The Cowboys suffered their first loss of the season in embarrassing fashion, losing to a Cardinals team that they were favored to beat by 12.5 points. They trailed the entire game and looked sloppy all day, with 13 penalties on the day and 10 of those coming in the first half. There were a lot of key plays that resulted in this kind of outcome, but these five plays were especially pivotal in spelling doom for Dallas.
Josh Dobbs’ big run sets the tone for Cardinals offense
When a team like the Cowboys loses to a team like the Cardinals, there is going to be plenty of blame to go around. That’s true here, as just about every member of the team deserves criticism for this one, but the big story was the vaunted Dallas defense getting shredded by an offense led by Josh Dobbs, making only his fifth career start on Sunday.
It started early, on the second play of the game. The Cardinals ran a routine option play, and Dobbs kept the ball because of how hard Micah Parsons came crashing down the line to stop the run. Dobbs then had plenty of room to run, as the whole defense had over-committed to the run fake, picking up an easy 44 yards.
As it turned out, this play was a harbinger of things to come for a defense that played far too aggressive and without discipline. The Cardinals simply took advantage of all that blind rage, just as they did with this very simple keeper that set the tone for how the Arizona offense would bully Dallas all game.
Jourdan Lewis’ defensive holding penalty erases stop on third and long
The Cowboys offense, playing with three backups along the offensive line, figured out how to move the ball effectively on their second drive and cut the lead to 9-3. It seemed as if the team was still in good shape, despite their shaky start on both sides of the ball.
Then the defense did what they normally do, which is get the opponent into a third and long. Near midfield, the Cardinals faced a third and 11, which is feasting time for this defense. Dobbs, under pressure, threw incomplete deep to Rondale Moore near the sideline, getting a stop.
However, Jourdan Lewis had been flagged for defensive holding prior to the ball being thrown. That gifted Arizona a first down, and two plays later they watched Moore waltz into the endzone on a 45-yard touchdown run. Plenty of things went wrong on that play, but it never would have happened if not for the penalty on third down.
CeeDee Lamb’s offensive pass interference kills final drive of the first half
The Cowboys got the ball back down 18-10 with 88 seconds left in the first half. Knowing they’d get the ball to start the third quarter, a perfect opportunity for a go-ahead double-double presented itself.
On the first play of the drive, Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb for a 12-yard gain that would have already put the ball in Cardinals territory, but there was a flag on the field. Lamb was called for offensive pass interference, thus negating the play.
Suddenly, the Cowboys had first and 20, which is hard enough to convert even when you have all five starting offensive linemen out there. Unsurprisingly, they punted the ball and the Cardinals were able to hit a 62-yard field goal to up the lead to 21-10. Were it not for the pass interference penalty, though, the Cowboys may have been able to tie things up before getting the ball in the second half. This one was a killer.
Busted coverage leaves Michael Wilson wide open for huge gain
The Cowboys reverted back to their usual selves to start the second half. The offense moved the ball well until they reached the red zone, and the defense forced two straight punts. When the Cardinals took the field for their third possession of the half, their lead had been cut to just five points. Another stop from the defense would set the Cowboys up in great position to take the lead.
That’s when things fell apart. On the very first play of the drive, Dobbs dropped back and launched the ball to a wide open Michael Wilson, with no defender even near him.
Wilson wouldn’t even get touched until he had already reached the red zone, and he didn’t go down until getting inside the Dallas 10-yard line. Three plays later, the Cardinals scored a touchdown to go up 28-16 with seven minutes remaining. That lead proved to be insurmountable, but it was wholly set up by the blown coverage.
Refs pick up flag for pass interference in the endzone
The Cowboys’ odds of making a comeback late in the game were incredibly slim, but not zero. The offense, led by Prescott, began moving the ball quickly and effectively down the field until they reached the red zone.
On second and one at the Arizona 18, Prescott fired a shot to Michael Gallup in the endzone. Marco Wilson, the defensive back in coverage, made contact with Gallup and did not turn his head around to locate the ball, a common indicator of pass interference. A flag was even thrown by the official closest to the action, but it was ultimately picked up with no real explanation for why.
Surprised they picked up this flag pic.twitter.com/hTkNqXoLCi— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 24, 2023
Had the officials called a pass interference penalty, the Cowboys would’ve been set up with first and goal on the goal line with just over five minutes left. Instead, they ran six more plays that burned over two minutes of clock before Prescott threw his first interception of the season in the endzone. There’s no telling what would’ve happened if the penalty was called, and the Cowboys are obviously still responsible for what happened afterwards, but the decision to pick up the flag loomed large on this drive.
BONUS: All the offsides penalties
It’s impossible to talk about this game without discussing the penalties. Two Cowboys penalties made this list, and there’s plenty more to be included as well. A big part of this loss has to do with the Cowboys’ inability to get the Cardinals offense off the field. Much of that has to do with all the penalties the defense incurred, many of them being offsides penalties.
Of the Cowboys’ 13 penalties in this game, seven were on the defense and four of those were offsides penalties. There was even another one that should’ve been called, as Sam Williams jumped early on a play that resulted in a sack for Parsons. This list could easily have just been offsides penalties from this Dallas defense.
It was just another example of how the Cowboys were too eager and undisciplined in the game from start to finish. Drives were extended and stops were wiped out by these penalties, which is how a relatively inefficient offense like the Cardinals beats a defense with as many playmakers as the Cowboys.