On big stage against Cowboys, Cardinals defense takes a stand
Dak Prescott wasn’t there to charge the Dallas Cowboys back from an early deficit this time. Dallas lost All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, one of the team’s last starting-caliber linemen, to a head injury early on.
There were reasons the Arizona Cardinals made it look easy in a 38-10 Monday Night Football win, but a week after losing their best defensive players in All-Pro pass-rusher Chandler Jones, the timing of their best defensive effort of 2020 can’t be under-emphasized.
“They played great. Honestly, great’s not even the word. I don’t even have a word for it,” Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said. “To hold them to three points for most of the game (considering) the weapons they have over there … for them to come out here on Monday night and do what they did, it’s a big deal.”
The figures were stunning.
The Cardinals held the Cowboys to 97 yards on 3.6 yards per carry, with three-time Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott rushing just 11 times for 49 yards and two fumbles that got him temporarily benched.
“We knew that they were going to try and get Zeke the ball early,” said Cardinals safety Budda Baker, who had an interception, a sack and a forced fumble. “For us, we just tried to show different looks. When it was two-high, we tried to show one-high. When it was one-high, we tried to show him two-high.
“We knew that Andy Dalton’s a great QB. We knew if we were just going to show our looks, he was going to dice us.”
Dalton threw two interceptions to Dre Kirkpatrick and Baker for the latter’s first career pick. And while Kirkpatrick’s interception came after a missed pass interference call, Dalton also threw another would-be pass that was dropped by Arizona linebacker Jordan Hicks.
Not all the blame was on the Cowboys quarterback, who was playing behind a rickety offensive line. Elliott’s fumbles caused by Baker and tackle Jordan Phillips over a span of three Dallas plays in the second quarter turned the game.
Arizona scored 14 points off those turnovers, getting its offense out of a rocky start that against other teams might have put the Cardinals down two touchdowns.
Later in the games, Dalton’s misfires came as the Cardinals brought heavy pressure from the kickoff.
Backup outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck posted two early pressures in the first quarter, while Haason Reddick got the deal done with a two-sack performance. Even as practice squad call-up Reggie Walker played meaningful snaps, the Cardinals got more than enough out of their defensive front.
“I mean it’s tough losing not only a great player, but a great leader, a great person, one of the best players in the league,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of his team’s first game without Jones starting. “(Defensive coordinator) V.J. (Vance Joseph) and his group had a great plan and executed at a high level. Great energy the entire night, took it away four times, which was huge and really turned the game for us.”
On the backend, Baker said that the group “finally trusted each other” and the numbers showed well on them, too. The Cardinals held Dalton to 266 yards on 34-of-54 passing, opting for eight checkdowns to Elliott in the passing game while none of receivers Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb or Michael Gallup surpassed 80 receiving yards.
“We showed out today,” Baker said. “I’m glad that we have these players and glad everybody kind of played for Chan.”