Watching the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football is always a special time as there have been some memorable moments over the years. This season, the Cowboys will face the Arizona Cardinals. The last time these two teams met was three years ago, which coincidentally was on Monday night as well. Speaking of coincidence, that game featured a second-year quarterback Dak Prescott facing off against a veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who had spent most of his career playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. This time, it’s Dallas that has the former Bengals quarterback going up against the second-year rising star, Kyler Murray.
Following a 3-13 season, the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury as their head coach, and the offense immediately went from worst in the league to middle of the pack. Strangely, it’s Arizona’s defense that has been shining this season as they are ranked fifth in the league in points allowed. The Cowboys will face some challenges on both sides of the ball, but here are five things to keep a close eye on Monday night.
1. Seeing Red?
All eyes will be on the new man under center as Andy Dalton will make his first start as a member of the Cowboys. As frustrating as this season has been so far, one saving grace has been this highly potent offense. The team is coming off of four straight 30+ point games, and the offense had put up three straight 500-yard performances; however, they dipped to 402 yards last week after losing Prescott midway through the third quarter.
Can Dalton keep the offense rolling? Or will he passing game suffer a setback? It’s really tough to know how things will play out. Dalton has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including one of the game’s best running backs to lean on. How well the team’s new backup quarterback performs will go a long way, not only in determining the outcome of this game, but in what the ceiling holds for the Cowboys season.
2. The running man
The Cowboys defense will be face a new adversary this week as they deal with elusive running quarterback Kyler Murray. The second-year quarterback has seen a jump in passing attempts, yards, and even completion percentage, solidifying himself as an effective passer, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost any of that dual-threat ability. In fact, as impressive as his 544 yards rushing were last season, he’s on pace to smash that as his yards per game have gone from 34.0 up to 59.2 this season. And he already has five rushing touchdowns, which surpasses his four from a year ago.
The team will assuredly plan to counter the legs of Murray, but it’s tough seeing this defense having the ability to see it through. The Cowboys have been so vulnerable to any type of change of direction or broken plays to where this could end up being a huge mess. Murray has rushed for at least 65 yards in three of the first five games so far, but there’s a good chance he eclipses that mark again.
3. A tough cover
The last time this team faced DeAndre Hopkins, he reeled off nine catches for 151 yards as helped the Houston Texans beat the Cowboys 19-16. For reasons unknown to all, the Texans moved on from Hopkins this past offseason, trading him to the Cardinals. The stand out receiver has wasted no time getting acquainted to his new surroundings as he currently leads the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards. Rumor has it, he’s pretty good.
Last time, the Cowboys had Byron Jones, but Jones is no longer around. The Cowboys secondary has struggled at times this year as they have surrendered 12 passing touchdowns (fourth-worst in the league). However they decide to handle Hopkins, it’s going to be quite the challenge for this defense.
4. Chase in space
If there is an area of disappointment for the Cardinals this season, it’s the production of new running back Kenyan Drake. The team only had to spend a sixth-round pick last year to get him from the Miami Dolphins, but then signed him to a one-year, $8.4 million deal this offseason. Drake has been the getting the bulk of the carries out of the backfield, but he’s only ran for 314 yards on 85 rushing attempts for a paltry 3.7 yards per carry.
While Drake hasn’t lived up to expectations, the Cardinals still have an effective running back group thanks to the versatile Chase Edmonds. Not only has Edmonds rushed for 5.0 ypc, but he’s also more involved in the passing game. There could be a gradual changing of the guard in which RB get’s the most touches, but in the meantime Edmonds continues to make plays as he’s coming off a very efficient game last week.
Chase Edmonds averaged 11.5 yards per touch. 92 yards from scrimmage on five catches, three runs.— Jess Root (@senorjessroot) October 12, 2020
Between Murray and Hopkins, the Cardinals are already going to spread the Cowboys defense out quite a bit, but Dallas would be wise to not lose track of Edmonds whereabouts.
5. Defensive reinforcements on the way?
The Cowboys suffered huge blows losing Prescott and Trysten Hill last Sunday, and those losses hit hard. There is some good news though as the team could be getting some help back soon. Leighton Vander Esch has been practicing this week and could play in the game. The status of Chidobe Awuzie is a little more tentative but he is technically eligible to return this week.
Last Sunday, Anthony Brown returned to the field, and he wasted no time getting in on the action as he scooped up a DeMarcus Lawrence strip/sack and returned it for a touchdown. The return of LVE, especially the healthy version, would be a huge boost for a struggling Cowboys defense. And with so many offensive threats on this Cardinals football team, they can use all the reinforcements they can get.