In the midst of a 4-game win streak, the Dallas Cowboys have 2 of their 3 boxes checked off.
- Make the playoffs: Check
- Win the NFC East: Check
- Secure the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs: TBD
The Cowboys need to win out and have a number of different scenarios play out, but it’s still possible. In the meantime, the next step towards checking that final box is against the Arizona Cardinals. A matchup we could easily see in the playoffs.
After starting undefeated, the Cardinals have lost 5 of their last 8. The Cowboys had a similar stretch, starting 6-1 and following it up with a 1-3 November, before an undefeated month of December.
Despite their ups and downs, both teams are headed to the playoffs and that’s all that matters.
If the Dallas Cowboys want a shot at the number 1 seed, they’ll need to win out against a pair of playoff teams. Starting with Arizona.
Despite their recent troubles, the Cardinals can cause problems. Specifically these 5 players.
Disclaimer: Kyler Murray not listed.
This will be Zach Ertz’s 17th game against the Cowboys. During his time in Philadelphia, he caught 70 passes for 694 yards and 5 touchdowns against Dallas. He might be in for a big game.
In DeAndre Hopkins’ absence, Ertz has totaled 44 targets for 29 catches 289 yards and 2 touchdowns. Numbers that only put him behind Christian Kirk in that time (but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
On the season, this Dallas Cowboys defense allows opposing tight ends 5 receptions for 56 yards per game. Calculating Zach Ertz’s averages versus what Dallas allows, Ertz could be in-line as the leading receiver for Arizona.
Markus Golden being put on the Reserve/COVID list is a relief to the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. Golden leads the team in sacks and tackles for loss on the season.
Unfortunately, a certain 4-time Pro Bowl selection and franchise career sack leader still remains. Jones has 30 pressures on the season and has at least 1 tackle for loss or sack in 8 of 13 games he’s played this season.
Whether Tyron Smith plays on Sunday is irrelevant. Even though all signs point to him starting, Jones as an experienced pass rusher isn’t the type of player you want to go against, returning from injury.
For perspective, this will be the 2nd time Smith has returned from extended injury. The 1st was a face off against Yannick Ngakoue who finished the game with a sack and 2 tackles for loss, the highest of any Raiders defender for the game.
Food for thought.
If anything is this Dallas Cowboys defenses kryptonite, it’s the deep pass. They’re allowing the 5th most completions 20+ yards down the field, and the 3rd most 40+ yards as well.
Every team has taken their shots down the field on the Cowboys defense this season, even Arizona back in September.
This was Colt McCoy's best play of the preseason. Dropped a 34 yard pass in the bucket to Christian Kirk. pic.twitter.com/38ZYJ33Mna
— Bo Brack (@BoBrack) November 7, 2021
It’s established that Zach Ertz will have a big bulk of the targets in the game. With Deandre Hopkins out, Kirk is going to take those stretch plays. He’s done a great job of it this season, setting career numbers.
If Kyler Murray has time to throw, he will look for his former Texas A&M teammate who leads this team in targets. If he has too much time, that could be bad news for the secondary.
Jalen Thompson might not be as versatile as Budda Baker, but is just as valuable on the back end. He’s 1 of only 2 Cardinals with over 100 tackles on the season and doesn’t get broken free from tackles.
Thompson is key in keeping passes in front of him. As a contrast to the Cowboys defense, the Cardinals defense allows some of the least passes down the field, and Thompson’s range as the free safety has secured the back end.
If the Cowboys are able to find something deep with their X-receiver Michael Gallup, they need to take it because there won’t be as many opportunities to do so.
We’ve already mentioned Jalen Thompson, now we’ll complete what could be the best safety duo in the game. We couldn’t leave Budda Baker off of here.
Arguably the best overall safety in the game, Budda Baker can hurt you in multiple ways. He can line up up deep, in the box, in the slot, near the line of scrimmage, in man coverage and can blitz. Essentially, he’s the Cardinals version of Micah Parsons.
Great safety play has given Dak Prescott issues this season. Just ask Washington (game 1), Los Angeles, Denver or Kansas City.
Jalen Thompson makes only half of the issues formatting this secondary. If Budda Baker has a great game, the rest of the defense could overall. His presence on the field is that important.