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Can Cowboys’ defense limit Cardinals’ big-play ability?

Dallas’ defense will have to stop the splash plays from the Arizona offense.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

We already know that the Cowboys’ offense will need show up after such a letdown in week two. What’s not being talked about nearly as much is the Cardinals’ offense that feasts on the big play.

Arizona’s head coach Bruce Arians is one of the more aggressive offensive minds out there and he’ll take his shots. He’s done it in the past with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and now with Carson Palmer. It’s his nature to sling the ball all over the field and it’s pretty much been their calling card in two weeks of play.

Before we start talking about how the Cardinals needed overtime to beat the lowly Colts, remember that’s the nature of the NFL. The Cardinals are struggling on offense, namely due to some injuries, but they’re capable of the quick strike. It’ll be up to the Dallas defense to limit the chunk-play style of the Cards.

In two games, Carson Palmer has thrown for 600 passing yards. Now, he’s also only got two touchdown passes and four interceptions with a 54.8 completion percentage. Still, after last week, it’s hard to feel confident about the secondary taking on this gunslinger.

Dallas is dealing with some attrition in the secondary with Nolan Carroll and Chidobe Awuzie out of action this week. They do get Orlando Scandrick back in the rotation with Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and even some nickel with Xavier Woods. The Cowboys should also be expected to activate Bene Benwikere to the gameday roster. Though it’s exciting to see the young guys play, there will be some inexperience out there for guys like Larry Fitzgerald to take advantage of.

The biggest contributor to the Cardinals’ mixed bag on offense has been their own injuries. Palmer’s favorite deep threat is John Brown; he’s dealing with a quad injury that has him week-to-week. Arizona is currently without their starting left tackle D.J. Humphries and starting guard Mike Iupati. Though Iupati was limited all week with a triceps injury, he’s hoping to return Monday night. Humphries’ knee is a bit more serious but the biggest injury of all is with their star running back David Johnson who dislocated his wrist and is looking at a few months for recovery.

Without Johnson, the Cards turn to an RBBC approach headed up by Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, and Kerwynn Williams. Arizona is 30th in rushing, averaging 64 rushing yards per game. The Cardinals are only averaging 19.5 points per game (16th in NFL), they struggle mightily on first down and average distance on second down is above nine yards.

That will be the key for the Cowboys’s defense is to keep them behind the chains. They can’t allow Arizona to have any semblance of a running game because that’s what gashed them against the Broncos. After only allowing 35 rushing yards to the Giants in week one, Denver opened up deep cuts with 34 rushes for 164 yards and 4.82 yards-per-carry.

Dallas was the best run defense in the league a year ago, never allowing a single 100-yard rusher in 16 games. They allowed C.J. Anderson to rack up 118 yards in week two. That cannot happen against the Cardinals or they are in big trouble. Not having David Johnson tote the rock is a big break for this Cowboys’ defense. With that said, we need to see this defense complete the tackle and plug the holes. Dallas has been run on 51 times for 4.2 yards per clip though last week’s game is weighing heavily on that stat line.

Even if they’re able to stop the run, keep in mind that J.J. Nelson is ninth in receiving yards with 163, has a 16.3 yards per catch, and a touchdown in each game. Fitzgerald is still making plays too as he moves all over the formation. The Cowboys will be tested by these receivers and a veteran quarterback.

The Cards are sixth in passing yards at 284.5 per game and 12th in total yards per game at 348.5. Dallas has allowed 22 first down conversions by pass with 6.4 yards per completion. They’ve also allowed 51 of 70 passes get completed, which is almost 73%. They have to tighten that up against an offense that has a future Hall of Famer in Fitzgerald as their possession receiver.

Dallas allowed the Broncos to convert nine first downs last week after only allowing four in week one. The Cards offense is converting 40% of their third downs, which is 15th in the league. This Arizona offense isn’t as potent as they saw in Denver but it’s also more formidable than the New York Giants.

It’s hard to judge the Cowboys’ defensive performance because they just had two polar opposite games. A lot of their statistics after two games are severely skewed by an abnormally porous performance at Mile High. Though the Cowboys are playing an aggressive offense with their home crowd, there are favorable areas for exploitation.

Where this match up favors the Cowboys’ defense is up front with an improved pass rush that has a handful of sacks in two games. If John Wetzel has to start for Arizona at left tackle, that will be a good thing for the Cowboys. Their right tackle Jared Veldheer has also struggled more than any other lineman. The Colts were able to get to Palmer four times last week with four different defenders. None of those sacks came from their most notable rushers in Jabaal Sheard or Jonathan Hankins. For the Cowboys’ “no-name defense”, that’s music to the ears.

The Cardinals are going to take plenty of chances but they’re also -3 in turnover differential where Dallas is +1. In week one, against the Lions, Palmer threw three interceptions trying to fit into tight windows. The Cowboys defense has two interceptions from young guys like Brown and Lewis. They will need to play opportunistic football in this game because as Carson Palmer giveth, his defense can taketh away.

This is a very winnable game for the Cowboys and you can bet that they will be motivated to show last week was the aberration. Still, the Cardinals are not going to allow the Cowboys to get an easy win. Strange things happen when these two teams meet in Glendale where Dallas is 1-3 in their last four trips including two wild overtime losses. The Cowboys last win there was in 2006, a 27-10 win in Tony Romo’s first 300-yard passing game.

The Cowboys’ defense will have to be on their toes in this game because Arizona is a talented team both offensively and defensively. Limiting the Cardinals’ big-play ability will be priority number one for this young Cowboy defense.