After the shellacking the Dallas Cowboys took from the Denver Broncos last week, they look to get back on track against the Arizona Cardinals Monday night. This will be their second road game of the 2017 season, but home or away, this Cowboys team has to be at their best in order to put another W in the win column.
The Arizona Cardinals might not be as talented overall as the first two teams they've faced this season, but they do have some players that could give the Cowboys some problems. I put together a list of five matchups I think the Cowboys must win in order to ensure a victory over the Cardinals Monday night. Continue to read below to see which matchups I believe are the key to a victory.
Dez Bryant vs. Patrick Peterson
Dez Bryant is arguably the best playmaker the Dallas Cowboys have on the offensive side of the ball. There has been a lot of talk lately that he is washed up and not as talented as he once was, but that is completely inaccurate. He may not be the focal point of the offense anymore, but that doesn't take away how important he truly is.
Bryant will draw the opposing defenses best cornerback ever week. He has already faced Pro Bowl CBs in the first two games of the season and will see another one in Patrick Peterson this week. This is a tough matchup again because Peterson is physical and can carry Bryant in coverage anywhere on the field.
Peterson of course won't have to do this alone, because the Cardinals defense will undoubtably role extra coverage Bryant's way every time he's on the field. Bryant just has to do enough in order to keep the Cardinals defense rolling extra coverage in his direction, because that will open up things for the rest of the Cowboys offense. But, Bryant simply can't allow Peterson to win the one-on-one matchup.
Cowboys Secondary vs. Cardinals WRs
The Dallas Cowboys will be a little thin in their secondary tonight against the Arizona Cardinals. Both Nolan Carroll and Chidobe Awuzie will miss this contest due to injuries, which means some of the young defensive backs will have to step up.
Luckily, Orlando Scandrick will be back on the field, which provides more veteran experience against a talented group of Cardinals WRs. Scandrick can't do it alone though. Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and maybe even Xavier Woods will have to be on top of their games in order to keep the Cardinals WRs in check.
The Arizona Cardinals offense likes to push the ball down the field, so the Cowboys secondary will have to keep the plays in front of them and make sure tackles. This was a problem last week, but I'm sure defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has emphasized this week how important tackling is. This matchup just might be the most important for the Cowboys.
DeMarcus Lawrence vs. John Wetzel
Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has been simply outstanding the first two weeks of the 2017 season. He has pretty much dominated any offensive lineman he has gone up against and should continue that impressive streak this week against the Arizona Cardinals backup left tackle John Wetzel.
Wetzel will be filling in as an injury replacement and as a former practice squad member of the Dallas Cowboys, should know what he's up against. Unfortunately, that works both ways. Lawrence should know all too well Wetzel's strengths and weaknesses and how best to win the match up. I'm expecting Lawrence to have another good game getting after the QB and you can bet Carson Palmer is paying extra close attention to where he is lined up every play.
La'el Collins vs. Chandler Jones
The Dallas Cowboys absolutely have to win the battle of the trenches against the Cardinals tonight. The Denver Broncos were able to beat them at their own game and control the line of scrimmage last week. That can't happen this week and La'el Collins might just be the key to the entire offensive lines performance.
The Arizona Cardinals have a talented defensive line, but I believe that it will be Chandler Jones who might just be the most impactful. I think Jones and Collins will square off against one another the majority of the game and this is a battle Collins has to win. Luckily, Collins has performed above expectations and has already proven himself against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
It may be unfair to single out Collins, because I believe the entire offensive line needs to up their game after last week's performance. But, I believe the Collins and Jones matchup will go a long ways in determining how the Cowboys come out in the battle of the trenches. If the Cowboys can win that battle, it will open up the passing and running game, making things that much more difficult for the Cardinals defense.
OC Scott Linehan vs. DC James Bettcher
It's no secret that I've been extremely hard on Scott Linehan in the past. I think he was largely responsible for how the Dallas Cowboys offense performed last week against the Denver Broncos defense, which is why I think he has to do better this week.
Offensive coordinators against defensive coordinators is always a chess match. You have to anticipate what the other is going to do and come up with the right counterattack move. Linehan was unable to do that against the Broncos, but the Cardinals defense doesn't have the same kind of talent on that side of the ball as Denver did.
Linehan has to do much better job of getting Dak Prescott settled down early, because he has been a little inaccurate to start the first two games of the season. He also has to find ways to get the ball in the hands of his best playmakers, Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott. When they are involved early in the game, it helps the entire offense and puts the opposing defense on their heels.
What are your key matchups for the Cowboys against the Cardinals?
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstatement Decision Due Soon
The Dallas Cowboys should know by the end of this week if Defensive End Randy Gregory will be reinstated by the NFL from his indefinite suspension.
Gregory, who has missed nearly two seasons with drug-related bans, requested in May for Roger Goodell to allow him to return to football. The exact date of the request isn't known, but multiple sources put it somewhere around May 18-20.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL has 60 days to rule on a reinstatement request. That would put the approximate deadline no later than this Friday, July 20th.
Gregory was a second-round pick for Dallas in 2015. He was considered to have potentially elite pass-rushing skills but red flags about behavior and drug use hurt his draft stock.
Obviously those warning signs were warranted. Over three seasons, Randy has missed 30 out of 48 games due to suspension.
But reports from around the Cowboys organization and others who've dealt with Gregory rehabilitation efforts are positive. His appeal request appears strong, backed up by several testimonials that he's turned his life around.
Will Roger Goodell agree? Will Randy Gregory return to the Cowboys 2018?
We should know the answer soon.
Dak Prescott Ranked as Third Least Consistent QB in NFL
Last season could've gone a lot better for Dak Prescott. After a remarkable rookie season, he wasn't able to meet the very high expectations put on him after leading the Dallas Cowboys to the #1 seed in the NFC in 2016.
Inevitably, the "sophomore slump" managed to get to Dak, even though the numbers make it seem worse than it really was. From his 13 interceptions in 2017, not even half can be completely blamed on him. However, even though he made improvements in his game, it's fair to admit that there was indeed, a slump in his second year in the NFL.
Earlier this week, NFL.com published an article listing the most and the least consistent quarterbacks in the league last season. The way the list works is measuring "their average 2017 swing in week-to-week passer rating." In the list, Dak Prescott is listed as the third least consistent QB in the league, with only Cam Newton and Derek Carr behind him.
Just like the Dallas Cowboys' had a roller coaster for a season, constantly shifting between winning and losing, Dak Prescott also struggled at remaining consistent. It makes a ton of sense, of course, for the Cowboys' 9-7 season had a lot of swings throughout the year.
At times, the team was missing its most important defender in Sean Lee. At others, Tyron Smith and/or Ezekiel Elliott weren't on the field either. This is not an attempt to excuse Dak, for he is partly at fault here, as is the entire team.
From week 10 to 12, Dak failed to throw for a touchdown but ended up throwing five interceptions. Later in the season, failing once again to get a TD pass in two straight weeks, he threw for two interceptions at Oakland then another two when hosting the Seahawks in Dallas.
In a season that will likely determine his future with the Dallas Cowboys, Dak needs to find a way to be more consistent week after week regardless of circumstance. Hopefully, with an improved offensive line and with Ezekiel Elliott leaving every suspension drama behind him, his offense will put him in position to have his best year yet.
In 2016 and in 2017, his Total Quarterback Rating has been in the top 4 among all quarterbacks, per ESPN. Now, this is not a stat that tells the whole story, but it does give you an idea of each quarterback's play. In a run-first offense and with a safe passer like Dak, I'm sure consistency will not be hard to deal with for the young QB next season.
As long as he takes advantage of the new set of targets he'll have at his disposal and his offense's powerful running back with recently-signed draftee Connor Williams, this offense will look a lot more like the one we saw in 2016.
We know Dak Prescott has a lot to prove. He has to make longer throws, throw more aggressively to get his receivers open, and more. But consistency is just as important. In order to be continuously successful and to be a contender year after year, you need that in your signal-caller. Even if key players on the team are down, he needs to be able to shine. It's a sixteen-game season, after all.
It's time for Dak to prove he can handle that.
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