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Cowboys vs. Cardinals: Writer predictions for Game 1 of the Andy Dalton Era

Can the Cowboys survive Dak Prescott’s injury?

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are leading the NFC East with a 2-3 record, which is a bigger indictment on the other three teams in the division than an endorsement of the Cowboys. Not only has America’s Team played some really uneven football so far, but they lost their leader for the year when Dak Prescott hurt his ankle last week. Now Andy Dalton takes command of the offense as the Cowboys host Kyler Murray and the Cardinals.

When Arizona has the ball

Contain Kyler

Kyler Murray won the NFL’s Offensive of the Rookie Year award last year, transitioning seamlessly to the NFL thanks to Kliff Kingsbury’s introduction of the Air Raid to the pro game. So far this year, Murray has been fairly uneven. As he was last year, the former Sooner is ripping up defenses both through the air and on the ground. Murray is hitting on 69.6% of his passes and has 1,299 passing yards to go along with 296 rushing yards - second most on the team - and 13 total touchdowns. However, he also has six interceptions and a fumble.

Murray has superstar written all over him, but both he and the roster around him are still growing, which makes him susceptible to mistakes when teams can prevent him from making big splash plays. Jaylon Smith will need to play like he did against the Giants, where he can use his sideline-to-sideline athleticism and downhill style of play to not let Murray get into a rhythm. If they can make him struggle, this offense will become a shell of itself, as it has for their two losses this year.

When Dallas has the ball

Keep throwing the ball

It’s understandable to think the Cowboys should lean on Ezekiel Elliott now that Prescott is out, and perhaps that’s the long-term answer, but for this matchup they need to stick to their commitment to airing it out. The Cardinals defense is 13th in run defense DVOA and 26th in pass defense DVOA.

That means that the Cowboys should attack the Cardinals’ weakness: the secondary. Dalton isn’t Dak, but he’s still a good quarterback who has a ridiculously good set of weapons at his disposal. It shouldn’t be hard for the Red Rifle to pick apart this defense, but he needs to have the chance to do so.

Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...

DannyPhantom:

With each new week, the confidence in this team falls more and more. Of course, nothing is more of a donkey kick in the gut than losing your star quarterback. I’m not worried about Andy Dalton, as he’s a savvy veteran who has proven he can perform. My issue lies on the other side of the ball where the Cardinals offense has to many ways to make the Cowboys defense look silly.

It’s hard seeing how the Cowboys have any success stopping one of the game’s best receivers, DeAndre Hopkins. And when the pass rush notorious falls short of wrapping up Kyler Murray, look for him to dart off and pick up some big chunks. The Cowboys would essentially have to take on the identity of a completely different team to pull this one out. Don’t be surprised if this one gets out of hand.

Cardinals 34, Cowboys 17.

Tom Ryle:

More than most weeks, this is far more a matter of guesswork than analysis. We hope that Andy Dalton is going to play at something like 85 to 90% of the level of Dak Prescott, but we don’t know. We hope that the defense was trending and not just benefiting from how bad the Giants are on offense. We hope that the offensive line is gelling and can maintain at least a level of competence. We hope that they will finally quit turning the ball over. They faced a very dismal squad last week, and barely escaped with a three point win.

Now they face a much tougher Cardinals team, led by an apparently ascending young quarterback, Kyler Murray, who is more that slightly reminiscent of Dak with his mobility and ability to extend plays. I just don’t think they are quite up to the challenge yet, but get close.

Cards 31, Cowboys 27.

Terence Watson:

The Cowboys are heading into this game as the underdogs and aren’t expected to win this game. But the Cowboys may have caught a break in the form of a season-ending injury to Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones. That injury will give now starter Andy Dalton more time in the pocket to make the correct read and complete passes.

Now on the other side of the ball the Cowboys are facing a similar situation as the one they faced in week three against the Seattle Seahawks. They are going to need to keep mobile quarterback Kyler Murray in the pocket and slow down two very good running backs in Chase Edmonds and Kenyan Drake. If they are able to do that then the Cowboys secondary won’t have to worry about their eyes tricking them in the play-action passing game. I have it being a close game with the Cowboys picking up the upset victory.

Cowboys 30, Cardinals 28

Matt Holleran:

I think we’re going to learn a lot about the Dallas Cowboys this Monday. If this team is going to be a true playoff contender, not one that can just back in by winning the dreadful NFC East, they need to win this game. It’s going to be a huge challenge for the defense to slow down the duo of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, but likely getting Leighton Vander Esch back will be a huge help. I think the Dallas’ defense does enough to force Murray into at least one turnover, and on offense, Ezekiel Elliott has a huge day on the ground. The Red Rifle once again makes one big play, setting up a win.

Give me the Cowboys, 27-24.

Dave Halprin:

The shock of losing Dak Prescott and putting Andy Dalton in as the QB will hang over this game, but that won’t be the Cowboys big problem. They will once again put points on the board. It will be the defense that is the problem, specifically their inability to keep Kyler Murray from converting first downs with his legs. We’ve seen how undisciplined this Cowboys defense can be, and Murray will take advantage by running for a handful of key first downs on third down that will break the Cowboys back.

Cardinals 31 - Cowboys 24

David Howman:

The Cardinals are a lot like the Cowboys, but on a less dramatic scale. Arizona came in with high expectations, and has shown flashes of that at various points so far. But they’ve also stumbled over themselves in their two losses, casting doubt on who they really are. I see the Dallas defense taking another step forward, with Jaylon Smith playing another good game and mostly containing Kyler Murray, with the pass rush keeping him uncomfortable.

Offensively, Dallas won’t skip much of a beat, with Dalton taking advantage of his receiving corps’ skills, and CeeDee Lamb seems primed to create highlights all over the place against a porous secondary with tackling issues. This won’t be an easy game by any stretch, but the motivation of playing for Dak will help push Dallas over the edge and get the win.

Cowboys 34, Cardinals 24