The Dallas Cowboys will be looking to start the season 3-0 as they hit the road to play the Arizona Cardinals. After dismantling the two New York teams, they now get arguably the worst team in the NFL. The redbirds are in disarray as they have been without the young quarterback Kyle Murray and some are already thinking about hitting the reset and going after USC star quarterback Caleb Williams in what people are describing as a tank season.
Of course, you wouldn’t know it by how the Cardinals have played to start the season. They lost to Washington by four points and then the New York Giants by just three. Arizona held the lead in the fourth quarter in both of those games before letting it slip away late. What type of team will the Cowboys see on Sunday? Here are five things to look for when the Cowboys travel to the desert.
1. The ground game takes off
There’s a good chance that second-year offensive lineman Tyler Smith will be making his seasonal debut this week. The Cowboys have fared well in his absence thanks to solid play from both Chuma Edoga and T.J. Bass, but having the powerful Smith in the lineup will provide a noticeable boost. This will mark the first game that the group of Smith/Smith/Biadasz/Martin/Steele (as long as Martin is a go) will all be playing together, and it will be interesting to see what they look like. Add that to the fact that the Cardinals will be without two of the key interior linemen, L.J. Collier, and our good friend Carlos Watkins, and it could open the gate for a strong Cowboys rushing attack on Sunday.
2. A little more Rico, please
Mike McCarthy proclaimed he’d make a stronger commitment to running the ball, and he’s staying true to his word. The Cowboys' 74 rushing attempts are second in the NFL, and don’t expect them to slow down with the current matchup on the docket. However, it would be nice to see them spread it around a little more. Some of us were concerned about how Tony Pollard would handle a larger workload in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence. Last Sunday against the Jets, he had a career-high 25 carries but only averaged 2.8 yards per carry. It would behoove the Cowboys to not overwork their star running back and give Rico Dowdle a little more work. Dowdle has looked good in what little action he’s seen and even has a slightly higher efficiency than Pollard so far this season.
3. Stop the run...ning quarterback
Sticking with the running game, the Cardinals, like everyone else, will attempt to establish some type of running game against the fierce Cowboys defense. Veteran James Conner will give it his best go as he’s coming off a nice 23-carry, 106-yard, one-touchdown performance last week. The Cowboys have done a good job handling their opponent’s top running back as they held Saquon Barkley and Breece Hall to 51 and 9 yards respectively. Where they could run into trouble is if Joshua Dobbs doesn’t want to stick around and get sacked and instead opts to take off running a lot. Dobbs had 41 yards rushing last week against the Giants, including a 23-yard touchdown run. Daniel Jones rushed for 43 yards against Dallas in Week 1, while Zach Wilson had 36 yards last week. The Cowboys' defense can fall victim to their own aggression, but they’ll need to show a little discipline against Arizona.
4. Life without Diggs
Thursday we learned that star cornerback Trevon Diggs suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season. Without Diggs on the outside, how will his absence affect the cast of characters in the secondary? This should move slot corner DaRon Bland to the outside opposite Stephon Gilmore and move Jourdan Lewis to the slot. Lewis just returned from a foot injury and played 10 snaps against the Jets. He’ll play more on Sunday. The team also traded Kelvin Joseph for Noah Igbinoghene, who they hope is an upgrade at the outside corner position. The Cowboys also have a super-deep secondary that features the return of Donovan Wilson. And let’s not forget that the Cowboys have one of the very best pass-rushing units in the league. Nothing can take the gut-wrenching feeling from losing a player like Diggs, but all these things together should help us step away from the edge a bit. The Cardinals’ passing attack won’t be a legit litmus test, but we could get a small taste of what’s to come.
5. Big play coming from the special teams
Since the year 2000, the Cowboys and Cardinals have been involved in eight games decided by one score or less. The Cardinals have won every one of them. Many of them include walk-offs whether it was an overtime touchdown or a game-winning field goal. The Cowboys have been on the wrong end of some special teams misfortunes in the desert as they had a punt blocked that ended an overtime battle back in 2008 as well as the infamous Jason Garrett “iced his own kicker” fiasco back in 2011. The Cowboys have a good special teams group this year aided by a couple of former USFL players in returner KaVontae Turpin and kicker Brandon Aubrey. While this game isn’t expected to be a nail-biter, it would still be nice to see some favorable special teams play in the desert by the Cowboys this time around.