a lot about our team, especially when the starters face each other. Given that the match up will be held in University of Phoenix Stadium, should the Boys escape with a win, we should be well pleased, preseason or not.