As is our tradition here on CowboysHQ, we strive to provide our readers with unique and important insight into each week’s matchup. With the NFC-leading Arizona Cardinals coming to town and a battle for the inside track to the number one seed pending, we couldn’t disappoint. Therefore, we reached out to Shaun Church of Bleacher Report to deliver us his take on what the Cards are bringing to the table.
1 - Dallas is coming off a game where their offense was barraged by a Blitz-mad Jim Haslett. A series of zero blitzes and similar looks when he still brought extra pressure. Can we expect the same from Told Bowles?
I think we can expect more of the same from Todd Bowles this week, yes. No one sends more pressure than Bowles does, and he'll bring it from everywhere. A-gap blitzes are his forte, sometimes sending both inside linebackers as well as a safety. Over the past couple of games, Bowles has send heavy pressure relentlessly on third downs and in key situations.
What I found interesting is that on the final drive of the game last week, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles dropped back 12 times, and Bowles sent pressure on six of them. The really interesting part is the sequence in which he called blitzes. On the first two plays, he rushed only four. On the next two, he brought heat. On the two after that, he rushed only four. It alternated that way the entire drive: two plays in coverage, two blitzes.
2 - I've seen several instances where the Cardinals look like they are selling out against the run, daring teams to pass. Is that an accurate assessment of the philosophy?
When Bowles and Bruce Arians got to town, the first thing they told the defense, according to reports, is that they would not allow teams to run on them. No matter what happens throughout a game, you do not allow the opposing offense to impose its will on you. To date, Bowles has done a fantastic job of halting teams' rushing attack. In fact, since the start of the 2013 season, Arizona ranks No. 1 in yards per carry allowed (3.47).
Stopping the run is what the Cardinals do. They will give quarterbacks all the passing yards they want, but they pride themselves in making the opposition one-dimensional. It's easy to control the game when you know the other team can't run the ball.
3 - On last week's broadcast, the announcers mentioned Carson Palmer stating they weren't the type of team that's going to have a 100-yard rusher. What kind of runner is Andre Ellington and how is he used?
Andre Ellington needs a complementary back in order to be successful. This season, he has started games gaining chunks of yards on the first few drives. By the time the fourth quarter comes around, many of his attempts are for three yards or less.
He can be a successful bell-cow back for the Cardinals, but he cannot do it all by himself. He's not that type of runner (whereas DeMarco Murray is). Ellington has averaged 27 touches per game over Arizona's three-game win streak—22 carries and five receptions per game. That cannot continue, because over that span, he is averaging a measly 3.4 yards per carry.
Rookie Marion Grice will see some action this week with Stepfan Taylor nursing a calf injury, and we have been waiting to see what he can do in relief of Ellington. The hope is that he is good for five to eight carries and around 20 snaps on offense just to give the speedy Ellington a breather. (Keep in mind Ellington is still dealing with a foot injury that limits what he can do at practice every week; his conditioning is not where it should be.)
4 - With the emergence of rookie John Brown and his DeSean Jackson level speed, combined with emerging number one Michael Floyd and the incomparable Lay Fitzgerald, what's the strategy that has worked best in defending the Arizona offense?
More often than not, a free safety has shaded to the side occupied by Michael Floyd. Bracketing Floyd has left John Brown with some opportunities, and the rookie certainly has taken advantage of them. But when defenses have succeeded, it's mainly been because they've dropped seven or more into coverage.
Palmer has feasted on blitzes this season, throwing four touchdowns to no interceptions while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for a 128.1 passer rating. When teams drop into coverage on Palmer, he has been only slightly above average, completing just under 58 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, an interception and an 86.8 rating.
5 - Arizona is 13-3 in their last 16 games, 16-7 under Bruce Arians. We saw the success he had filing in for Chuck Pagano in Indy. What has changed in the desert under the Cards new leader?
The biggest change was the man himself, Bruce Arians. New general manager Steve Keim has been massive in upgrading the roster over the past 18 months since he took over for former GM Rod Graves, but it's the head coach who gets the engine churning.
Arians knows what he wants, and he gets it out of his players. He is big on accountability, and I think that is important when building a championship team. He will call any player out for screwing up during a game or in the middle of practice.
He doesn't care who you are, and I think the players respect that. There is no special treatment just because of who you are or what you've done in the league.
Ask Larry Fitzgerald.
Bonus Quesion : Predict a final score for the contest.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 21, Cowboys 20
For more Cardinals insight, you can follow Shaun on Twitter, @NFLChurch