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The Cowboys defense doesn’t care about team’s history vs. recent opponents

The Cowboys are seeking their first 3-0 start since 2019 on Sunday in Arizona. They are also trying to rebound from the Trevon Diggs’ news.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys beating the New York Giants and Jets to start off the season 2-0 isn’t at all surprising, but the combined score of 70-10 in two complete games in all three phases certainly jumps off the page. Last season, the Cowboys played two one-score games against the Giants, but their defense had other plans in week one of 2023 - they scored a touchdown of their own and never gave the Giants hope of a comeback. Last week’s win versus the Jets actually snapped a three-game losing streak to Gang Green, and relyied on the defense to bottle up the Jets ground game and force Zach Wilson to beat them, ultimately taking the ball away four times with three interceptions and a forced fumble.

The Cowboys are getting healthier on offense in hopes of playing an even more complete game in week three on the road, but again have the larger advantage on defense against Cardinals QB Josh Dobbs, filling in for injured starter Kyler Murray so far this season. Even with the Trevon Diggs’ news, the Cowboys defense is a big advantage in the game. Dallas has won just one of their last seven tries against Arizona dating back to 2008. The Cardinals have amazingly had seven different quarterbacks start against the Cowboys over this time, ranging from Hall of Famer Kurt Warner to Kevin Kolb.

The Dak Prescott vs. Kyler Murray matchup has only happened once, and while there won’t be a rematch this week, Prescott and the Cowboys offense can hope the defense shows out to keep this game comfortably within their gameplan. This is exactly how the Cowboys cruised to a win over the Jets, not taking risks on offense that would allow a deep and talented Jets defense to will their team to a second straight victory. If this is the week Dallas welcomes back Tyler Smith and Brandin Cooks while keeping Zack Martin at right guard, it could also be a breakout game for the offense should Dobbs find a way to make unscripted plays with his feet. That would create even more relief after the Diggs’ news.

In the most recent meeting between these teams, an early 10-0 deficit for the Cowboys turned into a 22-7 advantage for the Cardinals at the end of three quarters. A furious comeback attempt from Prescott in the fourth saw him throw touchdowns to Cedrick Wilson and Amari Cooper, but Matt Prater’s fourth field goal was enough to keep Arizona ahead 25-22. The Cowboys were only able to rush for two first downs in this game, something to watch for in their current run game as they were pass-heavy even with the lead against the Jets, facing 18 third down attempts.

Murray was an effective point guard in the previous game, throwing to four different receivers with at least four catches. Christian Kirk led the way with 79 yards, veteran A.J. Green added a 42-yard reception, and unlikely hero Antoine Wesley caught two touchdowns.

The Cowboys defense wasn’t ready for the speed of the Cardinals, something still present in their 2023 offense, even with Dobbs under center. Dobbs ran for 41 yards in a big effort against the Giants last week, putting his team ahead 28-7 in the third quarter before a furious Giants comeback. James Conner found success on the ground, carrying 23 times for 106 yards. Marquise Brown was their leading receiver with ten targets, six receptions, 54 yards and a touchdown.

Dallas Cowboys v Tennessee Titans Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Cowboys also have recent history playing against Dobbs, finding themselves in a strange Thursday Night Football week 17 matchup against the Titans last year. The game had zero playoff implications for either team, with Tennessee waiting until the final week of the season to play for the division against Jacksonville. The Titans started Dobbs for the first time all season for the injured Ryan Tannehill. He completed 20 of 39 attempts for 232 yards and a touchdown to Robert Woods. The Cowboys were in control all night though, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and holding the Titans to just two other field goals on the night. This game may be a better blueprint for how Cowboys at Cardinals may play out this Sunday, with so many other changing variables in the rivalry that used to be a battle of NFC East teams.

This is also a matchup of the Cowboys offense versus Jonathan Gannon’s defense, taking the Cardinals head coaching job after being defensive coordinator for the Eagles during their Super Bowl run last year. Gannon’s defense had the advantage of playing against Cooper Rush in the first Cowboys-Eagles meeting last year, but did get into a shootout when it was Dak Prescott versus Gardner Minshew in Arlington. Prescott hit on 24 of 40 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-34 win. If the Cowboys put up 40 points against Gannon’s defense this week, it would be a surprise to see a one-score game, with this defense finding another elite level and becoming the catalyst for two lopsided wins to start 2023. With the Patriots and 49ers to follow on the schedule, this is a classic spot the Cowboys can’t get caught looking ahead of a struggling team that’s played two highly competitive games to start the season.

The Cowboys defense will have to be tough against the run early, and disciplined on the back end to not allow big plays downfield. This will be their first test of a revamped secondary without Diggs. If they can do so while continuing to create favorable pass rush matchups for Micah Parsons, the opportunities to control this game with their own passing attack will be there. The Cardinals have only allowed three sacks this season and lead the NFL with four rushes of 20 or more yards, giving them a real chance to make this the first game the Cowboys are tested deep into the second half all year.

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