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Cardinals Wide Receiver Group a Matchup Nightmare for Cowboys D

The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best wide receiver groups in the NFL. Through the first five weeks of the season, the defense has faced a bevy of really good wide receiver groups on their way to a 2-3 start. On Monday Night Football against the Arizona Cardinals, they’ll face another really good group of wide receivers led by All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins.

Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andy Isabella make up a dynamic group of players that will be another difficult challenge for the Cowboys secondary this week.

DeAndre Hopkins has been arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL through the first five weeks of the season. He’s racked up a league-leading 45 receptions on 53 targets for 528 (also lead the NFL) and two touchdown receptions. The Cowboys are all too familiar with Hopkins from his time with the Houston Texans. The last time the Cowboys faced Hopkins was in 2018 when he caught nine passes for 151 yards, including a 49 yard catch and run that put several Cowboys defenders in the spin cycle and helped set up the Texans game-winning field goal.

He’s been by far Kyler Murray’s favorite target and with arguably the best passer he’s ever played with Hopkins is thriving.

And though, Hopkins has eaten up a large majority of the target share (26% of Murray’s attempts), Murray has spread the ball around to his secondary targets quite evenly. After Hopkins, the Cardinals have three players with at least 20 targets, and five players with at least 10 targets.

Among the players with at least 20 targets are two wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. Running Back Chase Edmonds is the third and he will be a problem for the Cowboys linebackers if they aren’t disciplined in the screen game.

Christian Kirk hasn’t been very efficient this season, especially on targets greater than 20 yards downfield. On eight throws 20 or more yards down the field, Kirk has only two receptions per Pro Football Focus. Among wide receivers with at least seven targets 20 or more yards down the field, Kirk has the fifth-worst catch percentage among 23 qualified receivers. Inside 20 yards, however, he’s been very efficient, catching nine of 12 targets for 76 yards.

Larry Fitzgerald is still going strong at 37 years old, but like former Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten, a lot of what Fitz is able to do is inside of ten yards. Fitzgerald has an average depth of target (ADOT) of 5.4, which is nearly four yards fewer than his ADOT from 2018.  87.1% of Fitzgerald’s snaps have come out of the slot in 2020, fifth in the NFL among receivers with at least 108 snaps. He’ll provide a huge challenge for Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis in the slot. Though he may not be as dynamic as he once was, he’s still a player that can hurt the Dallas Cowboys in the passing game.

When the Cardinals line up in 10 personnel (1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WRs), which they are in 18% of the time per Sharp Football Stats, Andy Isabella is the other slot wide receiver. He was a favorite among Cowboys Draft analysts for his ability to play in the slot, but also provide a deep threat ability that was sorely lacking when Isabella was drafted in 2019. Unlike Kirk, Isabella’s been extremely effective on targets beyond 20 yards. Isabella’s caught four of five targets for 117 yards and a touchdown. 38.5% of his targets in 2020 have gone beyond 20 yards providing a reliable deep option for Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals offense.

Anthony Brown, Trevon Diggs, Jourdan Lewis, Daryl Worley, Cowboys safeties and linebackers are going to have some difficult matchups to deal with on Sunday when they face this Arizona Cardinals wide receiver group. They’re a diverse bunch that has a lead guy in Hopkins and several very good players that can make the Cowboys pay if not given enough attention.

As it has been seemingly every week, the Cowboys are going to have to figure out a way to provide sound coverage in the back seven to allow their pass rush an opportunity to get after the cornerback. With as good as this group is, the front four will have to be disruptive in the pass rush so the coverage scheme isn’t forced to cover longer than is reasonable. If they can’t get pressure, or if they allow Kyler Murray to break contain, the coverage scheme won’t be able to hold up long enough to slow down the Cardinals passing game.

The defense is getting healthier and should get Leighton Vander Esch back for Monday Night Football, which should help some, but they have to be more sound on the back end to overcome the Cardinals offensive onslaught. With Dak Prescott on the sideline and only a half-game up in the NFC East, the Cowboys have zero margin for error the rest of the way, even in the horrendous NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys have to figure out a way to slow down opposing passing offenses and they have a huge challenge on Monday night.

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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