The Arizona Cardinals were slated to face their biggest offensive test so far this season in the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.
That all changed, however, in the third quarter of the Cowboys’ game against the New York Giants on Sunday.
Dallas was able to manufacture its second win of the season but paid the ultimate price with Cowboys starting quarterback Dak Prescott going down with a gruesome ankle injury. His season is over after undergoing successful surgery Sunday night.
It ends an impressive start to the season for Prescott. The QB still ranks first in the league in passing yards (1,856) by more than 200 yards and sits ninth with nine touchdowns on the year.
Led by Prescott, the Cowboys have accumulated the second-most points in the NFL (169) and have averaged the most passing yards per game with 381.4. The offense as a whole is tops in the league with 488 yards per game.
With the QB sidelined, the fate of the offense is rested upon backup signal caller Andy Dalton’s shoulders.
Replacing Prescott on Sunday, Dalton fired off 11 passes, completing nine of them (81.8%) for 111 yards. He was also sacked once.
In three career games against the Cardinals, Dalton is 1-2 as a starter. Granted, he was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, but in those three games, the Red Rifle completed 67 of his 108 passes for six touchdowns. He didn’t record an interception, but fumbled three times and was sacked seven times. In the Week 5 matchup against Arizona last season, Dalton registered 262 yards and two scores on 71% passing (27-of-38) in the Bengals’ 26-23 loss.
This time around is quite a bit different, though, as Dalton dons a star instead of stripes on his helmet now, and has a plethora of offensive weapons that he didn’t have in Cincinnati. Especially in the wide receivers room.
The combination of Amari Cooper, rookie CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup could easily be considered one of the best trios in the NFL right now.
Lamb paces his teammates with 433 yards (sixth in the NFL) and two scores on 29 catches. Lamb has quickly become the go-to guy for the Cowboys, ranking first in the NFL in slot receiving yards (396) and leads all rookies with 20 first-down receptions.
Cooper ranks seventh in the league with 424 yards and a score on 39 receptions, while Gallup is 20th among pass catchers with 348 yards and a TD on 17 catches. The group’s ability to stretch the field has been on display, with Lamb (9), Gallup (6) and Cooper (4) tallying 19 plays of at least 20 receiving yards. All told, the trio has accounted for 57 first downs.
In the backfield sits starting running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott currently ranks second among NFL rushers with five touchdowns on the ground and seventh in rushing yards with 364. He’s averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
The knock on Elliott this season has been his ball security through five games. Elliott is tied with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady for the most fumbles in the NFL with three.
But Dalton is no Dak, putting the success of the both the passing game and running attack in flux.
Instead of the quick-moving Prescott, the Cardinals get yet another stationary QB in back-to-back weeks.
And even without linebacker Chandler Jones in the fold on Monday night, the Cardinals defense is in a position to have similar success against Dalton as they did against the Jets’ Joe Flacco. Flacco was sacked twice in the outing, tossing less than 200 yards and just one score in the loss. Wide receiver Jeff Smith was also sacked.
It doesn’t bode well for a Dallas team that lost an elusive QB and starting left tackle Tyron Smith for the season in the matter of a three days. The injuries add to a laundry list of Dallas offensive linemen either hurt or retired since March.
But as good as Dallas’ offense was under Prescott, the Cowboys’ Achilles heel has been their atrocious play defensively.
Dallas’ defense has allowed at least 37 points to opposing offenses over the last four weeks of play, including a 49-burger to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4.
The defense made the Giants, who are one of the worst teams in the league offensively and is without starting running back Saquon Barkley for the season, look like a capable offense with a season-high 34 points. Heading into the matchup, the Giants had combined for 47 points through four weeks of play. The Cowboys have allowed the most points in the NFL with 180.
Additionally, Dallas hasn’t been opportunistic in takeaways this season, with just an interception and two fumbles to its name in 2020. It ranks second-to-last in the NFL in turnovers.
Help could be on the way in the form of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who could be back on the field Monday night after suffering a broken collarbone earlier in the season. In two seasons heading into 2020, Vander Esch recorded 212 tackles, three for losses, 10 pass deflections, 0.5 sacks, a forced fumble and two QB hits. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, it’s going to take more than the LB to pick up the pieces of the defense in shambles.
It’s safe to say the Cardinals enter their primetime matchup as the favorite against a reeling Cowboys team without their star QB and a defense that has been gashed regularly by opposing offenses. There’s no better time to start a winning streak than on Monday Night Football.