In NFL Week 13, the 7-4 Dallas Caowboys are in Arizona to play the 4-7 Cardinals. The game marks the return of Arizona starting quarterback Kevin Kolb, who missed the past four games because of toe and foot injuries suffered against the Baltimore Ravens. Since then, backup John Skelton led the team to a 3-1 record in Kolb's place. This has prompted a form of quarterback controversy, even though Skelton played only one good game of his four starts. But the wins got people's attentions.
The Dallas Cowboys come in riding a four-game winnings streak and offensively looking a bit different. Because of the play of rookie RB DeMarco Murray, they longer must be a pass-first team. With Murray starting, Dallas is 5-1. However, one piece of their running success, fullback Tony Fiammetta, will be out for the game.
The last time these two teams met, it was Christmas Day last season when John Skelton battles third string Stephen McGee after backup Jon Kitna was knocked out of the game. The Arizona defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns and Skelton led the offense on a late drive that led to a game winning field goal by Jay Feely. Dallas struggled in 2010 after starting QB Toy Romo was lost for the season with a broken collarbone.
This season is different. Romo is playing and the Cowboys are atop the NFC East. The Cardinals are still struggling.
As you may remember, the Cardinals and the Cowboys were both NFC East opponents and played each other twice each season. Back then, in Sun Devil Stadium, it was not uncommon to see 3/4 of the stadium cheering for Dallas. Now there will likely still be a ton of Cowboys fans, but the Cardinals have clear support now.
The Dallas offense is ranked sixth overall, so the Arizona defense, ranked 26th in the league, will have its hands full. However, the Cardinals defense is much improved. They have finally started gelling as a team as they are now getting used to Ray Horton's new schemes. Rookie Sam Acho is also having an impact. Starting only for a few weeks, he has logged five sacks, forced three fumbles and recovered one.
The Cardinals offense will be the big question mark. As a team, they are last in the league in third down conversions. Early on in the season, before Kolb's injury, there were flashes of hope that the offense could play well. After he went down and Skelton took over, the offense was very inconsistent, but the defense and sepcial teams play put them in positions to win.
Luckily, Kolb returns and the offense could be in its best health since the season opener. TE Rob Housler returns from injury and Todd Heap as well. If they are able to contribute, that will open another facet to the offense that has yet to be seen this season.
Rookie Patrick Peterson could be key. He has returned four punts for touchdowns. However, Dallas punter Mat McBriar, is one of the best in the league. Dallas has, though, allowed three return TDs on the year.
Dallas does not allow Romo to get sacked much. The offensive line has given up 20 sacks on the year. This is in stark contrast with the Cardinals, whose QBs have been sacked 36 times in 11 games.
The turnover battle is statistically the most relevant in deciding winners. Dallas is a +5 in turnovers as a team. They are 7-4. The 4-7 Cards? They are a -8. You have to figure that the winner in the turnover battle will probably be the team that leaves with a victory on Sunday again.
Can the Cardinals get a home victory and keep the very, very dim light of playoff hopes (as a wild card) alive? We will soon find out. For those who will be at the game at University of Phoenix Stadium, make noise and bring a jacket -- the roof will be open. The rest of us can tune in to FOX.