We are a day away from the game against the Dallas Cowboys, which will determine the best team in the NFC midway through the 2014 season. Dave Halprin from Blogging The Boys answered some questions for us. I did the same for them. You can join that conversation here.
ROTB: Arizona has been great at stopping the running game of opposing teams. Only Philly has rushed for more than 100 as a team this season and only one individual rusher has reached 100 yards against the Cardinals since the start of last season. Can Dallas run on Arizona? If not, can they beat Arizona?
BTB: So far, the Cowboys have been able to run on anybody, and that includes teams loading up the box with eight defenders and throwing run blitzes at them. Can they do it again against the Cardinals? I guess we can't answer that with certainty until the game is played, but past history this season would say yes. Dallas hasn't really had to play a game yet where the running game has been shut down, but the Cowboys are certainly no slouches in the passing game. They have the weapons on offense to go to the air if they have to, but it is not their preferred method of attacking a defense.
ROTB: How does the offensive line look if neither Doug Free nor Ronald Leary can play? How confident is Dallas with Brandon Weeden at QB should Romo be unable to play?
BTB: Jeremy Parnell has done a decent job in relief of Doug Free. He was a little shaky initially but seems to have found his groove. The Cowboys will give him help on occasion. If Ron Leary can't go, Mackenzy Bernadeau will replace him and has some experience starting on this Cowboys line. He shouldn't be a major dropoff, but I don't think the line will be playing a peak efficiency with Free and Leary out. The Cowboys might have to use more max-protect schemes and other protection tricks. Weeden came in and look really good in limited duty on Monday night, but that was a very small sample size. There is a reason he was on the market for the Cowboys, he just didn't play that well as a starter in Cleveland. Maybe with better weapons and a better line he will thrive if he has to play, but confident isn't the word I would use, more like hopeful.
ROTB: How would you attack the Arizona defense?
BTB: First I would try to run on them. This is what the Cowboys do best and if they can get the running game going then they can control the game. So I would never abandon the run unless absolutely necessary. If I have to go to the air, I invite the blitz then hit the hot routes and screens and let the Cowboys skill players run with the ball in their hands. They have guys that can turn a three-yard pass into a 30-yard gain. I'm not going to leave my QB back there for too long if the blitzes are coming. Eventually, you try a few max-protect plays and try to beat the blitz over the top.
ROTB: What are the matchups you like best for Dallas? That you like worst?
BTB: The matchup I like best is DeMarco Murray on linebackers not only on the ground but in the passing game. The guy is a weapon and he has been on fire this year, you got to keep riding that until it doesn't work anymore. Murray catching short passes and screens can be very dangerous. I would like to see the Cowboys utilize him as a safety valve on blitzes if he's not required to be in pass protection.
What I like the least is the Cowboys linebackers and safeties in coverage on tight ends. Justin Durant is out and he was a key player on the linebacker corps, but even with him the Cowboys have given up big games against tight ends. They do a fairly good job of coverage on the outside, but in the middle is a problem.
ROTB: Outside of Murray, Romo, Witten and Dez, who else on offense should Cardinals watch for? On defense?
BTB: On offense, second wide receiver Terrance Williams has turned into a big-play receiver. Either converting crucial third downs or catching six touchdowns, he can do damage. Backup tight end Gavin Escobar occasionally blows up, too. On defense, Rolando McClain at middle linebacker has been a great pickup. Also, Dallas is getting second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence back for this game. He hasn't played all season because of a fractured foot, he is supposed to produce some pass rush at defensive end.