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Cowboys Game Plans - Week Nine: Scouting The Cardinals Offense

A look at the Cardinals offense to see exactly what the Cowboys are preparing for in Sunday's match up.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Week Seven

Opponent: Arizona Cardinals

Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator: Bruce Arians

Quarterback: Carson Palmer

Primary Running Threats:

  • Andre Ellington - 38
  • Stepfan Taylor - 30

Primary Receiving Threats:

  • Larry Fitzgerald - 11
  • Micheal Floyd - 15
  • John Brown - 12
  • Andre Ellington - 38
  • Ted Ginn Jr - 19
  • John Carlson - 89


Throughout the course of his career as a QB coach, offensive coordinator, and now head coach, Bruce Arians has built himself a reputation as a QB guru and savant of the vertical passing game. Aand in his second year as the head man in Arizona, with veteran QB Carson Palmer at the helm, he has lived up to that reputation and earned a combined 16-7 record along the way.

Although long-time leader and tone-setter Larry Fitzgerald has gotten a little longer in the tooth, he is still very productive, and young players like Michael Floyd and Pittsburg State rookie John Brown have become dynamic options in the passing game, while Andre Ellington gives Arians the kind of back he likes, a back who can operate well in space and provide just enough balance for his offense.

Downhill Run Game

AZ Power Pre Snap

Here we see the Cardinals in a one-back set, with Larry Fitzgerald motioned into the core of the formation as an in-line blocker. The scheme from the Cardinals is a variation of the Two Back Power Scheme, run out of a one back set. In order to simulate the kick-out block traditionally executed by the fullback in this scheme, they pull both the backside guard and tackle, with the guard kicking out the end man on the line of scrimmage, and the tackle leading the back through the hole as the guard would on a typical power run.

AZ Power Run

Here we see the play-side guard block down, with the tackle immediately going up to the second level to seal the Mike LB, leaving the OLB for the backside tackle to take on as he leads the back through the hole. We can also see the kick- out block by the pulling guard, and the lane developing for Ellington.

Converting Third Downs

One of the most important aspects to study for any offense is how they handle third downs, from a personnel, formation, and scheme standpoint. 

AZ 3rd Down PS
Here we see the Cardinals lining up on a 3rd down and about four in an empty look with the receivers in a bunch look to the right, and a reduced split stack to the left. The scheme on both sides is designed to create a vertical stretch on the defense, and gives Palmer options at different levels of the defense with a chance to convert for a first down.

AZ 3rd Down Rd

With Palmer at the top of his drop, we see him reading to his right. Looking at the combination, his read is likely from deep to short, going from the go, to the out, to the curl. In this situation, we see the CB in great position on the go route, and the underneath defender with his eyes planted directly on Palmer. However, if we focus on what Palmer is seeing, we can see that the defender on the WR running the out route is playing with inside leverage, meaning that when the WR breaks to the sideline, he will immediately create separation, and an opportunity for his QB to deliver the ball.

AZ 3rd Down Throw

Here we can see Palmer completing the throwing motion, and we see the window that he has to throw to, and we see that the WR has converted his leverage advantage into separation coming out of his break and is ready to receive the ball for the first down.

Making Plays In The Redzone

AZ Big Play

Here we have the Cardinals in 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) Personnel, with both TEs to the right, and WR Michael Floyd in a reduced split to that side as well, with Larry Fitzgerald aligned to the backside. This is an example of the Cards using the personnel group as well as the bunch alignment to "window dress" a basic route combination, which is the "Post-Curl" combination in the middle of the field. Washington is showing Quarters coverage pre-snap, which is a great look to run this combination against.

AZ Big Play Throw

Here we see that the curl route has accomplished its goal in this combination, as safety Ryan Clark has hesitated just a tad as he drops. Because Clark's weight is forward, it gives Palmer the window he needs to make the throw to Floyd on the post for the score.


This game presents a significant challenge for Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys defense. The Cardinals will look to throw the ball around the yard and get their playmakers chances to make plays. Getting DeMarcus Larwrence back for this game could be huge as a consistent pass rush could likely be the single most important factor in whether the Cowboys are able to hold off Palmer and his cohorts.

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