In their first full game without franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys -- now led by former Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton -- suffered a 38-10 home defeat against the Arizona Cardinals on "Monday Night Football" to close out Week 6.
Led by native Texan QB Kyler Murray, who had never lost at AT&T Stadium in high school or college, the Cardinals just had too much on both sides of the ball for a depleted and shell-shocked looking Cowboys team.
Murray didn't have his best day throwing the football either, completing just over a third of his passes (9-of-24). For most QBs this would usually indicate a poor performance; not for Murray, though. The diminutive Cardinals' star found receiver Christian Kirk for two touchdowns, rushed for 74 yards and a TD himself, and Murray didn't commit any turnovers.
The real star of the show for the Cardinals was running back Kenyan Drake, who finished with 164 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Drake started this season slow, but Monday's performance could be a positive sign of things to come.
Without the league's most productive QB, the Cowboys struggled to convert on third downs all too often, and the late-fourth quarter "garbage time" touchdown pass from Dalton to receiver Amari Cooper did little to improve the spirits of Cowboys fans.
The Cardinals were by far and away the better team, and everybody knew it by the time this one was over. Let's take a look at five takeaways from this NFC matchup.
5. Filling Dak Prescott's shoes is going to be just as impossible as expected for the Cowboys
It'll hardly be a surprise for anyone to read, but I have to mention that Andy Dalton struggled to fill Dak Prescott's boots on MNF.
Give the guy credit where it is due: Dalton toughed it out in the pocket, throwing the ball often and getting hit often. He finished the game 34 of 54 for 266 yards through the air. At the very least, this game will have served as great practice for the man now tasked with taking the Cowboys to the playoffs.
Up against a talented, confident Cardinals defense, however, Dalton did throw two picks, and his one touchdown came when the game had already been decided.
I don't wish to hang Dalton out to dry; it's just that anyone who watched the game could see that the Cowboys receivers missed Prescott's more dynamic and fearless approach. That's why one of the league's most exciting and productive offenses had to wait until the fourth quarter before getting into the end zone.
4. Cardinals' opponents needs to game plan for Budda Baker
The Cardinals had a great day on defense against the Cowboys. All facets flowed together: the pass rush was consistent; the coverage tight, the intensity noticeable from the start, and they finished the game with four turnovers.
So it feels unfair to pick out just one player for praise, but can we all just take a moment to acknowledge that Budda Baker is one of the league's best safeties?
Baker's uncanny ability to position himself in the thick of the action led him to finish with seven tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one sack and an interception.
Any opponent of the Cardinals -- they play the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7 -- had better factor Baker's presence into their offensive schemes. His omnipresent style will be a problem for anyone, even league MVP front-runner Russell Wilson.
3. The Cowboys' playmakers went missing
Dalton wasn't the only reason the Cowboys' offense struggled on Monday night. Big names were expected to stand up in the absence of Prescott and carry the mantle, but too many of them disappeared.
Running back Ezekiel Elliot coughed the ball up twice in one game for the first time in his pro career. Wide receiver Micheal Gallup had a night to forget; he caught just two of six targets and dropped a dime of a pass from Dalton in the end zone.
2. The Cardinals' running game is a legit threat
Coming into this Week 6 clash, people were beginning to question the offensive production of Arizona running back Kenyan Drake.
There was some belief that he was a goal-line threat but lacked the ability to consistently post up big numbers -- this coming after the Alabama product had failed to run for more than 100 yards in any of Arizona's first five games.
Now Drake sits fourth in the NFL in rushing, and suddenly the Cardinals are a real threat on the ground. Funny what just one week can do.
The Cowboys' defense simply couldn't cope as they allowed Drake to help himself to two TDs and 164 yards on the ground (8.2 yards per carry).
Cardinals' fans will hope their top back is now able to consistently put these kinds of performances up against some of the league's far-sterner defenses.
1. The Cowboys' defense is not very good
Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith played his heart out and finished the game with 10 solo tackles, so he's exempt from this critique.
Take Smith out of this Cowboys' defense, though, and I'm afraid there's just not that much to like about this unit.
It's not that they're terrible ... it's not even that they're bad' ... they're just not very good.
The Cowboys struggled to get ahold of Cardinals QB Kyler Murray, getting to him just once for a sack. The edge rushers and linebackers need to up the pass rush going forward.
Dallas was able to defend well as a unit for large parts of the night. They just didn't seem to have enough talent out there to come up with big plays on defense, not forcing any turnovers.
The Cowboys' inability to defend is ultimately what would have cost them a genuine chance at the Super Bowl this year even if Dak had stayed healthy.
Can anyone tell me the last time a team conceding a league-high 36 points per game made a run at the championship?
Perhaps this is something Jerry Jones will look to address during the offseason ... unless a flashy wide receiver becomes available, I mean.Published 22 Oct 2020, 23:27 IST