No one expected the Arizona Cardinals to dominate in their first primetime appearance of the 2020 season. However, the Cardinals did just that, against a listless Dallas Cowboys team on Monday night football. Arizona was able to dominate Dallas in Cowboys stadium and have now won five out of the last six meetings between the two teams. Today we take a look at the impressive victory and the three takeaways from Monday night.
With the news of the Cardinals losing linebacker Chandler Jones for the season, many wondered how the defense would respond. Monday night showed what the Cardinals can be without their talented pass rusher. The Cardinals forced four turnovers against Dallas. Arizona forced two fumbles from Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot, both of which occurred in the first half. The Elliot fumbles resulted in 14 points for the Cardinals and served as the catalyst to a 21-3 halftime lead. The second half was no different as the Cardinals defense forced two additional turnovers, interceptions by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Budda Baker. Kirkpatrick’s interception led to another Arizona touchdown. Baker would pick off Andy Dalton for the fourth and final turnover at the start of the final quarter. It was the safety’s first interception of his career.
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For the Cardinals, the defense’s takeaways killed any rhythm the Dallas offense was able to build. Both interceptions happened while the Cowboys were in Arizona territory. Arizona also recorded three sacks on Dalton. While the final score showed ten points for the Cowboys, Dallas added a late touchdown with much of the Arizona starting defense on the sidelines. It was an impressive showing from the Cardinals defense. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has been under scrutiny as of late due to a few underwhelming performances this season. However, he called a solid game and allowed his playmakers to impact that game. Baker was all over the field and finished with seven tackles, a forced fumble, an interception, and a sack. It was quite the statement to make in front of a national audience.
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The Cardinals were able to dominate on the scoreboard by taking advantage of Dallas miscues. Arizona scored 24 points off the four Dallas turnovers. The offense started a bit slow as quarterback Kyler Murray struggled with his accuracy through the better part of the first half. Murray finished the game with just nine completions out of 24 attempts. However, one of those completions came on a deep shot to Christian Kirk for an 80-yard touchdown. The first half takeaways by the defense gave Kliff Kingsbury’s offense a short field with which to operate. Arizona took advantage of both with a touchdown. Over a three-drive span in the second quarter, the Cardinals scored 21 points and took complete control of the game.
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With Murray struggling, Kingsbury turned to his ground game to dominate a weak Dallas run defense. The Arizona ground game accounted for 261 yards on 35 attempts, including three touchdowns. Running back Kenyan Drake averaged more than eight yards per attempt, boosted by a 69-yard scoring run in the game’s final minutes. Murray himself added 74 yards rushing on 10 attempts, including a touchdown. While his arm may have failed him on Monday night, his legs kept his fingerprints on the game. The ability for the offense to rely on the ground attack on a night when the passing game sputtered, will come in handy as the season progresses and teams focus on shutting down the aerial attack.
A Statement Win
Arizona dominated in every phase of the game. Defensively, the Cardinals received major contributions from the entire roster. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips recovered the first Dallas fumble and caused another on the following drive. Linebacker Haason Reddick offered pass-rushing production, contributing two sacks on the night. Cornerback Byron Murphy, in only his second season, established himself as the best cover man for the Cardinals. He put the clamps on a talented Dallas wide receiver group. Jordan Hicks continues to be a force on defense, finishing with 10 total tackles. Add to that, Baker solidified himself as one of the top safeties in all of football with an amazing game. It was one of the best performances from the defense since Vance Joseph arrived.
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Offensively, the Cardinals found a way to get the rhythm going. Murray struggled with accuracy but utilized his legs to make plays. Kliff Kingsbury called a solid game on offense. He took the pressure off Murray and focused on the ground game. More importantly, the offensive line delivered and opened up holes for Drake and Murray. Kingsbury worked to get Murray on the edge where his speed and athleticism could dominate. More importantly, the Cardinals showed the rest of the league that they are capable of beating you with more than the passing game.
Tough Road Ahead
The victory moved Arizona’s record to 4-2 on the season. They are currently second in the division behind the undefeated Seattle Seahawks. Arizona currently holds the tiebreaker over the Rams with their division win against the 49ers from the season opener. Interestingly enough, the Cardinals return home on Sunday and welcome the Seahawks. Arizona has played Seattle tough over the years and earned a victory last season on the road. If the Cardinals can continue to grow on both sides of the ball, the matchup promises to be interesting. Monday’s performance proved the Cardinals are a playoff threat this season. A dominating performance puts the rest of the conference on notice.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Cardinals and covers the San Francisco 49ers for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada