The Arizona Cardinals picked apart a hurting Dallas Cowboys organization on primetime Monday Night Football, winning 38-10 and exposing a declining Cowboys team at AT&T Stadium in Week 6. The now 4-2 Cardinals move up to second in the NFC West and the now 2-4 Dallas Cowboys remain leaders in the sad NFC East.
This game was all about the Cardinals and there were several exciting moments to hold on to as a fan and for the Cardinals young organization to build from.
The MVP of the ‘No- Fly Zone’ for this week goes to safety Budda Baker. Baker was a game-changer on crucial downs and forced turnovers, keeping the Cowboys on their usual pattern as they have the worst turnover margin in the NFL. Baker may only have nine usable fingers at the moment but that didn’t stop him as he managed to finish the game with one interception, one sack, one pass deflection and seven tackles.
He is powerful in the edge rush position and with the plays he sets up on the line of scrimmage, he is bound to make a big stop.
Kyler Murray played like how he played in the win week one against division foes in the San Francisco 49ers ⎯ smart, quick and dominant. To top off the win, in Murray’s seven appearances at AT&T Stadium, (combining high school, college and professional appearances) Murray is undefeated at 7-0.
Although Murray only completed nine passes out of 24 attempts, he finished the game passing for 188 yards, two touchdowns and rushing 10 times for 74 yards, one resulting in a TD. In the game, he was successful in utilizing his feet and not forcing plays. His speed and body awareness are his strongest assets and it is nice to see improvement in those categories every week.
Last week, I discussed how Murray needs to get the ball out more to his most-seasoned wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins. The first pass of the night was targeted at Hopkins. However, it went incomplete, and the first drive did end in a three-and-out. Later, Murray sent the ball deep to wide receiver Andy Isabella on third and long in blown coverage and Isabella wasn’t even close to making the catch.
Hopkins and Isabella didn’t seem to connect with Murray in the first half and both receivers dropped multiple targets, which looked to be completely from miscommunication. The first quarter was pretty stale and neither team put any points on the board.
Hopkins wasn’t utilized more, but he made plays when needed and that is exactly what the Cardinals need from him. Hopkins finished the game with two receptions for 73 yards and the second reception was for 60 yards, putting the nail in the coffin. Fitzgerald had three receptions for 22 yards and completed one of his longest receptions of the season.
Some other contributors to the Cardinals offense’s success tonight was running back Kenyan Drake and wide receiver Christian Kirk. There was a huge third down from the 18-yard line and an 11-yard keeper from Murray, which moved the sticks to keep the drive alive. Then, a shovel pass to Kirk next play to get the first points on the board in the game and put the Cardinals up 7-0. Kirk also had, what should be, the catch of the game extending his arms to catch the ball with his fingertips in an 80-yard TD reception.
Drake struggled a little Monday getting stuffed at the line and not breaking away to gain yardage. Then, with a few minutes remaining on the game clock and with the win in the bag, Murray was handing the ball off to Drake trying to run out the clock but suddenly, Drake found a hole and ran up the seam for his longest run of the night, a 69-yard TD. Drake finished with 20 rushes for 164 yards and two TD’s.
The Cardinals defense came out strong pressuring Andy Dalton, backup quarterback for the Cowboys, since the season-ending injury Dak Prescott suffered last week against the Giants. Running back Ezekiel Elliott also is feeling the pressure without his starting QB and had two fumbles on the night, both being committed before the game was even four minutes into the second quarter.
Both fumbles were recovered by the Cardinals defense, resulting in the offense adding 14 points to the board and extending the lead against a scoreless Cowboys team. This is also an improvement because the Cardinals have previously suffered from not capitalizing on big plays made by the defense.
Although the defense is missing outside linebacker Chandler Jones for the remainder of the season, tonight demonstrated they do have a tough defense and there are other effective players who step up when needed. Byron Murphy Jr. had a stellar game, getting his hand in the bread box of multiple Cowboy receivers to break up passes.
Something that still needs to improve for the Cardinals is to minimize their penalties committed in a game. A great team is a disciplined team and the Cardinals suffer from too many penalties on both sides of the ball. False starts should also not be a recurring theme every week.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is also improving his play calling and is making smarter in-game decisions. Kingsbury made a smart decision to accept a penalty from the Cowboys, which kept them with a third down, not fourth, but pushed the Cowboys out of field-goal range. Dalton threw an incomplete pass to wide receiver Michael Gallup, ending the drive with a punt instead of a field goal attempt.
Winning this game, on the road, by this margin is exactly what the Cardinals needed to do, and they delivered. In the next four weeks, the Cardinals are going to play division competitors and the currently undefeated Seattle Seahawks two times. If the Cardinals keep finding rhythm on offense and commit fewer penalties, they cannot be counted out.