Roundtable: 3 big questions for Cardinals-Cowboys on MNF
The Arizona Cardinals are back on the primetime stage with a Monday Night Football matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.
And the storylines are aplenty. Not only does it mark the first time since 2017 the Cardinals are back under the Monday night lights, quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury make their return to Big D, just to name a few.
It also marks the first look at the defense without outside linebacker Chandler Jones, who suffered a season-ending injury in the team’s 30-10 win over the New York Jets in Week 5.
With the big game closing in, we asked our Arizona Sports hosts, reporters and editors three questions to preview the Cardinals’ Monday Night Football showdown.
1. Who will have a bigger return to Texas: Kyler Murray or Kliff Kingsbury? Why?
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Kyler Murray. It will always fall more on the star player than the coach in a moment like this. He’ll either rise to meet it or falter in the spotlight. I’m guessing it will be the former, though it could be rough at times.
Dan Bickley, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: Kyler Murray. He’s better equipped to make a difference in primetime. He also has a great history inside that stadium, and that comfort zone should be a big advantage.
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: I think it’s going to ultimately be Murray — he has an unblemished record at AT&T Stadium, including four different championship game wins. Familiarity is always an asset. Kliff obviously has a huge influence on Kyler’s performance, but I think we’ll be talking more about the quarterback on Tuesday.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Kyler Murray. The context of AT&T Stadium is going to put Kyler at ease and the Cowboys defense is not ready for primetime. Coaching is important but players win games and Kyler could set career highs.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Kyler without a doubt. He has won three state championships and a Big 12 title on that field. He is 7-0 on that field. He owns that field.
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Kyler … there’s no way you can separate the two. If one does well, so does the other. Therefore, who will get the credit if they both do well? … Kyler.
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski: Kyler. He’s already had a ton of success in that stadium as a high school and college player and — simply by being the quarterback — he’s in a much better position to deliver a big performance that gets noticed than the head coach is. Also, in talking to reporters around the Dallas area this week, you really get a sense of how much that city is still proud of him.
Jordan Byrd, host of Arizona Sports Saturday and producer of Burns & Gambo: Kyler Murray will have the bigger return to Texas. It’s pretty simple, Kyler Murray can be successful without a great game from Kliff Kingsbury. The same can’t be said for Kliff having a big return without a big performance from Kyler. Kliff is judged on the entirety of the Cardinals offense, and for that unit as a whole to be successful, Kyler would also need to have a good game.
Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: Combo. This is the biggest stage of the regular season, and a date with a putrid Dallas defense trends well for a big night for both.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: Full disclosure: I asked the bad question to this roundtable. Maybe it’s because I’m stuck in 2019, but Murray’s hype on the national stage doesn’t forgo the fact that Kingsbury’s return to Texas represents his biggest chance to show the nation that his controversial hire — one that was probably moreso than the Murray pick — was not an ill-fated decision by GM Steve Keim. Kingsbury gets to square off against one of the NFL old heads in coach Mike McCarthy.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: I’m not sure how Kingsbury has a bigger moment here unless the offense has their best-ever performance with the K1 + K2 combo. Beating Andy Dalton and Mike McCarthy would not be some type of momentous step forward for him. I’ll say Murray with the eyeballs primetime football provides and this very likely being the first time most football fans have watched him as an Arizona Cardinal in a full game.
2. Is it more likely the Cowboys offense takes a step backward with Andy Dalton in for Dak Prescott or more likely the poor Dallas defense takes a step forward? Why?
Burns: A step backwards but not a huge step. Too many weapons to get the ball to and likely a renewed emphasis on Zeke Elliott makes this offense just as dangerous.
Bickley: Andy Dalton is saying all the right things and seems very confident in taking over the huddle. But the Cowboys’ passing game will certainly suffer without Dak Prescott. At least it better.
Marotta: I think it’s more likely that the potent Dallas offense takes a step back. Dalton is a respected veteran, but I think relying on him as heavily as the Cowboys relied on Dak Prescott for four-and-a-half games would be a foolish move by Mike McCarthy. On defense, the Cowboys could get Leighton Vander Esch back from a collarbone injury, and that would be a big boost for a struggling unit.
Wolf: It’s way more likely the Dallas offense takes a step back with Andy Dalton than their defense taking a step forward. Although I believe Andy Dalton is extremely capable, will be locked in for this game and will score points for Mike McCarthy, the Dallas defense is historically bad. I guess Mike Nolan picked the wrong week to quit high-powered offenses.
Gambadoro: The offense should be fine as Dalton is a very capable quarterback and they have weapons at RB and WR. So the defense will take a step up. When you are at the bottom there is only one way to go and that is up.
Franz: The offense of Dallas has a very good chance of dropping from elite to very good under Dalton. Of course, it will drop because Dak was playing at a historic level but that doesn’t mean it will be bad. The defense was bad, is bad and will continue to be bad, irrelevant of which way Dak’s foot was pointing after the horrible injury. Average players and a bad defensive coordinator equals bad defense.
Lapinski: Probably a little bit of both, but I think the defense is actually going to look improved — whether it actually plays better or not. The Cowboys aren’t going to completely abandon a passing game that includes CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup just because Dak’s gone. Andy Dalton’s probably one of the best backup quarterbacks in football, after all. But they can’t expect to win games 40-39 anymore now either. I assume they’ll lean on Ezekiel Elliott and the running game more, just to keep their defense off the field because it’s such a weakness. So even though their defense isn’t really getting any better, the numbers might.
Byrd: I honestly believe that the Cowboys offense will be just fine with Dalton as their starting quarterback, but when you look at the numbers Dak Prescott has put up this season, it’s highly unlikely that Dalton will be able to replicate that. The Cowboys defense has been terrible and there is nothing that makes me think that will change against the Cardinals. So with the Dallas D so miserable, I have to think it’s more likely that their offense takes a step back instead of the defense moving forward.
Drake: I’ll take offense regresses for $1,000, Alex. Dak Prescott was on an absolute roll before going down with a terrible ankle injury. In fact, he still paces the league with 1,856 passing yards. Andy Dalton has been an NFL starter, but there’s no way he can replicate Prescott’s play. Won’t be surprised to see a run-heavy offense focused around Zeke. Defensively, the potential return of Vander Esch moves the needle, but it’s not anywhere close to fixing that unit.
Zimmerman: Dallas’ defense has surrendered 36.2 points per game, which probably isn’t sustainable. OK, the secondary looks flat bad. But there are signs things are coming around, the talent is there and the advanced statistics say it’s a bottom-third defense rather than dead-last. If the Cowboys commit to the running game — they’re second-to-last in time of possession — there’s a chance the Cowboys give Arizona more resistance than many expect.
Olson: The Dallas defense for sure. The Cardinals offense can never find a middle ground. They are either fully chugging while firing on all cylinders or woefully out of rhythm. That will benefit a bad defense.
3. What’s the biggest key to the game for Arizona and why?
Burns: Put points on the board early. Don’t let the Dallas defense gain any kind of confidence. Let them know, early, that they’re in for another long day.
Bickley: Consistent production on offense, getting ahead early, forcing the Cowboys to abandon their running game.
Marotta: I think the biggest key is how Vance Joseph schemes to cover up Chandler Jones’ absence and create pressure on Andy Dalton. His Thursday comments about how “we’ve got four guys we can use” didn’t instill a lot of confidence. I don’t expect him to announce his intentions gameplan-wise, but we’ve seen the defense struggle without important impact players (vs. Carolina without Budda Baker), so VJ needs to step it up.
Wolf: Run the ball. There can be no alpha without the betas; there can be no Chi without the Chung; there can be no abnormal without the normal; there can be no elevation without a base. The Cardinals have a creative, high-flying, talented offense … that needs to be capable of lining up and forcibly removing grown men from the line of scrimmage. Run the ball in a north-south fashion and watch how many more opportunities the Cards get for big plays. Run the ball.
Gambadoro: Get off the field on third down. Arizona is fourth in third-down defense, a big improvement from 2019 when they were 31st. Don’t allow Dallas long drives and get the ball back to Kyler.
Franz: No bad turnovers. The only way the Cowboys win with that defense is if you give that defense the ball. Don’t read me wrong. Dallas is far and away better than the last four Cardinals’ opponents. Dallas has been incredible offensively and good at home. I think this will be an Arena Football type game. In a race to 45 points, you can’t give Dallas the ball on short fields. Whoever wins the turnover battle, wins the game.
Lapinski: Attacking that Dallas defense when they have the ball. Honestly, Kyler and the Cardinals offense should carve that group up. Arizona has only scored more than 30 points twice in the 21 games since Kingsbury and Murray got to town, but that number needs to go up this week. And on the defensive side of the ball, simply putting pressure on Dalton before he has a chance to get comfortable as a starter again would go a long way. Of course, that’s easier said than done with no Chandler Jones.
Byrd: Rinse, wash and repeat. What the Cardinals offense did last week against the Jets is something that they have the opportunity to do again against Dallas. The Cardinals had a well-balanced attack and were even able to mix in more of the deep threat in beating New York. With the Dallas defense struggling, especially in the secondary, the key to this game is stretching the field once again. Success with the deep ball will only open up more of the field including the ground game to help control what could be a high scoring matchup.
Drake: The Cardinals need to have an efficient first quarter. If they can put the foot on the throttle early offensively, it will make up for the massive loss of Chandler Jones on the defensive side. As for the defense, Arizona must make Dallas one-dimensional. The ball being in the Red Rifle’s hand is more advantageous for the defense than in Elliott’s clutches.
Zimmerman: What Wolf said. The Cardinals can get Dallas off-balance with some stretchy, fun running plays early on. Setting up the deep passing game to attack that Cowboys secondary happens by setting the tone in the trenches by an O-line coming off its best game.
Olson: Turnovers. To go back to the bad defense, as long as Arizona doesn’t give it any freebies, that will go a long way in the Cardinals winning that side of the ball. Do not get it twisted: Andy Dalton and the Cowboys’ awesome offensive pieces around him can absolutely beat this Cardinals team. This one is going to be on the offense taking care of the business, as has been the case all season.