Setting the Stage:
Cards won a squeaker over Philly. The Cowboys lost a close contest to the Washington Native Americans. Cards are now 6 & 1. "Pokes are now 5 & 2. For the Cards, this game will be on the road. They'll have a one-day practice-edge over the Cowboys (who are coming off a MNF loss). Card players figure to get more media hype (& distractions) this week. Dallas players figure to get a bit less. Story this week coming out of Dallas figures to be the condition of Tony Romo's back. Competitively, this game figures to be an"audience-grabber."
Opponents' Last Game:
Cowboys lost a 20 - 17 overtime squeaker to Washington. The lead went back and forth with the contest tied 10 - 10 at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Dallas received. TB on the KO. They moved to their 36 after a 14-yard completion to Whitten, but Merryweather's (minus-12 yard) sack of Romo ended the drive at their own 29. Jones' punt was returned to the Dallas 48. A 20-yard McCoy to Paul completion moved Washington to the Dallas 25, but the drive stalled at the Dallas 29 and Washington settled for a 44-yard Forbath FG. Washington 3 - Dallas 0.
KO was returned 18-yards by Harris to the Dallas 15. They managed to move to the Washington 42 but another sack of Romo (this one for minus-11) forced Dallas to punt from its own 47. Ball was fair caught at the Washington 8. An 18-yard pass from McCoy to Desean Jackson moved Washington out to their own 26, but they then had to punt four plays later. Punt was returned for no gain at the Dallas 19. A penalty moved Dallas back to their own 9. Two plays later, Randle gained 12 yards around left end but fumbled. Washington recovered. Their ball on the Dallas 25. Two plays later, McCoy's pass for Roberts was intercepted by Wilcox in the end zone. Dallas moved to its own 29 in three plays to end the quarter.
First Quarter Score: Washington 3 - Dallas 0.
Dallas moved to the Washington 44 in three plays but on the 7th play of their possession, Romo completed a 36-yard pass to Murray who coughed up the ball. Washington (Merriweather) recovered. Washington ball on their own 10-yard line. A 49-yard completion to Desean Jackson moved the ball to the Dallas 38, but an unsportsmanlike penalty on Washington helped kill the drive. Way's punt went into the end zone. Dallas took over at their 20. Runs by Murray, a 24-yard completion to Murray and a 15-yard pass to T. Williams helpted set up a 5-yard TD pass to Dez Bryant. Cowboys 7 - Washington 3.
4:45 till halftime. TB on the KO. They made it out to the Dallas 49 but the drive stalled after 7 plays. Way's punt was fair caught at the Dallas 12 with 1:42 left on the clock. The quarter ended at the Dallas 44 where Romo was sacked (again) for minus-12 yards.
First Half Score: Cowboys 7 - Washington 3.
Washington received - TB on the KO. Washington started out this drive by running a lot - a scramble by McCoy followed by two runs by Morris, Helu up the middle, a rare pass short-left to Desean Jackson, two penalties, Helu up the middle again, a short-right pass to Garcon and, the coup de gras - Morris up the middle for a 5-yard TD. Washington 10 - Dallas 7.
Harris returned the KO to the Dallas 22. The Cowboys pecked their way to their 37 but two plays later, Romo got sacked for minus-12 yards, suffered a back contusion and left the game. Jones' punt went out of bounds at the Washington 20. Dallas defense held them to 3 & out. Way's punt was returned 18-yards by D Harris to the Dallas 43. First play of the Dallas possession was a sparkling 51-yard run by Murray. The ball was now inside the Washington 6, but the Cowboys couldn't punch it in and had to settle for a 21-yard Bailey FG. to tie the score. Washington 10 - Dallas 10.
TB on the KO. McCoy mixed short passes and runs to move the Cowboys from their own 20 to the Washington 47. He then hit Desean Jackson for 25-yards on a deep-out to end the quarter.
Third Quarter Score: Washington 10 - Cowboys 10..
Washington ball all the way down to the Dallas 8. On the third play of the quarter, McCoy ran it up the middle for a 7-yard TD. (Scandrick was injured and his return questionable). Washington 17 - Dallas 10.
TB on the KO (Romo still not back yet). Weeden was effective mixing short stuff with running plays. Two plays after Murray picked up 23-yards on a screen, Weeden hit Whitten short-right and the Cowboy TE took it in for the score. Game all tied up again. Washington 17 - Dallas 17.
Plenty of time (9:27). TB on the KO. Washington started out with four straight running plays and managed to drain 7:27 off the clock in 15 plays. Mincey's (minus-4 yard) sack of McCoy forced Wash to punt from their own 41 after the 2-minute time out. Punt was downed at the Dallas 3. Romo back in, managed to move the Dallas offense to his own 22 before running out of downs. Washington got the ball back at their own 31 for one play, but McCoy took a knee and we went into overtime.
Fourth Quarter Score: Washington 17 - Dallas 17.
Washington won the toss and Bailey kicked off through the end zone. McCoy hit Garcon for 23 yards (over Wilcox). A pass tto Reed picked up +16 and helped set up a 40-yard Forbath FG try. Kick was good. Washington 20 - Dallas 17.
Dallas went 4 & out. Game over.
Final Score Washington 20 - Dallas 17:
Season stats give you a snap shot of what a team does best and worst (and what it likes to do most or least). Game stats give you an idea of what a team is doing "lately."
Romo went 17 for 28, 209 yards a TD with no interceptions. (Weeden - in his brief appearance - went 4 for 6 for 69 yards and a TD. (No interceptions).
Williams led all Dallas receivers in catches with 6 followed by Whitten (5), Murray (4) and Bryant (3). Whitten and Bryant each had a receiving TD..
Murray racked up 141 rushing yards on 19 carries. (7.4 yards per carry).
Despite Murray's dominating numbers, Dallas' run-to-pass ratio was Runs:19/Passes: 34.
Dallas Turnover Ratio was -1 with Murray and Randle losing fumbles (no fumbles were coughed up by Washington) and McCoy throwing one pick (Dallas QB's were interceptions-free).
Dallas sacked McCoy three times (Melton twice and Wilcox once). Dallas QB's gave up 5 sacks (including two by Merryweather).
Durant led the team in tackles with 10 followed by Wilcox and McClain with 7 apiece. Church had 6.
Dallas piled up 166 rushing yards (vs. 123 by Washington).
Washington led in average yards per pass play with 8.7 (vs. 5.7 for Dallas).
Dallas was only penalized three times (vs. 6 flags on Washington).
Washington buried Dallas in Time of Possession 38:12 to 28:37 (surprising when you consider Dallas running dominance, fewer penalties and only a minus-1 Turnover Ratio). Maybe it had something to do with the 3 extra sacks and/or Washington's longer passing yards per attempt.
What the Season Stats Do (or Don't) Tell Us
The Dallas offense centers around their running attack (Murray), an experienced QB (Romo), their starting TE (Whitten) and a young, improving OL. They've run into trouble when they've drifted away from Murray. Last week, Washington overwhelmed Romo with a lot of stunts and blitzes with one hit forcing out of him out of part of the game. On defense, Marinelli has the Cowboys playing sound, mistake-free, "team defense" that stresses sound fundamentals and good position-play over the occasional big play. This has allowed Murray and the Cowboy offense to take over and win 6 of 8 contests.
Dallas QB's have completed 169 of 248 passes for 6 TD's, 8 interceptions and 8.3 ypc. (Opposing pass catchers are averaging 7.4 ypc)
Dallas has 50% more rushing first downs than its opponents
They're converting twice as many third downs as their opponents.
They've racked up 400 more total yards than opposing offenses.
They've gained 1,284 rushing yards (compared to 917 for the opposition). Murray (5.1 ypc) has already amassed 1054 rushing yards with the season less than half over.
Dallas has dialed up 260 rushing plays (vs. their opponents' 192).
But, although they run more than they pass, Dallas is fairly even with their opponents with 7 rushing TD's but lead in passing TD's: 16 to 11.
Dallas opponents have scored 3 defensive TD's. (Dallas defenders have posted zero).
Dallas pass rushers have piled up 17 sacks (while their pass blockers have given up 10).
Dallas has a minus-2 turnover ratio.
They lead their oppontents in Time of Possession with 33:50 (vs. 27:55).
Dez Bryant is their big dawg receiver with 48 catches (& 5 YD's). Whitten (28) is second; Murray (26) is third. Terrance Williams (25) is fourth.
Bailey is 15 for 16 in FG's (missing just one from outside the 50).
Dallas punted 26 times (Their opponents punted 33). Roughly one-third of Jones' punts fell inside the 20 (compared to 50% by opposing punters).
Durant leads the Cowboys with 49 tackles but may be out on Sunday. Their FS Church is the 2nd leading tackler with 47 followed by their MLB R McClain with 38 and their SS Wilcox with 34. Five more defenders have tackle-totals in the 20's.
Melton leads the Cowboys in sacks with 3. Six other Dallas players have 0.5 - 1.0 sacks.
R McClain has 2 interceptions. Six other Cowboys have one.
Cowboy depth chart terminology suggests a base offense with 2 TE's and a FB. But Dallas carries a total of only 3 TE's and a FB (i.e. not a lot of depth here). On defense, it looks like they line up in a base 4-3 with SAM, MIKE and WILL linebackers along with a FS and a SS.
WR....88 Bryant...........11 Beasley.............15 Street
TE......84 Hanna..........89 Escobar
LT 77 T Smith.........67 Hills..................71 Hawkins
LG 65 Leary.............73 Bernadau
C 72 Frederick
RG 70 Z Martin
RT 68 Free...............78 Parnell
TE 82 Whitten
WR...83 Ter Williams...17 D Harris
QB....09 Romo............03 Weeden...........10 Vaughan
RB 29 Murray...........25 Dunbar.............21 Randle
DE 95 Kelly...........96 K,Martin
NT 92 D. Williams 66 Ta'amu
DT 98 Rucker 72 Stinson
SLB 57 Okafor........53 Keiser
ILB 50 Foote..........54 Demens
ILB 51 Minter..........97 Alexander 56 Carson
WLB 94 Acho...........59 Benard
LCB 21 Peterson.....28 Bethel
RCB 31 Cromartie....25 Powers
SS 22 Jefferson.....36 Bucannon
FS 32 Mathieu.......26 R. Johnson
Matchup: Cowboy Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
It's not a 100% lock that Romo will play Sunday. If he does, he is very adept at pulling rabbits out of the hat - especially late in games. But one noticeable thing I saw in the Washington game was that - even before his injury - Washington was very adept at preventing him from spinning his way out of trouble. (It looked like a physical sort of thing). If "Romo can't gomo", it will be up to the young, less-spectacular Weeden (who looked good in his brief showing Sunday, completing 4 of 6; one for a TD).
On the receiving end, their key go-to guy is Bryant (but the equally-gifted, less-seasoned Williams is the team's 4th leading receiver and can't be ignored. The key man to watch, however, is their TE (& Cardinal killer) Whitten. And Murray is no slouch on screens or coming out of the backfield. The Dallas offensive line is said to be in the midst of a Renassaince; improving from week to week. But last week, they seemed confused by Washington's stunts and blitzes and almost got Romo killed back there. No doubt the Dallas coaches will devote a lot of time toward fixing this (especially since the Cardinal defense has the highest blitz-percentage of any NFL defense).
Judging by what we did vs. the Eagles, it looks like Todd Bowles has fallen in love with "zero-coverage. The key to its success is to get to the Dallas QB before he can locate and throw to an open man - a terrific strategy unless the QB and his receivers can beat it (Then it becomes a very long day - remember that Maclin did to us). It will be up to our pass rushers to get there time and our DB's to do their jobs in coverage. Note - Peterson (concussion)-protocol) is expected to play Sunday.
Key Matchups: Peterson or Cromartie vs. Bryant. Jefferson or R Johnson vs. Whitten. Cardinal "blitz commitee" vs. Dallas pass blockers (especially up the A-Gap).
Matchup: Cowboy Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
We mustn't forget that Jason Garrett comes out of the Bill Parcells coaching tree, and Parcells would not be shy about resorting to "smashmouth" if he felt all other options were unavailable (His thinking: "If we can dominate our foe "hat on hat", other issues - like play-calling and athletic matchups - won't matter. We don't have to "think." All we have to do is line 'er up and knock them on their butts"). If Romo can't go (or even if he can), don't be surprised if Garrett resorts to "ground & pound" amd hands the leather to Murray 30 or more times Sunday.
It will be up to the highly ranked Cardinal run-defense to stop the NFL's top-rated running attack. It faces two challenges - (First stop the run and even if we do that, don't wear down down the homestretch..
Key Matchup: Murray vs. Cardinal ILB's and safeties. Cardinal Front Seven vs. Cowboy run blockers.
WR1 11 Fitzgerald....19 Ginn...............13 John Brown
LT 68 Veldheer......79 Sowell
LG 62 Larsen..., ....61 Cooper
C 63 Sendlein......62 Larsen
RG 74 Fanaika.......78 Watford
RT 70 Massie........79 Sowell
TE 87 Niklas..........85 Fells
WR2 15 M. Floyd.....13 Jaron Brown
QB 03 Palmer........05 Stanton.........06 Thomas
RB 38 Ellington.....30 Taylor.............39 Hughes....34 Parmele
TE 89 Carlson.......84 Housler
LDE....98 T Crawford...99 Selvie.......58 J Crawford
DT......96 Hayden.........97 T McClain
DT......69 Melton..........60 Coleman
RDE...92 Mincey.........93 Spencer....95 Edwards
SLB...54 Carter...........51 Wilber.......53 Lawrence
MLB..55 R McClain....59 Hitchens
WLB (52 Durant).........43 K Smith
LCB 39 Carr..............26 Moore
RCB..32 Scandrick.....20 Patmon
FS 42 Church.........37 Spillman
SS.....27 Wilcox...........38 Heath.......23 Hamilton
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Cowboy Pass Defense
The thing that jumps out at you about the Cardinal passing offense is the variety of weapons at Carson Palmer's disposal: Three wideouts (Fitz, Floyd and Brown), Ellington out of the backfield. Even Carlson (when he's at his best). The key to all this is keeping Palmer safe while at the same time giving our receivers enough time to get open.
Two potential "monkey-wrenches: (1) Consistency from he OL and (2) better jump ball consistency from Floyd and Carlson.
Statistically, the Dallas defense (while a pleasant surprise under Marinelli's wing) hasn't been all that spectacular in the big play dept. (most notably, sacks or turnovers); but he has got his guys playing sound, position-sound, blue-collar, "keep it close" football. Cowboy's top defender, WLB Durant may not be good to go on Sunday and it could further hamper their pass rush. Their veteran corner (Scandrick) left the game last Sunday due to injury but his status isn't listed yet in recent injury reports.
Key Matchup: Fitz, Floyd and The Smokester vs. Scandrick (?), Carr, Moore and/or Patmon. Ellington vs. Church.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Cowboy Run Defense
Coach Arians isn't afraid to run Ellington early and often (like he did vs. Oakland) but this may be the week where Ellington becomes more of a 4th or 5th receiving threat out of the backfield than as a runner. (Ellingtom's role will depend on how Arians views the individual matchups. One guy on Dallas to keep an eye on is their DT Melton who was a former Longhorn fullback. He can be a disruptive force in the interior. Regardless of game-strategy, look for Arians to run Ellington enough to scare Dallas defenders from focusing 100% on nailing Palmer.
In recent games, BA has tested early, Ellington's effectiveness at beating opponents to either perimeter and turning the corner. Expect him to do likewise vs. Dallas.
Key Matchup: Ellington vs. McClain (inside) or vs. Mincey or Smith (outside).
P 06 C Jones
K 05 Bailey
H 06 C Jones
LS 91 LaDouceur
KR 17 D Harris
PR 17 D Harris
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 82 Leach
KR 19 Ginn 12 John Brown
PR 19 Ginn 21 Peterson 12 John Brown
Matchup: Cowboy Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
No major matchup advantages in either direction. Ginn remains an ever-present threat, but banking on him to break one long is kind of like expecting to win the Trifecta. Harris has shown consistent (if not spectacular) effectiveness attaining positive yardage on both kickoff and punt returns. Jones hasn't been all that consistent avoiding touchbacks or dropping punts inside the 20, but Butler is no Zastudil either.
Key matchups: Nothing that leaps out (though Ginn could surprise).
Garrett is facing a barrage of questions from the media about whether he should have let Romo return to the field after injuring his back in the Washington game. And, as always, he has to deal with "Jerry's World" featuring the ever-present Jerry Jones (who loves microphones and cameras). It's amazing how effectively Jason has been able to operate under the shadow of so "active" and "media savvy"an owner.
Bruce Arians' name is now being bandied about by the media as a possible Presidential candidate (Just kidding - maybe just "Coach of the Year"). Thus far this season, BA (who's no doubt "seen it all" during his long career) has been able to keep things in their proper perspective (i.e. "one game at a time", "nose to the grindstone" etc.). Till now, he's had to tell his team how he feels they should handle success and then hope that his players will buy-in. Now - with all the media attention heading his way - he finally has the opportunity to lead by his own actions rather than just words.
Just one more NFL contest between the Cardinals and "Team #8" on their schedule. Mid-week preparation should be simply a matter of reviewing and analyzing game tape, figuring out how to attack Team #8's strengths and weaknesses and ignoring all the Jerry's World hoopla pouring out of the Dallas media-spiggot. It's all about getting his guys ready to play Cardinal football Sunday. True, with each succeeding week, the stakes(& the media hype) keep getting higher; but the only thing the team can control is how well it plays against "next week's opponent" (who happens to be Dallas...on the road). Just another business trip - go git 'em!