Arizona Cardinals versus Dallas Cowboys
The National Football League had quite the Week 3 of the 2017 season. From protests to protests of those protests to wild and crazy games, Week 3 was far from mundane. The capper was an exciting matchup of two teams picked by many as title contenders, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Dallas Cowboys. The crowd was electric and split about half between those wearing Arizona gear and those wearing Dallas gear. In the end, the team with the blue star on their helmets pulled out the victory, leaving the Cardinals and their fans wondering if they let the game slip away.
The Offensive Line Continues to Struggle
Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer finished the game with 325 yards passing with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He was also sacked six times on the night. Cowboys’ defensive tackle Maliek Collins was responsible for two of those sacks and was a consistent problem for the Cardinals’ offensive line. On the play, which gave the Cardinals the first score of the game, it was Collins who got past right guard Evan Boehm and forced Palmer up in the pocket and led to one of the many hits on the quarterback. Later in the game, it was Collins again who got pressure, this time getting the sack deep in Cardinals’ territory after beating center A.Q. Shipley one on one. The line was again without their starting left side with tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Mike Iupati out due to injuries. While tackle John Wetzel filled in admirably last week, he struggled on Monday night against the athletic Cowboys defensive line. Not one to miss out on the fun, right tackle Jared Veldheer looked like a player who has retirement on his mind. Veldheer looked slow to react and struggled in pass protection.
The run game was non-existent against Dallas. The Cardinals ran the ball 21 times on the day, gaining a total of 49 yards against a defense which surrendered nearly 180 yards rushing the week prior in Denver. The leading rusher for Arizona was Andre Ellington with 22 yards on five rushes. There were brief moments where it looked like the ground game might be getting started. A six-yard gain here, a five-yard gain there, but in the end those were the longest runs for a one-dimensional Arizona offense. This is less to do with the absence of David Johnson and more to do with the inability of the Arizona offensive line to consistently move the defense from the point of attack. The best-run blocker, Iupati, is injured. His replacement, Alex Boone, is also best known for his run blocking but struggled and finished the game with a possible injury to his pectoral muscle. This was a bad performance in a big game.
Larry Fitzgerald Keeps Working
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is an Arizona legend. Fitzgerald finished the game with 149 yards on 13 catches, including a touchdown in the second half. The ageless receiver routinely won jump ball throws by Palmer and ran circles around a depleted Dallas secondary. Fitzgerald was the only player on either team to hit the century mark through the air. The play of the game for Arizona came on 3rd and 16 from the Arizona 33-yard line with just over ten minutes left in the game. Palmer lofted a pass downfield to the left with Fitzgerald in the area. It looked as if Cowboys’ cornerback Orlando Scandrick would make the interception until Fitzgerald came leaping in front of him to rip away the football. It was vintage Fitzgerald and served as a reminder of his brilliance.
The play of Fitzgerald allowed the rest of the passing game to flow. The effectiveness of players like Ellington, Jermaine Gresham, and Jaron Brown kept just enough pressure on the Dallas secondary, allowing Fitzgerald to be free from triple teams. At the end of the day, it was the passing game which kept the Cardinals in the game on Monday night. Without Larry Fitzgerald that would not have been possible.
Dallas Ran Effectively
The Arizona defense has normally been solid against the run. While they did not give up 100 yards rushing to Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys running back made some big plays on the ground. Elliott struggled to run a week ago against Denver but ran angry against the Cardinals. The Dallas run game did well to take away pressure from quarterback Dak Prescott. The balance gained by Elliott and the ground game allowed Prescott to mix in play action and get some plays downfield through the air.
The Cardinals’ defense kept Elliott bottled up for most of the night. Elliott gained 80 yards on 22 carries. However, Elliott did break a 30-yard run at one point and helped ice the game with big runs in the red zone during the final five minutes, culminating with a touchdown. While the Cowboys lost the time of possession battle by more than ten minutes, the balance achieved on offense kept the Arizona defense on its heels. Eight defensive players in the box allowed Dallas some space on the outside for players like Dez Bryant to find one on one matchups. This was a solid game for the Cowboys’ run game and is something they can build on moving forward.
*all stats courtesy of NFL.com