The Arizona Cardinals are facing their largest underdog spread of the season against the Dallas Cowboys. At this point, the Cowboys might just be the most complete and most in-form opponent the Cardinals will face this year. The Cardinals have stumbled into the playoffs on the back of a three-game skid. Meanwhile, the Cowboys booked their ticket in style, claiming the NFC East title with an absolute jack-stomping of the Washington Football Team. This is a playoff team gearing up for the playoffs, with stars on both sides of the ball. Contrastingly, the Cardinals, on offense and defense, are just trying to get it going again. It’s a pick-your-poison kind of game for Arizona. On Sunday, this Arizona Cardinals defense has to give their offense a chance to try and hang with the ‘Boys.
Arizona Cardinals Defense Will Have To Contain Dallas
Dallas Defense Problem For Misfiring Cardinals Offense
For Arizona’s flailing offense, Dallas’s defense presents an almost insurmountable task. Riding on the backs of Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons, the first 10 sack/10 interception pairing since 2007, Dallas’s defense has been beyond effective. Behind two arguably All-Pro talents, the Cowboys currently lead the league in DVOA, or defensive efficiency. The Cardinals don’t have DeAndre Hopkins to occupy Diggs, and a combination of Parsons’ athleticism and Arizona’s struggles up front could create opportunities for the expectant Rookie of the Year. The pair will be factors in this game. Arizona’s offense hasn’t been good for a few weeks now, and they missed opportunities to get back on track against lesser opponents. This matchup is hardly a good spot for the Cardinals to work out their issues on offense.
The key against Dallas will be to play a balanced and, more importantly, a clean game. Last week, the Cardinals beat themselves in a way, committing three pre-snap penalties on offense, and conceding a safety on the back of a bad snap. Overall, 11 penalties in a game, for a total of 85 yards, is not winning football. The return of Rodney Hudson will help to tidy some of this up, namely the snap issues, but the Cardinals have to remain focused on offense to not give the game away. Dallas will smell blood and be aggressive, and perhaps the Cardinals can exploit this to make a statement, but the focus has to be playing a clean game on offense and not beating themselves.
Cardinals Cornerbacks Face Star-Studded Receiving Corps
Arizona’s cornerbacks were once a strength of a league-best defense this season. On the back-nine though, they’ve fallen off considerably. Throw in a few injuries and Arizona’s situation at cornerback is looking pretty dire ahead of the Dallas game; Robert Alford will miss out, and Marco Wilson likely will too after exiting last week’s game. The team brought in Bashaud Breeland, but the former Super Bowl Champion tested positive for Covid on arrival, so he’s not going to contribute either. So, ostensibly, it will be Byron Murphy and whatever the Cardinals can pull together to take on the Cowboys.
Inconveniently, this is the best receiving corps Arizona will face in 2021. To say Amari Cooper may no longer be Dallas’s best receiver is indicative of the rise of Kyler Murray’s favorite college target in CeeDee Lamb. Lamb and Cooper have starred but, with contributions from the likes of Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson, Dallas’s passing game is potent. Add in the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in Dak Prescott, and Dallas’s offense has become one of the league’s best. Coming off a 50-bomb against Washington, they will be a problem. Arizona’s cornerbacks are underperforming and hurting, but an uptick in form is desperately needed this week to contain the Cowboys. Byron Murphy, the last man standing, is the best Arizona has. He has to show it this week and elevate the stricken unit in their toughest test of the year.
Cardinals Defense Has To Help Themselves
Otherwise, the Cardinals defense has to play some complementary football. Coverage is only as good as the pass rush; as poor as Arizona’s corners have been lately, they’ve not had much help up front. Carson Wentz was allowed to beat Arizona stood behind five fenceposts after his offensive line disintegrated. He tossed a perfect ball to a guy who’s caught two passes all year and won the game. The Cardinals cannot let Prescott do that, especially with the weaponry he has to work with. Generating pressure up front is vital to supporting Arizona’s beleaguered cornerbacks, and is essential to disrupting Dallas’s passing game. Given time, Lamb will put the NFL’s best in a blender; he cannot be allowed to do that against this understaffed group.
The state of Arizona’s offense, and Dallas’s excellent defense, make the Cardinals defense Arizona’s best hope on Sunday. Facing a stellar group of receivers, the Cardinals will hope that Murphy can step up and return to early-season form. It might be a bit more complex than putting Murphy on Lamb and praying, but Vance Joseph will need to rely on him while he works with what else he has. The measure of Arizona’s chances in this game will come down to the defense’s ability to contain Dallas’s offense and allow their misfiring offense to keep pace throughout.
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