Twice the pride, double the fall.
That quote certainly applies in Cowboys Nation this week. Riding high after two dominant victories to start the year, Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals was nothing short of humiliating. But as bad as Dallas’ first defeat of 2023 was, it wasn’t inexplicable. Maintaining perspective heading into a tough stretch of games is vital for both the team and fans alike.
Forget that it was the Cardinals for a moment. Knowing that the Cowboys were going into any game without Trevon Diggs, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and Tyler Biadasz, would be concerning. It’d be a death sentence against the NFL’s top contenders, and enough room for any professional football team to close the talent gap.
Moreover, this game came just three days after Diggs’ crushing season-ending injury. Arguably Dallas’ second-best defensive player and a top-five guy overall, Diggs has been one of the Infinity Stones of this team for the last few years. Asking Dan Quinn and the players to fully recover from the loss and adjust in 72 hours, especially before a road game, is a lot.
If the defense needed more time to get its groove back, an offense missing three starters on the front line was in a poor position to help. The absence of Zack Martin alone was huge, but your starting left tackle and center along with him was devastating.
While we often hear “next man up” with enthusiastic bluster, there are few times in the NFL when that next man is nearly as good as the starter. That’s especially true on the offensive line, where depth is shallow across the league and even some teams’ starters would be backups on other squads.
Anyone assuming that T.J. Bass, Brock Hoffman, and Chuma Edoga were going to waltz into Arizona and just handle their business just wasn’t being objective. Edoga did show well at left guard the first two weeks, but that was as the sixth man playing between Biadasz and Tyron Smith. Asking him to now be your third-best offensive lineman, and especially playing left tackle, was too much.
Despite these major issues, the Cowboys didn’t exactly get rolled. They were in the fight until the fourth quarter, which made issues like the penalties and Dak Prescott’s late interception much more painful. It’s easier to lump those things into a “bad day at the office” in a blowout, but closer losses bring tighter scrutiny.
The Cardinals had a hand in this, too. They were playing passionate, “nobody believes in us” football. And while younger fans and current players may not remember, there’s always been a low-key rivalry feel between these two teams from Arizona’s days as the red-jerseyed stepchild of the NFC East. Even the modern series of games between the Cowboys and Cardinals have come with several fluky outcomes.
In the end, Dallas got out of their first three weeks with a 2-1 record. Many were projecting that going into the season, but with the loss coming to one of the New York teams. That’s life in the NFL; an Aaron Rodgers injury one week turns a potential nail-biter into a blowout, and the Cowboys’ injuries the following week were the catalyst for an unexpected loss.
The key for Dallas now is to stay balanced. With the Patriots. 49ers, and Chargers coming up, a much tougher trio than the last three, they can’t afford to still be licking their wounds. Even if New England is in a relatively down year, Bill Belichick is still there to analyze and exploit all of the weaknesses that the Cowboys displayed in Arizona.
No matter what they do, of course, there is no replacing Trevon Diggs. There are only a few talents like him throughout the league. You can win a lot of games with Stephon Gilmore, DaRon Bland, and Jourdan Lewis as your top three corners but there’s just no denying that a special ingredient is missing from Dan Quinn’s original recipe.
The 2023 Dallas Cowboys are good enough to overcome it. Expecting them to do it within a few days, especially with 60% of their starting offensive line missing in a road game, was clearly more than they could handle. But what happened in Arizona felt more like a one-week collapse than a sign of what’s to come over the rest of this long season.