The Dallas Cowboys’ high-flying offense hit its stride in the second half of a 28-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. Here’s what we learned from the game:
1. Dak Prescott had one of his best games throwing on the run of his young career. The second-year passer connected twice with Brice Butler, first for a touchdown and later for a massive gain on a drive that ended in a touchdown run from Ezekiel Elliott that crushed Arizona’s comeback hopes. Prescott also rushed for a touchdown, front-flipping over a defender and the goal line in one of his most complete games of the season. He did get some help on a gutsy, 15-yard TD catch by Dez Bryant in the third quarter (coach Jason Garrett said after the game the catch showed how Dez is “all about scratch, claw, battle”). While other components of Dallas’ offense (and defense) still work on putting things together, Prescott is showing his rookie season was no fluke.
2. Dallas found unusual success with base rushes against Arizona’s offensive line, which struggled mightily on the edges and forced Palmer to constantly step up to avoid being sacked. Demarcus Lawrence was a terror off the edge, recording three sacks and getting to Palmer many more times than that. With 6.5 sacks in three games, Lawrence is in the middle of the race for the sack crown as we near the quarter pole. Maliek Collins was right behind Lawrence on Monday night with two sacks of his own.
3. Dallas’ frequent pressure, which included six sacks was visibly affecting Palmer, who lofted a pass off his back foot with room to step into a third-down throw, underthrowing an open receiver. He was effective on a drive late in the fourth, despite the pressure, but the next possession went down in flames after a three-man rush got to Palmer on third down, effectively ending Arizona’s comeback hopes. Another three-man rush ran right around Cardinals tackles John Wetzel and Jared Veldheer on the Cardinals’ next drive, and a five-man attack resulted in another sack shortly thereafter on a night to forget for the two tackles.
4. Has Larry Fitzgerald aged at all? The wideout caught 13 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, including an outrageous grab in which he took the ball from Orlando Scandrick in mid-air, bobbling it off his forearm before securing it once on the ground. The catch extended a Cardinals drive that resulted in a Phil Dawson field goal. The 34-year-old passed Marvin Harrison for eighth place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list with his touchdown grab (hat tip, @NFLResearch) and was a frequent target of Palmer’s, who is as Around the NFL’s Marc Sessler tweeted one of the league’s more entertaining quarterbacks to watch, win or lose. We’ll miss Fitz once he hangs it up.
5. It might just be me (I don’t think it is), but through three games, Ezekiel Elliott has looked a step slow. Save for a 30-yard run in the first half, he again struggled to get going until the fourth-quarter drive that put the game away. Elliott did look more like his rookie-season self on that drive, breaking tackles on his two carries inside the 15, first for seven yards and then for eight, with the latter finishing in the end zone. Elliott’s top speeds — 17.84 mph maximum, which came in Week 1, per Next Gen Stats — seem to agree with this notion. His max speeds were up and down through most of last season (as expected), but he’d neared 19 mph by Week 3 of last season. In eight of those weeks, he was above 19. He hit a 17.69 maximum on Monday and hasn’t cracked 18 so far this season, which has a lot to do with …
6. The Cowboys’ offensive line. This is a unit that just isn’t where it was last season at this time, and misses Ron Leary and Doug Free. The hope is they’ll get it going — considering the talent that remains within the group, they will — but right now, they aren’t consistently creating opportunities for Elliott to run. Fortunately, they’re protecting one of the better mobile quarterbacks who is improving by the week.
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