The Dallas Cowboys will try to regroup Monday night after last week’s pitiful performance against the Denver Broncos. The team will travel to Arizona to face a Cardinals team that, like the Cowboys, have split each of their first two games to start the season with a 1-1 record. It’s been over a decade since the Cowboys last beat the Cardinals as the red birds have gotten the better of the boys in blue in each of the last four contests.
The last time they squared off was in 2014, when fans got their first glimpse of what Brandon Weeden looked like as the Cowboys starting quarterback. Arizona would win, 28-17. The previous three match-ups between these two teams all came down to the wire, including two overtime games where the Cardinals would score a game-winning touchdown. I can still remember Marion Barber scampering down the sidelines for a 70-yard score.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys caught a bad break in that game (Mat McBriar fractured his foot) when a blocked punt ended the game.
Oh, the memories.
What will we see this time around? Well, I’m glad you asked because here are five things to look for on Monday night.
1. Run it up the middle
It all starts with the run game, so let’s get to this one first.
The Broncos defense sure pulled a number on the Cowboys run game last week. It was like your grandpa pulling the old got-your-nose trick. You wouldn’t believe what you were seeing if it wasn’t right in front of your face. But just like your nose, the running game hasn’t really gone anywhere.
The Cowboys will reload their ground attack in the desert and it won’t be out of ego. This isn’t a “they got something to prove” sorta thing. Instead, the Cowboy offense will run the ball a lot for the same reason they’ve done it over the last few years - because they can. Led by their All Pro interior blockers, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick, look for their All Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott to gain some traction this week. While Arizona has good outside linebackers to rush the passer, they aren’t as strong in the middle. The Cowboys offensive line should be able to get some push on the Cardinals interior line and open up some space between the tackles.
Can you believe two games are in the books and Zeke’s longest run is only 10 yards? Well, that’s all about to change. Give him a running lane and he will remind everyone why he’s one of the best running backs in the league.
2. Let’s take a break from Dez, shall we?
I can’t decide what is more puzzling, the fact that Dez Bryant has been targeted 25 times already this season or that he’s heavily targeted while being covered by Janoris Jenkins and Aqib Talib. I get it that Dez is a great receiver. He’s certainly held in higher regard among the Cowboys coaching staff than he is from every Tom, Dick, and Harry who try to explain to us why he’s not one of the “elite” receivers in the league.
Dez, once again will draw one of the league’s top corners in Patrick Peterson. Last week, Bryant was targeted 16 times. In his 99 career NFL games, he’s never been targeted more that 16 times in a game. The Cowboys should limit his targets simply because there are easier routes to go. It’s like getting your bread unstuck from the toaster by using a fork. Just because you think you can do it, doesn’t make it a good idea.
Unlike the Broncos, the Cardinals defense doesn’t have an overabundance of talent in the secondary. There are weak spots in the fence, including special teams ace/turned cornerback, Justin Bethel.
CBs who have given up 2 TD catches so far:— Trey Cunningham (@PFF_TreyC) September 19, 2017
NYJ's Juston Burris
TEN's Logan Ryan
NYG's Eli Apple
ARZ's Justin Bethel
OAK's David Amerson
That means the Cowboys need to look to exploit matchups. One of those comeback routes where Terrance Williams takes off across the middle of the field for a huge gain would sure work nicely in this game.
3. Get after Palmer
Carson Palmer used to be a good quarterback, but right now he’s just a chucker. His accuracy is suffering on his intermediate throws and he doesn’t have the patience to dink and dunk it. It’s go big or go home with Palmer. With a speed demon like J.J. Nelson out there who can catch the deep ball, the Cowboys defense needs to make sure they get after Palmer.
Larry Fitzgerald is the big name receiver everyone knows, but Nelson is the one that should concern the defense the most. He leads the Cardinals in catches (10), receiving yards (163), and touchdowns (2).
Palmer is not a great quarterback as it is, but he becomes ghastly when he’s under duress:
- Passer rating with a clean pocket = 86.8
- Passer rating under pressure = 30.1
If the Cowboys can put pressure on him, he is guaranteed to do something outlandish.
Carson Palmer trying to escape the pocket ♂️ #Cardinals #AZvIND pic.twitter.com/9MVleNAarG— Jason Lee (@jasonleejitsu) September 17, 2017
4. Old reliable
The Cardinals got a good linebacker when they drafted Haason Reddick with the 13th overall pick in the draft. While he was more of a pass rusher at Temple, Arizona is using him as an inside linebacker. He has great speed and will be a key component for the Cardinals defense if they are to have any success stopping the run.
Where he could have some issues is when he drops into coverage.
On MNF, Witten faces #Cardinals DEF that allowed Jacoby Brissett to complete 9-of-9 throws for 99 yards when targeting #Colts TEs last week.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) September 21, 2017
Reddick is a great athlete and is very aggressive, but he can fall victim to the precision footwork of Jason Witten. If Reddick starts over-pursuing one direction, Witten can quickly cut and open up a clear throwing lane for Dak Prescott. The future Hall of Fame tight end has made a living of this type of stuff his whole career and the rookie LB is going to have his work cut out for him.
It may not seem like much, but these plays are chain movers and will be vital in helping the Cowboys offense get points.
5. Can Tank strike again?
One of the big questions coming into the season was what type of DeMarcus Lawrence would we see this year? Would it be closer to the eight sack guy in 2015 or the guy who only mustered up one measly sack last season? After two games, that question looks to be answered. The question now isn’t whether he’ll get to eight sacks, but rather - when?
It could come sooner rather than later if he keeps getting favorable match-ups on the edge. This week he draws Cardinals right tackle Jared Veldheer. Arizona is already missing their 2015 first-round pick, D.J. Humphries, who is dealing with an knee injury. Former Cowboys practice squad occupant, John Wetzel, is actually their team’s best performing tackle right now. And that’s not because Wetzel is a stud, but rather because the Cardinals have issues at that position.
Lawrence is healthy and riding hot right now so look for him to keep his streak going.
Demarcus Lawrence is having a strong start to 2017 pic.twitter.com/Y1TG5UzBOZ— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 21, 2017
What will you be watching for on Monday Night?