After a preseason-opening shutout win over the Green Bay Packers in their own backyard, the Arizona Cardinals welcome the rival Dallas Cowboys to University of Phoenix Stadium this Saturday afternoon. These two teams are looking to rebound after disappointing seasons in 2012, and both will count on quarterback play and defense to aid in that endeavor.
The Cardinals (1-0) are off to a good start this preseason. The Cowboys (1-1) have a mixed bag of emotions based on their two games.
These teams could be going in opposite directions in terms of short-term future outlook, as evidenced by their most recent veteran dealings. Defensive end John Abraham and right tackle Eric Winston signed in Arizona and in all likelihood will start Week 1; offensive guard Brandon Moore told the Cowboys he intended on signing but decided retirement was a better option.
Here are some stats of note as well as some other bits of relevant information leading up to Saturday night's matchup.
Last week, Arizona averaged 9.74 yards per passing attempt as a team. That ranked No. 1 by over 1.5 yards (St. Louis Rams, 8.22) and was nearly three full yards per pass above what Dallas did through two games.
The vertical passing game head coach Bruce Arians brought with him was in full use against a Green Bay defense that was overmatched by the passing attack most of the night.
Dallas played the Miami Dolphins in the annual Hall of Fame game, a game in which quarterback Tony Romo did not play. He did run the offense for two series, going 6-of-8 for 88 yards and a 110.4 passer rating against a lowly Oakland Raiders defense.
In 2012, Romo finished No. 10 in the NFL with a 90.5 passer rating. Among quarterbacks with at least 2,500 passing attempts, he has the fifth-highest career passer rating in NFL history, at 95.6. That has not translated to postseason appearances or wins, as Romo has appeared in four playoff games in six seasons as the Cowboys gunslinger, going just 1-3 over that time.
Fun fact: Of the 25 franchises to earn a playoff win since 1997, the Cowboys are the only team without at least two. Their .143 winning percentage over that time is also the lowest among teams with a playoff win.
The Cardinals and Cowboys have faced off three times during the preseason, dating all the way back to 1960 and most recently in 2005. Arizona is 3-0 in those games and, oddly, the score for two of those three games have been 13-11.
Just how rare is a 13-11 final score?
In the regular season and the playoffs, such a score has been recorded just twice since 1940. Teams have tallied 11 points in a game 35 times in league history (again, including the playoffs), and the Cowboys own exactly zero of those instances.
Quarterback Carson Palmer and the first-team offense will see about 20 plays Saturday. We can expect the Cowboys' first-teamers on defense to come close to matching that.
With running back Rashard Mendenhall suiting up for the Cardinals, the running game could be better than it was last week if for nothing more than the fact that there are now bodies available to rotate in and out. The run blocking must be better as well, and with the aggressive Tampa 2 defense Monte Kiffin runs, the line will have trouble if it is unable to seal off the back side of the defense, as was one of the issues last week.
One matchup to keep an eye on is Cowboys young defensive end George Selvie against both the left and right tackles. He may be listed as a third-string guy, but he could start seeing playing time against players higher on the depth chart. Selvie is a long, athletic defender cut from the same mold as DeMarcus Ware. He may not be the player Ware is, but he has been disruptive through two preseason games.
The Cardinals have two coaches and one player who have spent time with the Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles spent three seasons (2005-2007) as the Cowboys secondary coach, and quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens coached their tight ends in 2006. Cornerback Brian McCann was there in 2010 and '11, and he owns the longest interception return for touchdown (101 yards) and second-longest punt return for touchdown (97) in franchise history -- the plays occurred in back-to-back weeks during his rookie season of 2010 (11/14 at the New York Giants and 11/21 against the Detroit Lions).
The Cowboys have one former Cardinals player on their roster. Defensive tackle Landon Cohen spent part of training camp 2012 with Arizona but was cut before the regular season began. Two offensive coaches spent time with major Arizona colleges: Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan was an assistant at Northern Arizona from 1987 to '88, and assistant O-Line coach Frank Pollack played at NAU, coached there from 2005 to ‘06 and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2010.