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What the Cowboys defense should expect from the Cardinals offense

It could be a long night for the Dallas defense on Monday Night Football.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a constant struggle for the Dallas Cowboys defense so far in 2020. It wasn’t great against the league’s worst offense in week five, and it won’t get any easier in week six, against one of the most explosive offenses in the league in the Arizona Cardinals.

With the addition of DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals are near the top of the league in terms of their offensive weapons with Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, Andy Isabella, and Kyler Murray running the high-flying offense in Arizona. To pair with their passing game weapons, running backs Chase Edmonds and Kenyan Drake are often involved in the passing game, and can get the job done on the ground for Kliff Kingsbury and company.

The first thing you notice when turning on the Cardinals offensive tape, is the exotic formations, personnel groupings, and pre-snap eye-candy that Kingsbury will throw at defenses. Kingsbury makes it extremely difficult for defenses to get lined up and play smart, disciplined football, due to the many things he does with his personnel groupings, alignments, and pre-snap motion. The Cowboys defense and Mike Nolan will need to be ready to communicate, and be on their p’s and q’s matching up against one of the better offenses in the National Football League.

Through the first five weeks, the Cardinals have struggled to get Kenyan Drake going on the ground. Averaging 3.7 yards per carry on 85 carries, Drake has continued to see the bulk of the carries for the Cardinals offense, even with Chase Edmonds proving to be the better runner in most recent weeks. Edmonds, the real weapon out of the backfield, has only seen 19 carries in five games, but has rushed for 95 yards, and a touchdown on those 19 carries. Edmonds has caught 18 passes for 129 yards, and two touchdowns through the air, which proves just how much of a dual-threat he can be out of the Arizona backfield.

On the ground, Edmonds is quick, decisive, explosive, and can change directions with ease. It makes it even easier when the play-call puts the runner in a great position to succeed with light boxes, pre-snap and motion at the snap, and the threat of a passing play coming out of shotgun. All of these things make Edmonds job that much easier, and his decisive, quick, and twitchy running style results in an explosive score for the Cardinals offense.

Kliff Kingsbury does an excellent job of lining his running backs up all over the field to get the football, or at least show the threat of his runners getting the football from multiple different alignments. Here Edmonds lines up in the slot out of an empty formation. The Cowboys could combat the Cardinals passing attack with more dime looks, getting an extra cover-man on the field, but that could also lead them vulnerable to the run, especially if the interior of the Cowboys defense continues to struggle.

Another big running threat in the Cardinals offense is quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray is as dangerous as they come with the football in his hands, and he can create on-script and off-script with his legs. Kingsbury does a nice job of giving his quarterback favorable looks in the running game that limit big hits from defenders, with free-space and big holes. Arizona will use the quarterback runs a ton on Monday night, especially on second down to give them favorable looks on third down. Murray has carried the football 41 times this year, for 296 yards, and five touchdowns, and should be viewed as a serious running game threat by Mike Nolan and the Cowboys defense.

The scariest part of the Cardinals offense is Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. Whether it’s the ability to connect on go-routes, or Hopkins ability to take short-to-intermediate throws to the house, those two will be a problem on Monday night. Hopkins ability to separate in all three levels of the field is one of the many reasons he’s viewed as among the best wideouts in the NFL. His hands and catch radius are as good as it gets, which is what is the most concerning about defending the pair on Monday night. The Cowboys get burned consistently by being in solid coverage, but giving up receptions, and Hopkins will do just that. The Cowboys coverage group just needs to do their best to limit him as much as possible.

Hopkins can be absolutely dominant on vertical routes down the field due to his reliable hands and insane catch radius. The Cardinals are going to take many shots on Monday, and most of them will be targeted to Hopkins, but Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella will get their share as well.

If the Cowboys defense wants to limit the Cardinals passing attack with the whole world watching, they’ll need to put pressure on Kyler Murray, force him to drop his eye-level and make poor decisions while being pressured, something he’s shown the tendency to do in the early stages of his career. While those are some negatives to Murray's game, he is still one of the more gifted quarterbacks in the league with his dual-threat ability. The Cowboys defense will have their hands full on Monday night football.

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