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Week 17 Preview: Cardinals v Cowboys

The Arizona Cardinals attempts to stop a 3-game slide.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Arizona Cardinals travel to face the Dallas Cowboys. This is a big-time game with playoff implications. A win keeps the Cardinals within arm’s reach of the Rams for the divisional title and adds a loss to the Cowboys' record. As a result, drops the Cowboys in the standings altering potential playoff matchups.

Some reinforcement is on the way with veteran center Rodney Hudson returning from the Covid-19/reserve list. Hudson’s return provides a security blanket on the interior offensive line for Kyler Murray. Max Garcia has been abysmal at the center position and close to that playing guard also. Covid giveth back and Covid taketh away. Starting LT, D.J. Humphries is out due to Covid-19 protocols.

Facing one of the best rushing units in the league, missing your top OT is not ideal. Per Kliff Kingsbury, offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum, Joshua Miles, and Josh Jones could replace the starting left tackle on Sunday. Beachum has experience at RT throughout his career. Humphries's absence will have a trickle-down effect. If Beachum moves to the left side, Josh Jones could start the game at RT. Leaving Max Garcia or Sean Harlow to man the RG spot.

The offensive line must come out ready to take the fight to Dallas’ defensive front. Defensive Rookie of the Year shoo-in, Micah Parsons is having a tremendous season. Protecting Murray from Parsons, Randy Gregory, and DeMarcus Lawrence will be the telltale of this game.

Establishing the inside zone with Chase Edmonds (Conner is a game-time decision) will help keep this defense honest. Running the football allows the OL to become predators instead of prey. They are firing off the ball and leaning on the DL, rather than retreating in pass protection 40 times. As a result, the play-action pass will open opportunities downfield for Murray.

Trevon Diggs leads the NFL with 11 interceptions. He will make you pay for testing him in coverage. That being said, his propensity to squat on underneath routes leaves him vulnerable to double moves downfield. As seen below.

If Rondale Moore is active before the game, he is a candidate to run those explosive stop/start routes in Diggs' direction. Feature Zach Ertz against this cover-3 zone defense. Kingsbury can design quick routes into the zone’s soft areas.

Defensively, we must force the Cowboys to be one-dimensional by taking away the running game early on. Remove their ability to operate with the threat of play-action passing. Dak has been uber-efficient with play-action.

Their offensive passing attack is difficult to contain without the running game. Amari Cooper, Dalton Schultz, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb present a dangerous receiving group for Prescott. The Cardinals secondary will be without rookie Marco Wilson and Robert Alford (IR). Vance Joseph will need to design pressure packages and coverages to limit explosive plays downfield. Also, do not continue being reliant on the “bend, don’t break” philosophy.

Is this a steep hill for a shorthanded Cardinals team to climb? Of course, it is not impossible. Kliff Kingsbury must find ways to generate explosive plays in the running game and passing game. Anthony Brown is the Cowboys' worst cornerback, isolate and exploit his weakness in coverage.

This is an opportunity to prove this team are contenders and not pretenders.