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Cardinals’ Defense vs. Cowboys’ Offense

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Without question, the Cardinals’ defense is facing its most daunting challenge of the season thus far in trying to slow down the Cowboys’ high octane, star spangled offense.

While 10 year veteran Andy Dalton is getting his first start in the place of his injured teammate, Dak Prescott, Dalton is very capable of keeping the Cowboys’ offense on its impressive roll as the #1 offense in yards per game (488) and #3 offense in points per game (32.6).

Stats:

QB Andy Dalton (73.1): 9/12, 75%, 111 yds, 9.3 ypa, 0 TD, 0 int., 1 sack

RB Ezekiel Elliott (68.7): 87/364/4.1/5 TD/3 fumbles/2 lost, rushing; 24/32, 173, 7.2, 1 TD, receiving.

WR CeeDee Lamb (73.0): 29/40, 433 yds., 14.9 ave., 2 TD

WR Amari Cooper (79.6): 39/55, 424 yds., 10.9 ave., 1 TD

WR Michael Gallup (65.7): 17/28, 348 yds., 20.5 ave., 1 TD

WR Cedrick Wilson: 12/17, 163 yds., 13.6 ave., 2 TD

TE Dalton Schultz (66.3): 19/31, 225 yds., 11.8 ave., 1 TD

Probable Matchups:

Lamb = Murphy (key: leverage and track)

Cooper = P. Peterson (key: leverage and track)

Gallup = Kirkpatrick (key: cushion and track)

Wilson = K.Peterson/Amakumara* (key: leverage and track)

Schultz = Campbell (key: leverage and track)

Elliott = Hicks (key: shadow and track)

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys’ OL:

LT Brandon Knight (60.4, 58/72)

LG Connor Williams (64.5, 30/75)

C Tyler Biadasz (51.7, 30/35)

RG Zack Martin (86.9, 4/75)

RT Terence Steele (54.4, 67/72)

  • Where the Cowboys are weakest is at the tackle and center positions. 2019 CFA Brandon Knight and 2020 CFA Terence Steele are starting in the place of the injured LT Tyron Smith (neck) and RT La’el Collins (hip). 2020 4th Round pick Tyler Biadasz is the heir to Travis Frederick (retired) at center.
  • Cardinals edge rushers: without Chandler Jones, the Cardinals need other players to step up, like the way Dennis Gardeck and Kylie Fitts did against the Jets. However, as Seth Cox has pointed out, Gardeck (foot) and Fitts (hamstring) have not as yet practiced this week. Devon Kennard is practicing, but the practice videos of linebacker drills show that Kennard still appears to be favoring his injured calf. It’s quite possible that Haason Reddick (SAM) and Isaiah Simmons (BANDIT) could be this week’s starters in the 34 base, If Fitts is inactive this week. the Cardinals may need to promote Reggie Walker from the practice squad and recently acquired OLB Isaiah Irving will likely be used in Fitts’ place on STs.
  • Dynamic Trio: Might be rushing Dennis Gardeck and Haason Reddick from the edges and blitzing Isaiah Simmons up the middle, with Jordan Phillips/Angelo Blackson and Zach Allen/Corey Peters rushing from the inside. Or Gardeck and Devon Kennard from the edges with Reddick blitzing up the middle.
  • Would not be surprised: to see Zach Allen and Michael Dogbe used on occasion as nickel rushers.

Advantage: Cardinals

Nutshell Keys:

Keeping Ezekiel Elliott in check on the ground/short passes and exploiting the Cowboys’ weaknesses at tackle and center on passing downs to get consistent pressure on Andy Dalton are the keys to slowing the Cowboys’ high-powered offense down.

As they say, the best defense is having a good offense that keeps the opposing offense off of the field. The Cardinals’ offense, after 5 weeks, is #10 in the NFL in yards per game at 395.4, so that helps the team defense.

What’s a little odd about the Cardinals’ defense thus far is that their collective success has been greater than the individual performances. For example, what Cardinal defenders would you consider as having a good year thus far?

I would say of the players who have played in at least 4 of the 5 games, the only players having good seasons thus far are S Budda Baker, DT Corey Peters, LB De’Vondre Campbell and OLB Haason Reddick. Devon Kennard and Chris Banjo were good in the first 3 games and are now returning. Jordan Hicks as been making a bit of charge recently. Byron Murphy has shown some positive flashes, as has Jordan Phillips on occasion. The key may be the continued emergence of the younger players like Zach Allen, Leki Fotu, Dennis Gardeck, Kylie Fitts, Isaiah Simmons and Jalen Thompson, plus the addition of veteran CB Prince Amakumara.

The most impressive improvement that Vance Joseph has been able to make is in 3rd down conversion percentage.

  • Jospeh’s defense ranked 30th in 3rd down % in 2019 at 46.77 %.
  • Currently the Joseph’s defense ranks 4th at 35.59 %.

While the defense was able to pad that stat with the 30.77 % 3rd down conversion rate the defense held the Jets to, over its last 3 games (which include the losses to the Lions and Panthers) the percentage has risen to 41.67 %.

The 3rd down conversion % versus the Lions and Panthers was 11/23, nearly 50%. And on 4th downs conversions the Lions and Panthers were 2/2 (100%) combined.

The 3rd down and 4th down conversion percentages have been the key stat in all 3 of the Cardinals’ wins:

W1 @ SF: Cardinals: 7-14 (3rd downs), 0-0 (4th downs)—-49ers: 2-11 (3rd), 0-2 (4th)

W2 vs, WAS: Cardinals: 7-17, 2-2—-Football Team: 4-12, 1-1.

W5 @ NYJ: Cardinals 5-12, 1-1—-Jets: 4-13, 0-2.

Furthermore, it could help in a big way of the Cardinals’ defense can improve the team’s turnover differential which currently is -4 (26th in NFL).

The Cowboys’ turnover differential is -8 (32nd).

Summary:

3rd and 4th down conversions and turnovers—-are likely to determine the outcome of the Cardinals vs. Cowboys game.

How confident are you in the Cardinals’ chances on defense versus the Cowboys? Do you think they could surprise?