Our beloved Dallas Cowboys are back atop the NFC East, winners of 4 straight games, and are now widely being pegged as division winners and playoff contenders. All is right in the world at last! Up next are the 4-7 Arizona Cardinals. Looks like a fifth straight win and smooth sailing on the road to the Super Bowl, right? Not so fast.
While on paper this game should be a cake walk, it has all the makings of a classic trap game. Like most Cowboy fans, I would love nothing more than a complete blowout of the hapless Cardinals, but there are things worth pausing and considering before assuming the Cowboys move to 8-4 on the season:
- It’s the NFL. Players and coaches will tell you that at this level every win is hard fought despite what the final score is – especially on the road.
- The Cowboys last win in Arizona was in 2006. They’ve lost the last 2 times including the 30-24 overtime loss in 2008 on a blocked punt (and broken foot for McBriar) and last year’s 27-26 loss to a then 4-10 Cardinals team. Most teams play a little harder against “America’s Team” but having once been in the same division, the Cardinals always seem to deliver an exceptional effort against the Cowboys. It may not be enough but expect another superior effort on Sunday.
- It’s December. Tony Romo may be “Mr. November” but the twelfth month of the year has not historically been kind to him or the Cowboys.
- Beanie Wells had a breakout game last week setting a franchise record with 228 rushing yards. That could be considered an anomaly based on the Cardinals’ rushing game being ranked 19th in the league, but they are averaging 4.5 yards per carry. That’s exactly the same as the much improved Cowboys run game. On the other side of the ball, Dallas has the 10th best rushing defense based on average yards per game. But, that statistic masks the fact that they drop to 17th on average yards per carry and are only 7th in terms of attempts per game. Teams appear to be able to run on our defense but are not trying as often as they probably should. Don’t overlook the fact that this same defense gave up 185 yards to LeSean McCoy (6.2 avg.), 135 yards to Marshawn Lynch (5.9 avg.), and 114 yards to Fred Jackson (8.8 avg.) before limiting Reggie Bush to 65 yards on Thanksgiving. If Beanie’s knee isn’t too sore (let’s hope it is), he could have another better than average day.
- It appears that Kevin Kolb will return as the Cardinals starting QB against the Cowboys. While that doesn’t strike any fear in the hearts of most Cowboy fans, we would do well to remember that despite his early struggles before his foot injury, this guy could play the position well enough to warrant a blockbuster trade. Despite not playing, he’s had all this time to become better acquainted with the offense that he was thrown into without the benefit of an off season. I’d be as surprised as anyone if he came back and lit the Cowboys up, but with the Cowboys luck it is always a possibility he plays the hero in his own comeback story at our expense.
- The Cardinals have Patrick Peterson. While I hope the Cowboys won’t be foolish enough to kick it directly to him, this dude is a playmaker and can change a game with one play. The Rams tried to keep it away from him last week but were burned for the 2nd time this season. Add to that fact that our kick coverage has not been stellar overall and it is a potentially scary outcome.
- While not household names by any means, the Cardinals defense has some up and coming players. Sam Acho has replaced an aging Terry Porter and has 5 sacks in 5 starts including a 2 sack, 2 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery performance last week. While our offensive line play seems to be improved somewhat this season, they’ve had some bad games. We will need to keep Tony Romo upright and his ability to escape pressure alone has saved quite a few sacks of late. Our line will need to play well and account for Acho and for Defensive End Calais Campbell (5 sacks) on every play.
On the plus side, there is a chance that Miles Austin returns for this game (although what that does to a very productive Laurent Robinson remains to be seen), and the Cowboys signed fullback Shaun Chapas from the practice squad this week to replace Tony Fiammetta. Having a true fullback should help create bigger openings for DeMarco Murray. Having a solid ground attack will reduce the pressure on Romo and the offensive line.
No doubt, I expect the Cowboys to win. But as any longtime Cowboy fan knows just when things start to fall into place and every pundit is predicting a string of wins, that is precisely when things inexplicably go wrong. Let’s hope that is not the case this week.
Tags: Arizona Cardinals Calais Campbell Dallas Cowboys Defense DeMarco Murray Fred Jackson Game Preview Laurent Robinson LeSean McCoy Marshawn Lynch Mat McBriar Miles Austin Rush Defense Sam Acho Shaun Chapas Tony Romo