8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Cowboys -3, Over/Under: 47
A pair of teams that were expected to challenge for NFC Supremacy look instead to put disappointing starts behind them, as the Dallas Cowboys travel to Glendale, Arizona to face the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. 2016 was indeed a renaissance of sorts for the Cowboys (1-1, 1st in NFC East), who tied a Franchise Record with thirteen victories largely on the strength of two dynamic Rookies, namely Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott (60.7% 253.0 Y/G, 5.34 NY/A, 3 TD, 2 INT), an unheralded Fourth Round Pick out of Mississippi State took over for a injured Tony Romo, and never looked back, exhibiting a calmness that certainly wasn’t indicative of his youth en route to earning Offensive Rookie of the Year Honors. All Elliott (56.0 Y/G, 3.4 Y/C, 0 TD) did was lead the NFL in rushing, racking up 1,631 Rushing Yards and fifteen Touchdowns running behind what is universally praised as the top Offensive Line in the league. Though their Playoff Run ended prematurely (thanks to the heroics of Aaron Rodgers), the general consensus was that this team was built to contend not just in the short term, but for many years to come. However, the 2017 campaign hasn’t gotten off to the start that Jason Garrett and his charges would imagine, for Dallas has looked unimpressive in their first two outings of the season. The 19-3 victory over the New York Giants in the Opener was a snoozefest marred by five Field Goals between the teams, and was only made that much less impressive given Big Blue’s continued struggles offensively. Granted, the hosts did manage to rack up a healthy 392 Total Yards and check off a number of boxes including Time of Possession (34:14), Third Down (8-of-15), and Turnover Differential (Plus-1), but apart from a 12-Yard Touchdown Pass from Prescott to Jason Witten, the home side stood by as drive after drive collapsed short of the End Zone. Then came last weekend’s trip to Denver, which after a slow start quickly delved into an embarrassing 42-17 debacle. There was very little that the Cowboys could muster against the Broncos’ vicious Defense, which relegated them to an uninspired 268 Total Yards, including snuffing Elliott’s exploits out completely, keeping the All-Pro under wraps on just eight Yards on nine Carries. As a whole, the visiting side only rushed for forty Yards on fourteen Carries, as Garrett was forced to abandon the run altogether and rely on his young Quarterback to throw them back into the contest. Needless to say, it didn’t work; Prescott was 30-of-50 passing for 238 Yards, with two Touchdowns and a pair of Interceptions, with Denver Cornerback Aqib Talib returning the latter of the two 103 Yards to paydirt near the end of the final stanza. Elliott, who has been a polarizing figure in the media due to the saga surrounding his on-again/off-again six-game suspension stemming from a domestic violence incident, drew extensive criticism for not attempting to tackle the defender after the Interception, but realistically at that point what was he going to do with his team trailing at that by eighteen with just over a minute left to play? Moving forward, he’s going to have to adjust to the way opposing defenses have been handling him of late; both the Giants and Broncos utilized a myriad of different Run Blitzes in an effort to stop the Sophomore Tailback before he could build up a head of steam, therefore putting Dallas into longer Down and Distance situations earlier in Drives. This isn’t a team built to win games throwing the ball over the field, and their Defense certainly isn’t capable of limiting opponents over long periods of time; you’d have thought John Elway and Terrell Davis had suited up for the Broncos the way they carved up the Cowboys, with the unheralded CJ Anderson accounting for 118 of his team’s 178 Rushing Yards, while Trevor Siemian had a career day with 231 Yards and four Touchdowns on 22-of-32 passing. Don’t expect this unit to simply turn it around overnight given their current injury situation, particularly in the Secondary, where Cornerbacks Nolan Carroll (Concussion), Chidobe Awuzie (Hamstring), and Orlando Scandrick (Hand) are all dealing with various injuries making their availability for tonight’s tilt Questionable at best.
Meanwhile, after last year’s disappointing 7-8-1 finish, the Doomsday Clock has been ticking for the Cardinals (1-1, 1st in NFC West), and with two games in the books of the 2017 campaign, that certainly hasn’t changed. In fact, it may be ticking a bit faster after All-Pro Tailback David Johnson (11 CAR, 23 YDS, 6 REC, 68 YDS) was lost for approximately eight to twelve weeks after dislocating his Wrist in Arizona’s 35-23 loss to the Detroit Lions in the Season Opener. Running down this kid’s numbers doesn’t do his importance to the Offense justice, but we’ll do it anyway; the fourth-year star led the NFL with 2,118 Yards from Scrimmage and twenty Touchdowns in 2016, accounting for 36.1% of Bruce Arians’ attack, the highest percentage of any player in the league. Versatility is the key with this guy, who has the nimble feet and patience to wait for a hole to open behind his Offensive Line, yet also possesses the soft hands and route-running ability to chew up opposing Linebackers on intermediate routes. Oh, and did we mention that he’s also great in pass-protection? Needless to say, his departure has left a 6-1, 224 lbs void in the Cardinals’ Backfield, which from the looks of things will be very difficult for Arians and his Staff to replace. Kerwynn Williams (14 CAR, 32 YDS, 1 TD) and Andre Ellington (2 CAR, 11 YDS, 5 REC, 447 YDS) aren’t the answer, and unless Arians has a time machine available to turn Chris Johnson (11 CAR, 44 YDS) back into his 2009 incarnation, the Artist Formerly Known as CJ2K isn’t either. But let’s get back to that Doomsday Clock which is ticking away given the relative age of the three pillars of this team. First and foremost, we have Carson Palmer, who in all honesty started showing serious signs of regression last year. The 38-year old Quarterback has looked far from sharp through the first two games of the term, completing a career-worst 54.8% of his Attempts for an average of 300.5 Yards per Game on 6.40 Net Yards per Attempt, with two Touchdowns and four Interceptions, while taking five Sacks. His three Interceptions sank Arizona’s chances of getting back into the game at Detroit, while he and his teammates needed Overtime to best the Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts in a 16-13 snoozefest, in which the 14-year veteran was a pedestrian 19-of-36 for 332 Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception apiece. While the end of the line certainly looks to be coming for Palmer, the same may becoming true for Larry Fitzgerald (9 REC, 95 YDS), who has served as the face of the Franchise since being drafted Third Overall back in 2004. A ten-time Pro Bowler who has led the NFL in both Receptions and Receiving Touchdowns twice continues to be the main target in the Passing Game even after fourteen years in the professional ranks, but given his Quarterback’s struggles one has to wonder how much he can give when the pieces around him are either missing in action or simply not getting the job done. And then there is Arians, who in some league circles may be on his way towards calling it a career. Though he’s only been a Head Coach on this level for the past six years, the 64-year old spent the previous thirty-seven years in various roles on the offensive side of the ball in both the NFL and College. With his best player on the mend until what many feel to be late December, his Quarterback decaying with each passing week, and for all intents and purposes his team’s championship window closed shut, just how long can we expect the outspoken and at times moody Arians to simply stand pat, particularly when there doesn’t seem to be much of a succession plan moving forward? What the future holds aside, perhaps this team will get a boost of energy from their home crowd, whom they haven’t performed in front of for quite a while; Arizona played their first two games on the road, along with their final two Preseason games in the Eastern Time Zone. However, it remains to be seen if home cooking can overcome their long list of injuries, not including the aforementioned Johnson; Receivers JJ Nelson (Hamstring), along with John (Quadriceps) and Jaron (Knee) Brown are each likely to miss tonight’s contest, while Left Tackle DJ Humphries (Knee), Left Guard Mike Iupati (Triceps) and Tight End Jermaine Gresham (Ribs) are also expected to be sidelined as well, robbing Palmer of virtually all of his weapons.