Just a week ago, things looked much different for the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas was heading into a potential get-right matchup against the winless New York Giants, attempting to get their season back on track.
Less than a week later, the Cowboys got the win they so desperately needed, but at a huge cost. Of course, this cost was losing their star quarterback Dak Prescott for the season, dealing a huge blow to their chances of making a deep playoff run.
What seems like one of the longest weeks in recent Cowboys memory is about to come to an end, and Dallas will begin the Andy Dalton era with a Monday night matchup against the 3-2 Arizona Cardinals. Before the two teams square off, here is what we know, don’t know, and will find out on Monday night.
We know DeAndre Hopkins is going to cause big time problems for the Dallas secondary
There have been plenty of reasons for the Cowboys’ slow start, but the biggest one may be the performance of their secondary. In what has become a recurring problem, week in and week out, the Dallas’ secondary continues to struggle in coverage.
Pro Football Focus has the Cowboys as the worst coverage team in all of football with an abysmal grade of 38.7. The Cowboys top four cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis, Daryl Worley, Trevon Diggs, and Anthony Brown all have PFF defensive grades below 60.
#DallasCowboys Daryl Worley gets punked at the line of scrimmage...#CLEvsDAL— Kevin Gray Jr. (@KevinGraySports) October 4, 2020
Watch Odell Beckham stare him down, stutter step get to the inside and Worley is slow off the line...why is Worley matched up one-on-one with Beckham anyway? #CowboysNation pic.twitter.com/qDTOtB5b8C
After struggling against one of the poorer offenses in the league last week, things don’t get easier for the scuffling secondary. On Monday, they welcome arguably the best receiver in all of football, DeAndre Hopkins. Don’t remember him? Last time he faced Dallas he went for nine catches for 151 yards, one of which set up a game-winning field goal in overtime.
After being traded to Arizona in the offseason in a deal that still has many Texans fans shaking their heads, Hopkins has been the league’s best wideout through five weeks. Hopkins is the only receiver in the league with 500 plus receiving yards, and has gone over 130 yards in three of their five games. His 11.7 yards per reception is a bit down, but his nearly 85% catch percentage is by far the best in his career. PFF has Hopkins ranked as the third best wideout in all of football with an offensive grade of 89.8.
Trust your play makers! Watch as Kyler Murray picks on the single coverage on Deandre Hopkins in this past Sunday’s win over the Jets. Murray saw the favorable one on one matchup with Hopkins and delivered this ball in a perfect spot, leading Hopkins past the defender and out of pic.twitter.com/yTXZp30FyV— QB1 Mentality (@QB1Mentality) October 14, 2020
The Cowboys have faced some extremely talented receivers to start the season, but Hopkins could likely be their toughest test. With quarterback Kyler Murray’s ability to scramble out of the pocket and extend plays, the Dallas secondary will have to cover Hopkins longer down the field. This will cause a long day for the Cowboys on defense, and the All-Pro should rack up over 100 yards and find the end zone at least one time.
We don’t know if the Cowboys’ pass rush can get the pressure they need on Kyler Murray
Last week the Cowboys were in a bad spot. They once again had gotten off to an extremely slow start, putting themselves in a 17-10 hole against the Giants. Then, in one play, everything changed, courtesy of DeMarcus Lawrence. The star defensive end came off the edge and strip-sacked Daniel Jones, forcing a fumble that was returned by Anthony Brown for a touchdown.
you might now think so, but when he's healthy and feeling it, DeMarcus Lawrence is really, really good. pic.twitter.com/x9opZM2rK0— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) October 14, 2020
From that moment on, the Dallas defense was able to ratchet up the pressure on the young quarterback. Despite only recording one more sack in the game, Dallas was able to put Jones under constant duress, forcing him to rush and miss some throws. The Cowboys three best players on defense, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, and Aldon Smith, all received PFF defensive grades above 90 on the game. Aldon and DeMarcus also both received pass rush grades above 90 as well.
This showed up over and over no matter who he lined up against: Aldon Smith is incredibly powerful pic.twitter.com/kYP0hMRSVn— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) October 13, 2020
This week, getting pressure on the quarterback may be the biggest deciding factor in if the Cowboys can come out with a win. With the way Kyler Murray is able to move around, it’s imperative that the Dallas defense keeps him in the pocket and forces him to make throws from there. It will be important that the edge rushers, Lawrence, Smith, Everson Griffen etc, do not break contain and let Murray do what he does best, use his feet to extend and make plays down field.
With Murray’s shortcoming on height, he can struggle at times to make throws with defenders bearing down on him. If they are able to get a good push up the middle, and win on the edges against a fairly average offensive line, they can make Murray uncomfortable and force him into some turnovers, which his six interceptions on the season show he is capable of doing.
We’re about to find out what this Cowboys team is made of
It’s pretty simple. This week is put up or shut up week for the Cowboys. Last week’s win was nice, but this is a test against a true playoff contender. This Cardinals team is going to cause a lot of problems for the Dallas defense, and they’ll need their best performance of the year to come out with a win.
Likely getting Leighton Vander Esch back will be a big help to their chances, but that still will not solve the problem of slowing down DeAndre Hopkins. If he has a day like the one he had last weekend against the Jets, it’s hard to envision a way that Dallas wins this game.
On offense, the conversation will be centered around the Red Rifle, Andy Dalton. He looked good in limited time last Sunday, but with a full weeks preparation on both sides, will Dalton be able to have the same success, or more? Dallas will need more out of star running back Ezekiel Elliott in Prescott’s absence, and will need their offensive line to help keep Dalton somewhat upright.
The circumstances against them are about as tough as any team in football is facing at the current moment. Being without your two starting tackles, starting tight end, and starting quarterback on just offense alone is enough to cripple any team. But, if the Cowboys are to be taken as a serious playoff contender, they need to win this game.
We’re about to find out what type of team the Prescott-less Cowboys are on Monday night.