1. Tackling RB Ezekiel Elliott.
Will the Cardinals wear, as James Bettcher like to say, "their big boy pants?" Will any Cardinal line up and hit Elliott the way D.J. Swearinger (defensive captain of the Redskins) put a lick on Marshawn Lynch last night?
Pretty good effort versus Elliott until the 4th quarter. Lots of swarming and gang tackling. But, as we saw, you can't have the edges crashing down on Elliott all game and not get burned by bootlegs, QB read options and easy, wide open QB sprint outs ---which led to huge chunk passing yards and the last 2 TDs.
2. Blocking DE DeMarcus Lawrence.
In watching the Cowboys' first two games, Lawrence has lined up primarily on the outside eye of the RT and he has been wreaking havoc off the edge and off loop stunts. A one-on-one matchup versus RT Jared Veldheer does not favor Veldheer. Therefore, what kind of help will the coaches give Veldheer? BA is loath to provide help, but does Lawrence change that line of thinking, particularly versus a struggling Veldheer?
Embarrassing...not just that Veldheer struggled so badly, but that he was given zero help. I haven't seen any RT able to block Lawrence this year...so going in, this was a key. BA says "we don't change for anyone." Well, this game is further proof of BA's set ways, and now everyone in the NFL knows the Cardinals' weaknesses and they now exploit them week after week.
3. Pass Coverages and Matchups
What are the coverage matchups and how often will Bettcher mix in zone? It would appear pretty certain that Patrick Peterson will be matched on Dez Bryant and that Tyrann Mathieu will be matched on slot WR Cole Beasley. Terrance Williams has been battling an ankle injury, but he did practice on Saturday. Justin Bethel should be matched on Williams. But, perhaps the most key matchup is the trio of Haason Reddick, Karlos Dansby and Tyvon Branch on TE Jason Witten. As for mixing in zones...that's a tough proposition because the Cowboys' receivers are adept at beating zones, particularly Bryant, Beasley and Witten. Pressure on young QB Dak Prescott is paramount, as is keeping him hemmed in the pocket. Will the Cardinals be able to limit Prescott's effectiveness?
Patrick Peterson did a nice job on Dez Bryant. Dez's TD came versus zone and the fact that FS Antoine Bethea basically let Dez stand him up and bowl him 4 yards into the end zone. Justin Bethel got beat for the TD pass to Brice Butler. Tyron Mathieu showed why he is not a capable FS...but neither is Antoine Bethea. Dansby but turned the wrong way in zone and gave up a long 3rd down conversion. Boy Dansby looked out of it tonight. Reddick was very good in coverage and made one nice TFL versus Elliott. But Reddick still sometimes overruns the holes he's supposed to fill, which one would expect from a rookie who has never played the ILB position.
BTW--- if you watched the Redskins smoke the Raiders last night, their two top UFA defensive signings FS D.J. Swearinger and LB Zach Brown played big and physically tough all night. On the first day of free agency the Cardinals signed the 33 year old Bethea ($3.4M cap hit this year) and the 35 year old Dansby ($2.25 + incentives cap hit this year)...meanwhile this year's cap hits for Swearinger and Brown---who were signed after the Cardinals signed Bethea and Dansby---are $3.3M and $2.5M respectively...so the Redskins signed the 26 year old Swearinger (who is now their defensive captain) and the 27 year old Brown for basically the same cap hits. Plus, add in Steve Keim's other top 3 UFA K Phil Dawson and this is what Keim bargained for.
Markus Golden played what has to be the most undisciplined OLB/DE performance I have seen in the NFL. At NO point did he ever concern himself with contain. By crashing inside almost every play, he left his side of the field wide open and YET, he KEPT crashing down over and over. Those were gift option runs (1st TD) for Prescott and his unpressured rollouts, the TD to Butler and long pass to Butler to set up the 4th TD (which Honey Badger played so poorly and lethargically).
4. The Cardinals Passing Game
Can Carson Palmer and the Cardinals exploit the Cowboys' secondary? Much will depend on the pass protection. But, the Cowboys' secondary had a rough time handling the Broncos' passing game, often because of Trevor Siemien's mobility. Obviously, Palmer will have to try to beat the Cowboys' secondary from the pocket or off of play action (which may be harder to see if the running game is not clicking). The question too is how healthy the Cardinals WR unit is with John Brown out, J.J. Nelson nursing a hamstring injury and Jaron Brown leaving the Colts' game with a limp. Could we see more from Fitz, Brittan Golden and Chad Williams? Or will we see more attention paid to the TEs (Gresham, Niklas, Momah) and RBs (Johnson, Williams, Ellington) in the passing game this week?
Carson Palmer played his tail off and it's too bad because he was on fire when he was given the time and he did not make his usual 3-4 bad passes in this game. Larry Fitzgerald proved that he still can play any WR spot, as his post fade TD was a work of art. Fitz's juggling catch on the jump ball with Scandrick was extraordinary and yet almost expected by now from Fitz. Jaron Brown almost had a 3 TD night, if it weren't for Veldheer's untimely holding penalty and Brown not getting his first toe inside the back line of the end zine on the last effort. J.J. Nelson had deep pass opportunities, but in a game where Palmer was getting harassed by a 3 man rush...yes a 3 man rush with 8 men in coverage....it was tough to throw the ball deep. Chad Williams had a nice 3rd down conversion and Andre Ellington was very good receiving the ball out of the backfield (and ran hard between the tackles!), although it seemed so surreal to watch him run right past DeMarcus Lawrence on pass routes and not at least put a hand on him. Gresham had some catches, but his blocking was brutally poor...and yet he was signed by Keim at $7.25M a year for 3 years.
5. Special Teams
Who wins the ST's battle in this game? It would appear heading into the game that the Cowboys have the advantage. K Dan Bailey is 5/5 FGs and 3/3 XPTs, while K Phil Dawson is 4/6 and 3/3. P Chris Jones averages 43.1/net 40.8, while P Andy Lee averages 46.2/net 38.3. KR/PR Ryan Switzer: 2 KOs/21.0 ave., 2 PRs/9.5 ave. Kerwynn Williams: 4 KOs/20.3 ave., 2 PRs/3.0 ave. Will the Cardinals' STs take a big step forward this week?
The Cardinals once again showed why they are a mistake waiting to happen on STs. The Cowboys dominated the game on STs. The Dawson miss of a 36 yard chip shot, sucked pretty much all of the great momentum the Cardinals had earned in the 1st quarter out of the stadium. The Cowboys pressured Andy Lee into some short low punts...conversely Chris Jones was booming 56 yarders which were either allowed to bounce or fair caught. Ryan Switzer had a nifty 21 yard punt return. K. Williams and Patrick Peterson got nada. And to show you how badly coached the STs units are, the Cardinals only rushed half-heartedly on Bryant's kicks, if they rushed at all. Peterson once just stood up and didn't rush the edge at all. Meanwhile the Cowboys came close to blocking all of Dawson's. It's efforts like these that win football games
BA and his staff got badly out coached after the 1st quarter. Only one team appeared to be making adjustments.