Electric Cowboys defense presents toughest out yet for 2023 Cardinals

Sep 21, 2023, 5:05 PM

TEMPE — You don’t have to look far to get an idea of just how dominant the Dallas Cowboys defense has been two games into the regular season.

When it comes to total yards (193), passing yards (107) and points (five) per game and turnovers (seven), Dallas reigns supreme. It’s tied for the league lead with the Washington Commanders in sacks (10).

For an Arizona Cardinals offense that took a noticeable step forward for at least half a football in a Week 2 loss to the New York Giants, a successful Week 3 begins with keeping linebacker and big-play-waiting-to-happen Micah Parsons at bay.

“So far I don’t think you can (stop him), but that’s our task,” offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said Tuesday. “That’s going to be our focus. Obviously, he’s one of the better defensive players in the entire league and he’s earned that respect.

“Certainly, we’re going to give him that respect in terms of who we call the game, put the plan together and go out there and try to execute.”

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Parsons has picked up where he left off last season behind three sacks, a forced fumble, a pass defensed, four tackles for loss and six QB hits.

Per Next Gen Stats, Parsons leads the league in quick pressures (eight), positive rushes (42) and average peak pressure probability (51.1%).

He can win his pass-rushing battles on either side of the line and has the versatility to be moved throughout the formation if need be.

Parsons is public enemy No. 1 by a mile for quarterback Joshua Dobbs and Co.

“They do a really good job in their scheme, (defensive coordinator Dan Quinn) moving him around. He’s inside, he’s outside. … You have to figure out where No. 11 is going to be in the run game, in the pass game, in the protection game.”

Keeping tabs on Parsons is top priority. Limiting Osa Odighizuwa’s production along the interior of the trenches is a close second.

While Parsons is the headliner, Odighizuwa has accounted for three of the team’s 10 sacks to go along with three tackles for loss and four QB hits. And you can’t forget about bookends DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong, who have a combined three sacks, five tackles for loss and three QB hits.

And if the Cardinals can get by the first and second waves of the Cowboys defense, they’ll have ball hawk Stephon Gilmore patrolling the secondary. Arizona will, however, get a break when it comes to Trevon Diggs after the cornerback reportedly tore his ACL during Thursday’s practice.

From top to bottom, Arizona won’t face much tougher of a test than Dallas in 2023.

“This is like the 19th time I’ve played these guys in my career and this is probably the fastest they’ve looked in my time in the NFL,” tight end Zach Ertz said Thursday. “Micah Parsons is a phenomenal football player, but DeMarcus Lawrence in all my years is one of the toughest guys to block. He’s got all the tools, he’s long, he’s explosive, he’s tough physically. Those guys fly around.

“You don’t want to play these guys if you’re behind early, because they’re just going to let those guys go and it’s going to be extremely difficult in the back end with Stephon Gilmore, Diggs, Jayron Kearse.”

If the Cardinals offense hopes to walk out of State Farm Stadium with its head held high, it’s going to come down to a few things.

It starts with consistency.

Arizona cannot turn in another showing of disfunction that was on display in the second half of last week’s loss to the Giants.

The Cardinals offense looked like a different animal across a little more than 30 minutes of football, with Dobbs showing off his improved rhythm and chemistry and running back James Conner effectively putting the running game on his shoulders.

Then the second half happened, where the Cardinals looked out of sorts for the majority of the final 30 minutes out of action outside of an early third-quarter scoring drive.

Among the things that went wrong was Arizona’s grasp on the home crowd, which slipped more and more with every Giants score.

The upped roars from the visiting side only led to more disaster for the Cardinals with numerous pre-snap penalties and miscues ruining any shot at regaining momentum or putting a stop to New York’s onslaught.

And while Giants fans traveled well last week, Cowboys followers are a whole other level, like it or not.

Limiting their impact on game flow starts with the Cardinals offense understanding snap counts in addition to hitting the ground running when the whistle blows.

One way Dobbs can accomplish that is by connecting with his favorite target in Ertz when it means the most.

Through two games, Ertz leads the team in targets (18) and receptions (12) but has yet to find pay dirt despite all the looks.

It’s not for a lack of trying, with Dobbs and Ertz failing to connect on a few makeable plays that could have gone the distance.

Both Ertz and Dobbs are confident their chemistry will continue to grow, and in turn, so will Arizona’s offensive output.

“With reps, we’ll 100% get on the same page,” Dobbs said. “Zach’s awesome because as a tight end we’re always texting each other different looks from the defense like, ‘Hey, what are you thinking here? Hey Josh, what are you thinking?’

“Just to stay on the same page. We’re going to hit those, and we know that.”

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