Cardinals’ depleted defense rises to occasion in win over Cowboys

Jan 2, 2022, 7:47 PM | Updated: 8:12 pm
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) is wrapped up by Arizona Cardinals' Dennis Gardeck (45)...

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) is wrapped up by Arizona Cardinals' Dennis Gardeck (45), Isaiah Simmons (9) and Leki Fotu (95) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The Dallas Cowboys entered Sunday’s matchup on an absolute roll.

Behind the arm of Dak Prescott, the Cowboys cruised into a home game against the Arizona Cardinals on a four-game winning streak and averaging an impressive 32.8 points per contest.

The same couldn’t be said for the Cardinals, however, who came into the meeting not only on a three-game losing streak but down a number of key contributors in linebacker Markus Golden, defensive lineman Jordan Phillips and cornerback Marco Wilson. At every level of the defense, a starter was missing from action.

The deck was stacked against them to say the least, but luckily for Arizona, things can change fast in the NFL.

The Cardinals’ defense answered the call in a playoff-like atmosphere on Sunday, limiting an offense averaging more than 400 yards per game to 301 in a 25-22 win in Week 17.

At the end of the day, it came down to playing clean football and doing the little things right.

“I’ve thought we’ve played well on defense,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told reporters after the game. “In a nutshell, we’ve played good football but we had too many penalties in the last couple of weeks. We had too many mistakes, so this week we talked about doing things the right way, the things that took no talent; do those things better. Focus on the ball and not be offsides, don’t get fouls on third downs.

“Those things we kinda fixed today. It still happened … but it got better this week. Moving forward, playing clean football is key. Right now, everyone’s in it, everyone’s playing their best ball, so right now we can’t lose games.”

For a Cowboys offense that’s been hot for the past few weeks, the Cardinals kept Prescott and Co. in check for most of the first half.

Dallas would stay scoreless until the final two minutes, when Arizona was hit with two defensive pass interference calls, before finally finding pay dirt on a 21-yard pass from Prescott to wide receiver Michael Gallup.

The Cowboys might have been able to still move the football, but they couldn’t when it counted most on Sunday.

A lot of that had to do with the Cardinals’ ability to stop the run, a must against Dallas’ offense. Between running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, and Prescott, the Cowboys put up just 45 yards on the ground on 17 carries for a pedestrian 2.6 yards per attempt.

Outside of the second quarter score, the Cowboys were held out of the end zone until the fourth quarter down two scores.

“We definitely have taken a step forward as far as our focus in our walkthroughs and our practices and in our meetings,” defensive lineman Corey Peters told Cardinals sideline reporter Paul Calvisi on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station after the game.

“This team has won a lot of games and we’re not gonna change the way we think about ourselves. We know we’re capable of beating anybody. We just have to execute at a high level and I think we did that today.”

And while Dallas was able to put up two touchdowns in the closing quarter, the Cardinals played complementary football to put the game out of reach.

Leading the way for Arizona’s defense was linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who paced the unit with 10 tackles and a key forced fumble that led to a late field goal that ended up being the deciding factor.

“Just felt really good … to get back to who we are,” Simmons told reporters after the game.

Safety Budda Baker was also flying around, recording three tackles, a sack, a QB hit and two passes defensed.

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