The Cowboys take on the Cardinals in Week 3 of the season. So just who are the Cardinals this year and how do they matchup on offense? In a head-to-head battle, we rate the team by each position group.
Dak Prescott vs Joshua Dobbs
If Dak gets any more comfortable in the pocket, his offensive line will need to lay out a sofa for him the way he’s playing. Dak’s command of the Cowboys offense and the way he’s moving the ball around is perhaps the best we’ve seen so far from him to start a season. Mike McCarthy has tailored this offense to suit Dak’s playstyle and magnify his strengths. Last week, Dak had 13 consecutive completions to start a game, the most in his career. By using quick passes and easy throws to start the game, the team settled in and found a rhythm. The end result was a high level of accuracy and completion rate from Dak. Against a pretty solid New York Jets defense, Dak had a completion rate of 82% along with two touchdowns. There were issues around redzone efficiency last week, but that can be partly blamed on game script. Mike McCarthy went conservative to prevent any huge mistakes.
The Arizona Cardinals come into the season with so many questions at quarterback. Kyler Murray is expected to return from last year’s ACL injury around Week 8-10. That gives him some time to prove his worth before the Cardinals decide what to do with their draft pick. So for now they’ve been rolling out with backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who has been playing with mixed results. Against the New York Giants, Dobbs came out firing and looked to be a Week 2 surprise player. He threw and rushed for a touchdown and helped the Cardinals get to a 28-7 lead. From there, though, he went cold and failed to muster up the offense to maintain the lead and the Giants had a huge comeback win.
This isn’t just a conversation about how good either quarterback is, it’s also about offensive firepower. For Dallas, they win that battle hands down. Dak is playing with a lot of confidence and poise, so how can we doubt him at this stage. Expect another surgical takedown from Dak this weekend.
Tony Pollard/Rico Dowdle/Deuce Vaughn
James Conner/Keaontay Ingram
It was a grind-it-out kind of day for the Cowboys running backs last week. Pollard was fantastic in the role he played and ended the day with 109 total yards of offense with a superb catch that went for 19 yards to end the third quarter. His explosive plays really looked to demoralize the Jets defense. Rico Dowdle had some very important plays that helped the team secure first downs. Surprisingly, the player with the best yards-per-carry on the night was Deuce Vaughn with 5.3. This Cowboys backfield is talented for sure, but so far is showing to be a little lacking in consistency to be classed as completely dominant.
The best offensive weapon the Cardinals have is their starting running back, James Conner. He had a 100-yard rush game last week against the Giants and scored a touchdown. But his biggest downfall at the moment is touches, he’s getting overloaded. He now has 37 rush attempts and five receptions in the first two games, so you have to wonder how quickly he’ll burn out as this week’s game and season progresses. Behind Conner is rookie running back Keaontay Ingram, who has seven rush attempts for an average of 0.3 yards per carry. Keep an eye on Conner on the team’s practice reports, he was injured last week but was given the nod at the last minute to play. He maybe still nursing any lingering issues.
The Cowboys running back group is way deeper than the Cardinals by a mile. As far as both teams fair in running efficiency, they aren’t that far apart. The difference is the Cardinals have all their eggs in one basket with nothing behind their starter to support him. He’s also the main offensive playmaker, meaning if he goes down or fails to produce, so goes down the offense. As for the Cowboys, they have both talent and depth that are facing a below average run defense this week.
CeeDee Lamb/Brandin Cooks/Michael Gallup
Marquise Brown/Michael Wilson/Rondale Moore
Lamb played one of his most impressive games for Dallas last week against the Jets and completely dominated. He was the key contributing factor to the Cowboys success on offense and was a pure playmaker last week. It says it all about where Lamb is playing right now when he goes up to high-point the ball on an extremely difficult catch, hauls the ball in for a huge 25-yard gain while submitting his body to get flipped by the tackler Tony Adams, and still maintain the catch. Against the Jets, Lamb had a total of 66 yards after the catch and accounted for more than half of Prescott’s 255 passing yards. Lamb now has 15 catches for 220 yards through the first two games of the season.
Jalen Tolbert had his first taste of offense this year and made three catches for 18 yards. He was important last week on a number of plays to keep drives moving. The quietest receiver so far has been Michael Gallup. He made one reception for three yards last week and in Week 1 had only one reception for ten yards. Let’s hope he can find a way to create more production. Keep an on Brandin Cooks this week on the practice report as he’s dealing with an MCL sprain. He may take a couple of weeks to return or be back as soon as this week. If he his back this week expect the coaches to take it easy on him during the game.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown plays as the Cardinals main receiver and is the teams current leading receiver. He has unbelievable speed and is a smart player, but since being traded to the Cardinals in 2022 his production has slipped. So far this season he’s managed to muster 82 yards and one touchdown (which came last week against the Giants). The trade for Brown wasn’t a bad idea by the Cardinals, as both Brown and Kyler Murray played together in Oklahoma. The issue for the pairing has been Murray being able to stay on the field.
The idea should be simple in terms of defending Brown, don’t let him get loose. Brown currently ranks 46th in receiving yards among wide receivers. Behind Brown is the Cardinals third-round draft pick from this year, Michael Wilson. He made three receptions off four targets last week and went for 56 yards. He’s a raw talent and had limited production in college. Both of these reasons were due to injury. But given space to run, he can make a lot of ground easily. Given the fact he will have to go up against either Trevon Diggs or Stephon Gilmore on the outside should give fans confidence. This is a huge undertaking for him this week and expect Wilson to have a relatively quiet day. Finally Rondale Moore rounds out the Cardinals top-three receivers. Since entering the league, Moore has been inconsistent and has only two career touchdowns and one game of over 100-yards receiving since being drafted in 2021.
With Lamb playing at an elite level and the depth at the receiver position in Dallas, this battle between the two teams is only going one way. It would be nice to see Gallup step up and be the guy we know he can be, but the pace of things right now we could see Tolbert start to take over from Gallup as the season progresses.
Jake Ferguson vs Zach Ertz
“Concerned” was the buzz word about this Cowboys tight end group when they collectively faltered during Week 1. In Week 2, they combatted those concerns by scoring the first receiving touchdown of the 2023 season, and then scoring the second. Ferguson showed tremendous hustle to get to the endzone and stretching on the play to get the first score. He had three receptions off four targets for 11 yards on the day. The second passing touchdown came from Luke Schoonmaker who made the safe catch in the endzone off a well called play. This should give him a massive confidence boost going into next week’s game where the Cardinals have allowed a total of 119 yards to the tight end position this year.
The Cardinals have a familiar foe playing for them at tight end, Zach Ertz. The Cowboys have faced Ertz a number of times in the past when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles. Now he plays for the Cardinals but he’s far from the high end talent he once was, although he still represents a solid threat to count for. He has yet to score a touchdown this season but he’s still making catches. This season, Ertz leads the Cardinals with 12 receptions and has 77 receiving yards which ranks second-most on the team. His blocking technique is still confusing to watch, but it gets the job done for the most part.
The matchup between Ertz and Jayron Kearse will be an interesting battle on the field to watch. As long as Kearse and other members of the defense take away their leading target, the rest of the defense can concentrate on creating pressure and locking up the run game.
As for the winner between these two team’s tight end groups, the Cardinals have an experienced player that is the leading target on his team’s offense. But Ertz is getting old now and is on the decline, he’s also still recovering from a knee injury.
As for the Cowboys, they have a young up-and-coming group that have huge potential. Two Cowboys tight ends have already scored touchdowns this season and have been main contributors in the run game. To break the tie though, we go with experience over expectation.
One factor that’s helping this offensive line keep Dak clean is the tempo of this offense, but also how quickly Dak is getting the ball out. This doesn’t just help establish rhythm early in the games, it keeps defensive lines out of the game. This couldn’t be more true than how the play-calling went against the Jets. But let’s not dismiss how well this Cowboys offensive line is performing. Tyron Smith allowed only one pressure on 43 pass plays last week. He’s also looked very solid in the run game and looks as though old Tyron Smith is back.
We had some more T.J. Bass last week when Chuma Edoga went out with an elbow injury. It was a mixed bag for Bass as he was key on one play and then got beat pretty easy on the next. The main thing is he didn’t give up a sack and was part of a unit that helped the team get 134 rush yards against a very good run defense. Let’s give flowers as well to Tyler Biadasz for not only doing a good job so far at center, but also having back-to-back games recovering a fumble. Last week’s important recovery showed great vision and athleticism to get downfield and scoop up the loose ball dropped by Lamb.
Keep watch on Chuma Edoga this week on the practice report. It’s reported he hyperextended his arm. Also watch for Tyler Smith, who is still dealing with a hamstring injury. It’s hopeful Smith comes back this week. Zack Martin gave everyone a scare late in the game but looked fine after walking under his own power. Jerry Jones said afterward in a brief comment about Martin that, “he’s fine”. But just keep watch in case his name does come up this week.
For Arizona, they aren’t an offensive line that you could call particularly good when it comes to run blocking. They would fall into the below average category. They put in effort to do enough, it’s just lacking sharpness. They gave up the eighth-most sacks last year and ranked ninth-most in pressures allowed. This season, the Cardinals have given up 18 pressures, which is 10th-most and have allowed one sack. Now that same Cardinals line has to face a defense that leads the NFL in sacks and has so far dominated the first two weeks.
The Cowboys will look to exploit left guard Elijah Wilkinson, who was a free agent acquisition for the Cardinals this year after spending last season on injured reserve with the Atlanta Falcons. He gave up multiple pressures and a sack in Week 1, then last week he was met with more struggles trying to contain the pressure. One positive for Cardinals fans though is offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum, who could be returning from a hand injury. That means the line may shuffle around and Wilkinson will go to backup duties, so keep watch on Beachum on the team’s practice report.
On the opposite side of the line is Will Hernandez, who has also given up multiple pressures this year and is looking to find consistency. Getting pressure early on Hernandez will be vital to disrupt his confidence. Adding to the inside blocking issues for the Cardinals is center Hjalte Froholdt, who also found his way to the Cardinals this offseason. He was struggling massively last week against the Giants and will be facing the inside pressure this Cowboys defensive line will bring.
Which team has the better offense?
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