By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – The Arizona Cardinals have the highest winning
percentage in the conference and are looking down on the rest of the NFC West.
The division-leading Cardinals are coming off a big win last weekend and look
to stay the course Sunday against another NFC foe, the Dallas Cowboys, in the
spacious confines of AT&T Stadium.
Arizona is two games ahead of San Francisco and Seattle in the division, and
sweated out a 24-20 home victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. After the
Eagles took a 20-17 lead on a Cody Parkey 20-yard field goal with less than
two minutes to go in the game, the Cardinals showed poise and quarterback
Carson Palmer chucked a 75-yard touchdown pass to John Brown for the final
margin with 1:21 to go.
The Eagles made it interesting in the waning moments and had a few shots at
the end zone, as Nick Foles’ completed pass to Jordan Matthews in the corner
of the end zone was out of bounds. Philadelphia racked up 521 yards of
offense, but the Cardinals’ defense stood strong when it counted.
“You’ve got to play for the win or you play for the loss,” Cardinals defensive
coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We were playing for the win.”
Philadelphia entered the game with a perfect 11-0 record when leading after
three quarters under head coach Chip Kelly.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians described his players as “survivors.”
“We find a way to win. It’s not always pretty.”
Arians is 16-7 as head coach of the Cardinals.
Arizona is 6-1 on the season and riding a three-game winning streak. A win on
Sunday in Big D would tie the best start to a season in franchise lore.
The Cardinals still have some work to do on both sides of the ball and are
32nd against the pass (302.9), 29th in sacks (7.0) and 24th in yards allowed
(380.7). However, the Cardinals are second in the NFL in turnover ratio at
plus-9 and sit third with 10 interceptions.
Arizona won four in a row last season from Oct. 27 – Nov. 24, and is 13-3 in
the past 16 games. It has a 4-0 mark in conference action this season..
Dallas is 4-2 against the NFC and that second loss came against the NFC East-
rival Washington Redskins Monday night. Kai Forbath nailed a 40-yard field
goal in overtime and Washington shocked the hottest team in the NFL.
The Cowboys were riding a six-game winning streak and hadn’t lost since a
season-opening defeat to San Francisco. The 17 points scored matched that
28-17 setback to the 49ers in Week 1.
But the big news from the primetime loss was the back issue with quarterback
Tony Romo. Romo is recovering from offseason back surgery and left the game
early in the third quarter after a sack by ‘Skins linebacker Keenan Robinson.
Robinson appeared to inadvertently knee Romo in his surgically-repaired back,
and the Walter Payton Award winner twisted as he went to the ground.
Romo remained on the turf in obvious pain for several minutes before being
helped to the locker room. Backup QB Brandon Weeden took over and led the
Cowboys to 10 points before Romo was allowed back in the game by doctors and
staff. The Willis Reed-moment came up short and Romo underwent more tests.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett anticipates Romo will be “ready to go”
against the Cardinals and said that his team has to move on.
“We’ve got to put this one behind us quickly and get ready for the next
challenge,” Garrett said. “Regardless of what the outcome is, you’ve got to
get on to the next one.”
Romo, who’s been listed as a day-by-day approach and underwent CT scans, is
1-2 as a starter against the Cardinals and has completed 72-of-109 passes for
928 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions with a 110.0 QB rating. Weeden
will once again handle the majority of snaps during practice, which isn’t
anything new due to the nature of Romo’s healing back.
“If it turns out to be just pain tolerance, I will play … that part of it
has never been an issue,” Romo said. “But, you know, we’ve got to wait and
Dallas, which remains alone in first place in the NFC East, has lost three in
a row to the Cardinals and is 55-31-1 all-time in this series between former
division foes. The Cardinals have lost 14 straight regular-season matchups at
Dallas dating back to the 1989 campaign.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
What is becoming a broken record this season is the weekly success of Cowboys
running back DeMarco Murray. The NFL’s leading rusher with 1,054 yards, Murray
is the only player in league annals with 100-plus rushing yards in the first
eight games of the season. He had 221 yards from scrimmage in the loss to the
Redskins, including 141 rushing on a season-low 19 carries.
The Cowboys are 17-1 when Murray has 20 or more touches.
Murray has 38 yards on 12 carries in one meeting with the Cardinals and expect
those numbers to balloon this week. He has rushed for a season-high 310 yards
in the second quarter this season and 572 yards in the first half. Dallas has
the NFL’s top rushing attack with 160.5 yards per game, but is facing a
Cardinals defense that is third against the run, allowing just 77.9 ypg.
Eagles running back and last year’s leading rusher LeSean McCoy managed 83
yards on 21 touches in last Sunday’s loss. Arizona has not yielded a 100-yard
rusher in the past 17 games and has allowed that to happen only once in the
previous 26 contests.
An area of concern for the Cardinals is there pass defense and overall
defense. Foles was able to throw for 411 yards and two scores, but did have 62
attempts (36 completions) and two interceptions. Antonio Cromartie posted both
picks and could be without fellow secondary mate Patrick Peterson. Peterson
suffered a concussion Sunday in the second quarter and didn’t return.
Peterson will go through the concussion protocol, as will safety Tony
Jefferson. Players said Peterson seemed fine in the locker room afterward.
“When we came in at the end of the game, Pat was jumping around, slapping guys
in the head, jumping on people’s backs, hugging people,” safety Rashad Johnson
said Monday. “I was like, ‘Dude, don’t you have a concussion? You should be
sitting down in a dark room with your eyes closed or something.’ But he was
like the strength coach that jumps around crazy when the game is over. You
could tell he was feeling better.”
Peterson was back at practice Wednesday and will use a more-padded helmet.
The Cowboys bring an intimidating pass attack into this one and it only gets
better with how well Murray performs. Arizona should be ready for a heavy dose
of Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Jason Witten. Bryant leads the Cowboys
with 620 yards and five TDs,and was held to three catches for 30 yards and a
score Monday night. Washington blitzed a lot, especially on third down, to
disrupt Romo’s timing.
Palmer has some weapons of his own, mainly Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald caught
seven passes for 160 yards and an 80-yard score versus the Eagles and earned
NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Two of the more dynamic wide
receivers will be on display Sunday in the house that Jerry Jones built.
Fitzgerald has caught a pass in 156 consecutive games.
Cardinals safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson played well at times last
week and need to keep it up against a Dallas team hungry to prove it’s for
real. Johnson finished the day with four passes defensed, something he’ll have
to do consistently for the rest of the season. Defensive end Calais Campbell
returned from a knee injury and will add pressure up front.
The Cardinals will be without running back Stepfan Taylor because of a calf
injury. Andre Ellington’s load should increase and he had all 23 touches for
71 yards and a score against Philadelphia. Ellington will be facing a Dallas
defense without linebacker Justin Durant (biceps). Durant, Dallas’ leading
tackler with 49 stops, tore the muscle against the Redskins and was placed on
Linebacker Tim Dobbins was signed to the active roster.
Home games will run thin for the Cowboys after Sunday’s game, as just two more
appearances will be made by “America’s Team” at AT&T Stadium. So the Cowboys
have to make the most of what’s left of homefield advantage in hopes of
capturing a portion of it in the playoffs.
Dallas has two games remaining at home — Nov. 27 versus Philadelphia and Dec.
21 versus Indianapolis. Not exactly pushover teams either.
There’s hardly a chance Romo sits for this one with an NFC East title and
conference bragging rights on the line. The Cardinals are feeling pretty good
about themselves right now and will get a taste of reality Sunday.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Cowboys 27, Cardinals 17