The Dallas Cowboys came into the MNF game with the Arizona Cardinals knowing they would be the leader in the NFC East no matter what. It was a good thing, as they were thoroughly trounced in a far too familiar fashion by a score of 38-10. It was the lowest points total of the season on a night when the defense showed early signs of improvement, before the eventual tidal waves of mistakes overwhelmed them.
It may have been a new starting QB in Andy Dalton for the Cowboys, but the story was much the same. Back-breaking turnovers, more injuries at crucial positions, and finding themselves in a hole that was far too deep to dig out of. And frankly, given the say things started for Dallas, it is hard to put all, or even most, of the blame on Dalton.
Of all the factors, those turnovers were far and away the biggest issue. When your supposedly dominant running back gives the ball away on consecutive drives, it is not only usually cheap points for the opponent, it can break the will of the team. Having the starting quarterback get intercepted two times as well is no help, either. And the MNF stats department pointed out at one point that the Cowboys had yielded 81 points this season off of their giveaways, which would grow to 84 before the game was over after they lost their fourth turnover of the game. Mike Nolan actually had his defense playing well to start the game, aided by some poor throws from Kyler Murray, but those short fields and multiple missed opportunities just sapped things from the Cowboys.
The game also put to rest some of the silly remarks about Dallas being better with Andy Dalton at quarterback. He was not horrible, but was not making enough of the throws the team needed. And that makeshift offensive line was a big hurdle as well, one that saw him facing intense pressure most of the night, both from the normal pass rush and from multiple blitzes. It is hard to say whether Dak Prescott’s superior athleticism and mobility would have made a difference, but it couldn’t have hurt. And Arizona definitely benefited from Murray’s stellar ability to move with the ball in his hands.
The game was billed as one where their was going to be a lot of points, especially when Murray and DeAndre Hopkins faced the porous Cowboys defense. But Dallas had its best defensive quarter of the season, by far. They held the Cardinals scoreless through the first period, as Murray seemed off on his passing, or was suffering some serious miscommunication with his receivers. Sadly, the Cowboys could not capitalize, as they struggled offensively, and the turnover bug bit Dallas again. As Dalton was trying to avoid a sack, something he was having to do a lot, he flipped the ball to Elliott. Elliott lost the handle and Arizona recovered at their own 46. They had to convert a fourth and one along the way, but a run by Christian Kirk on an end around gave them the first score of the game and a 7-0 lead early in the second. Then it happened again, with Elliott putting the ball on the ground once more, this time at the Dallas 27. It only took five plays for the Cards to build the lead to 14-0. It could have been even worse, as Dalton threw the ball right to LB Jordan Hicks on the second Cowboys possession, but Hicks could not hang onto the easy pick six.
There was even more bad news, as Zack Martin left the field and went into the concussion protocol. He did not return. Conner McGovern was forced into action, as Dallas was left with only Connor Williams from the planned starting offensive line for this season. Between the miscues and nearly incessant pressure on Dalton behind that patchwork line, things could not get on track.
And the defense was not able to keep Murray under control through the air for long. He was hurting them with his legs, but after another Cowboys punt with just under five minutes to go in the first half, he dropped back and lofted a deep ball to Kirk, who made a great fingertip catch to push the score to 21-0.
Finally, some things started going right for the Cowboys, as Tony Pollard had his best kickoff return of the season, on a short kick, that set Dallas up at their own 34. It was one of the first really positive plays by the special teams unit all year. It set up a workmanlike drive that would still end in futility, as a third and goal pass went off Michael Gallup’s fingers just inside the end zone. They settled for a field goal and an 18 point deficit at halftime.
It would just get worse after halftime. After a nice start on the drive, the referees missed an blatant pass interference call when CeeDee Lamb was absolutely tackled on his route by Dre Kirkpatrick. With Lamb on the ground, Kirkpatrick was able to get to the ball and intercept Dalton. It was just too much of a body blow, and the defense for the first time all night looked like it had so many times earlier in the season, letting Arizona just drive right down the field and take a 28-3 lead, helped along the way by a pass interference call on Daryl Worley that was as ticky-tack as the missed interference on Kirkpatrick was obvious. The final insult was added to the grievous injury of this game when Kenyan Drake broke 69 yards for a touchdown inside the two minute warning in a play that was somehow entirely appropriate for how this mess went.
This was a game that not only left a horrendous taste in our mouths, it makes it hard to figure anything out about this Cowboys team. They even put Ben DiNucci and Rico Dowdle in for the final, pointless drive of the game. When the defense is playing well, but your offense snuffs out its own drives and stakes the opponent to huge leads, nothing else really matters. It is not any real consolation that Dallas remains in first place in the NFC East even with this loss. This was the kind of game that can make players doubt themselves. Now they have to try and pull things back together next Sunday against the Washington Football Team. Right now, it’s hard to say with any confidence that they will. The only thing we can really be assured of is that consistently and badly losing the turnover battle is a recipe for disaster. Sadly, that seems to be about the only one they really know at the moment.