Cardinals and Cowboys agree: Dallas not so different with Andy Dalton at QB
Losing the NFL’s most prolific passer changes the outside perception of the Dallas Cowboys.
Some oddsmakers will make them underdogs at home on Monday Night Football against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cowboys’ own fans will find further reason to be discouraged following a disappointing 2-3 start.
Yet as Monday rolls around, the two teams themselves can agree: Dallas’ offense isn’t going to look too different with 32-year-old quarterback Andy Dalton replacing Dak Prescott.
“Frankly, I’m not as concerned about Andy Dalton’s preparation as I am about (backup) Ben DiNucci’s,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told Dallas reporters. “That’s where the biggest preparation change is going on. Andy also has a lot of experience being in the No. 1 chair. I think this will be a seamless … transition for him to get ready to prepare.
“We need to make sure Ben advances in his new role.”
Let’s just say the Cowboys feel good about signing Dalton, the nine-year starter with the Cincinnati Bengals, as a backup this offseason.
Last week, after Prescott went down with a season-ending ankle injury, Dalton went 9-of-11 for 111 yards, leading two final scoring drives in Dallas’ 37-34 win over the New York Giants.
He assumes leadership of an offense that so far in 2020 leads the NFL by averaging 488 yards per game with 381 of those through the air.
The Cardinals can use all those figures to ensure that they approach the game with urgency.
“We believe that these guys will run their offense,” Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “The only difference is Andy is not as mobile. We are expecting the normal passing offense but we also have to expect them to not really put the load on Andy.
“So we have to expect those guys to come out, try to control the ballgame by running the football, get Ezekiel (Elliott) in the ballgame early. Control the line of scrimmage — they got a lot of guys on the offensive line banged up as well.”
Elliott, for what it’s worth, would agree that maybe he takes on more responsibility at running back. Dallas just hasn’t given him the carries having fallen behind by 20, 15, 27 and 14 in the past four weeks.
The Cowboys won two of those games. In each of the losses, Prescott helped them rally with three consecutive scoring drives in the second halves.
“We’ve been more pass-heavy this year just because we’ve gotten behind in some games and we’ve had to throw the ball that much,” Elliott said. “I think we want to be a balanced team.”
Beyond Elliott’s 537 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns, Dalton, in his first of 10 seasons away from Cincinnati, has reason to be excited with his choice of receivers.
Amari Cooper has been Prescott’s go-to target with 39 receptions, while CeeDee Lamb, the rookie first-round pick, leads the team with 433 receiving yards. Lamb has caught at least five balls in every game thus far; only Terry Glenn before Lamb has taken a five-catch streak five games into his career.
“He’s making plays from the slot. He’s tough, he’ll catch the ball in traffic, he looks like a five- or six-year vet out there,” Joseph said of Lamb, who starred at Oklahoma during Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray’s Heisman season in 2018.
Dalton looked sharp in his first significant action as a Cowboy.
Just to get caught up, he had earned first-team reps all through training camp, and maybe that connection with his relatively new teammates showed most in his connection with third-year pro Michael Gallup late Sunday.
Gallup, who Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph coached at the 2018 Senior Bowl, caught consecutive 19- and 38-yard deep balls from Dalton just before Dallas’ game-winning field goal as time expired. Gallup, by the way, can take the top off defenses and is averaging 20.5 yards per reception.
Now Dalton has a whole week of practice as the No. 1 now under his belt.
He has the opportunity to — now with recalibrated expectations — help the Cowboys overachieve in McCarthy’s first year on the job.
“When you watch the game on Sunday, I think Dak left the game, nothing changed,” Joseph said. “I think Andy’s going to nail that part.”