The Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys will matchup tonight for the first time since 2017. Interestingly enough, the last time these teams played was also a Monday Night Football game in which Dallas came out with a 28-17 victory.
Dallas has struggled against Arizona in recent memory. The Cardinals have won four of the five matchups between these two since 2008.
Before Arizona and Dallas go head to head on Monday night, check out our three predictions for the game.
1. The Cowboys’ linebackers, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, both make pivotal plays
Last week against New York, Jaylon Smith played by far his best game of 2020. The former second-round pick recorded nine tackles, a pressure, a sack, and allowed just three catches for a total of three yards. Smith also missed no tackles in the game for just the second time this season, according to PFF.
Jaylon Smith had a nice game on Sunday as he completely zeroed out Dion Lewis as a receiver. His release was very well timed and he closed like a monster. Well done, 54! pic.twitter.com/kqnRuy7j0F— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) October 13, 2020
PFF’s 92.6 grade was the highest overall defensive grade of his career to date, and for the first time this season we saw Smith make a real positive impact for the defense. The competition gets much steeper this week, but Smith will benefit greatly by the expected return of fellow linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch.
Smith has played much better when Vander Esch has been on the field. In 2018 when they both were on the field all season, Smith had by far his best season to date. He had a PFF defensive grade of above 70 ten times when they both were on the field. That trend continued in 2019 when he received a grade above 65 in five of the nine games they played together.
With Vander Esch back in the fold (as expected), Dallas will be able to use Smith in more pass rush situations. With Kyler Murray’s escapability, it will be pivotal that Dallas does a good job of tackling this week. That starts with the linebackers, and getting Vander Esch back will really help their tackling overall as a defense.
This Monday, Smith makes a huge play getting a key sack, and Vander Esch records the Cowboys second interception of the season, sealing a victory.
2. Ezekiel Elliott records his first 100 yard rushing day of the season
Ezekiel Elliott has gotten off to a decent start in 2020, but the Cowboys are still waiting on him to breakout. For the first time in his career, Elliott has failed to record 100 yards rushing in a single game five games into the season.
Elliott still is averaging a pretty solid 4.1 yards per attempt and is on pace to shatter his receiving totals from last season, but the Cowboys are still waiting on that vintage, Zeke breakout game. Lucky for them, it will come on Monday night.
The Cardinals are one of the worst defenses against the run in the entire league. Arizona has given up over 110 yards rushing to their opponent in four of their five games, giving up over 120 three times. PFF ranks Arizona as the sixth worst rush defense in football.
In the last four week, Arizona has not gone up against teams with a really powerful rushing attack, matching up against the Football Team, Panther, Lions, and Jets, but they still have struggled. Facing Elliott on Monday will be a different animal.
With his partner in crime Dak Prescott out, Elliott knows he needs to up his game. Number 21 will do just that on Monday, rushing for over 100 yards and playing a pivotal part in a Cowboys win.
3. CeeDee Lamb takes a punt to the house and catches a touchdown
If we’ve learned anything about rookie wideout CeeDee Lamb five weeks into his NFL career, it’s all he does is make plays. The former Oklahoma Sooner leads the team with 433 receiving yards, averaging 14.9 yards per reception. Quarterbacks have a 127.4 passer rating when targeting Lamb, and he has a 72.5% catch percentage.
Another dirty shot by a Giants defender on Cee Dee Lamb pic.twitter.com/EJhiAQQUSE— Power Play Sports News Chris Jones (@chrisjsports1) October 11, 2020
Week after week, we’ve seen Lamb consistently show up and make plays, and he will have his biggest game to date this Monday. Arizona is the sixth worst coverage team in football, according to PFF, giving Lamb a favorable matchup against their secondary. Patrick Peterson will spend his time outside, so Lamb will primarily get matchups against the team’s second and third corners.
Lamb’s playmaking ability has not completely translated to his punt returns, but he has been close to breaking one. His 9.3 yards per return average is going to go up in a big way this week, as he’ll take one to the house for the first time in his young career.
Lamb will continue his monster rookie year, being the best receiver on the field on either side Monday night.