The Dallas Cowboys will not go 17-0 this season. Of course, none of us expected the undefeated bid would fall at the hands of the formerly winless Arizona Cardinals. But it did. They beat the Cowboys and it wasn’t fun to watch. It doesn’t bring out the greatest of feels, but here are 10 thoughts on the Cowboys' 28-16 loss to the Cardinals.
1. Depleted offensive line
News started trickling in that the Cowboys could be without three of their Pro Bowl offensive lineman, and sure enough, that’s how it went down. We learned that two key interior starters, Zack Martin and Tyler Biadasz, were inactive and then later that Tyron Smith, while active, did not play. This forced the team to rely on three reserves, Chuma Edoga at LT, Brock Hoffman at C, and T.J. Bass at RG. As you might expect, the game consisted of several miscues from the offensive line from penalties to missed blocking assignments.
2. Can’t finish
Even with a depleted offensive line, the Cowboys offense moved the ball. They had six drives of at least eight plays and put together more total yards than the Cardinals did, but unlike Arizona, the Cowboys just couldn’t finish off the drives. Four times the Cowboys' offense moved the ball inside their opponents' 10-yard line in the second half and they failed to get into the end zone in all of them. And twice they failed to come away with any points at all as they turned the ball over on downs and had a costly pick in the end zone. We glossed over these struggles last week because they smoked their opponents, but it’s a little more concerning now.
3. Where did the defense go?
Right from the onset, the Cowboys' defense was slapped in the face. Arizona scored on every one of their first-half possessions. We never saw their punter step on the field until the second half. And even though there were moments when the defense made some plays, they always seemed to fall victim to a big play that just took the life out of them. Joshua Dobbs ran for 44 yards, Rondale Moore took a jet sweep for 45 yards, and the Cowboys completely forgot to cover Michael Wilson on a play that went for 69 yards. Even though the Cowboys ran 22 more plays than Arizona did, those big plays proved costly.
4. Couldn’t stop the run
The defense got worked over really well by the Cardinals' rushing attack as Arizona finished with a total of 222 yards on the ground, and 180 of those yards came in the first half alone. They rushed for 7.4 yards per attempt. James Conner did most of the heavy lifting as he rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries. Arizona did a great job moving around their guys to connect on blocks that sprung big runs. The Cowboys' defense seemed late to the party as they took bad angles or got washed out of the play. This was very uncharacteristic of the Dan Quinn defense we’ve seen over the first couple of games.
5. A flag fest
There was a time when Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys were bit by the penalty bug and it became frustrating week after week; however, they got better towards the end of last year. They finished the regular season averaging just 3.5 penalties per contest over their last six games. On Sunday, they were constantly drawing flags. They finished the game with 13 total penalties, 10 of which occurred in the first half alone. Absolute sloppiness.
6. It was nice to see Gallup involved
Fans have been asking where Michael Gallup has been as he only had two catches for 13 yards over the first two games of the season. Against the Cardinals, he was the team’s leading receiver as he hauled down six receptions for 92 yards. It was a sight for sore eyes as Gallup never had a game like that the entire year last season. In fact, it’s been over 1,000 human days (Week 16 in 2020) since Gallup has caught six passes in a game. Nice to have you back, 13.
7. Already missing Diggs
Everyone is excited about second-year corner DaRon Bland and for good reason. He’s a good player. But as we saw last year, he’s a much better slot corner than he is on the outside. It’s not that he’s awful on the boundary, but there is a noticeable difference. We got a taste of that on Sunday as the Cardinals attacked him a few times. He was even flagged for a pass interference penalty that went for 22 yards. It wasn’t egregious, but if it showed up a bit against a Joshua Dobbs-led Arizona team, just think of the potential repercussions against teams with a strong passing game.
8. Not a great day for Dak
When you look at the box score, Prescott wasn’t awful. Prescott finished 25/40 for 249 yards with a touchdown and a pick. But when you look at some crucial moments, his throws were a bit off. He connected to CeeDee Lamb on a nice 32-yard gain down the sideline, but had he thrown the ball a little more out in front of him, it would’ve been a touchdown. He also had Gallup open in the end zone, but it was underthrown and the defense was able to catch up to him and knock the ball away in what was first flagged for pass interference. There were a handful of “eek” moments and some better throws could’ve resulted in a couple of touchdowns the Cowboys desperately could’ve used. Then there was the interception.
9. An even worse day for McCarthy
There’s a lot that went wrong for the Cowboys as many people share the blame in this one. Quinn certainly shouldn’t be let off the hook after the way his defense played. And McCarthy’s offense putting up just 16 points against a Jonathan Gannon/Nick Rallis defense that he’s seen plenty of during their time with the Eagles was a huge disappointment. It was particularly frustrating to see him chew up so much time late in the game when the Cowboys were trailing by 12 points. Let’s play with a sense of urgency, can we?
When you take everything into account, this was one of the worst-coached games we’ve seen in a long while. The never-ending lack of discipline with all the stupid penalties, the continuously blown assignments, and the repeated meltdowns in the red zone where McCarthy is now the guy calling the plays was just a really bad look. The Cowboys had a much better roster and they got their gooses cooked.
10. Reality check
Losing is never fun, but it brings about even more sourness when we have elevated our expectations so much. After these first two games, how could we not? But when this team goes out to the desert and plays like this, it now has us thinking that maybe we were looking at a mirage. That’s not to say this team is anywhere as bad as they were on Sunday, but is this team a serious contender? We know that this is just one game, and any team could have a stinker, but thoughts of this team being the “NFL team to beat” will definitely be re-evaluated.