Going into the game Sunday where the Cowboys prevailed 24-7, the Dallas team had the number one rated offense. At the end of the first half, nothing had changed that stat. Dallas posted 247 yards of offense in the first two quarters. There have been games in the last three years where the offense didn't rack up those kinds of numbers.
Arizona had the ball first and seemed to move with ease in the air. However, Emmitt Smith was stuffed on his first run from scrimmage for a yard loss. His day would end early with a minus one yard of rushing.
Arizona, taking a page from all the other Dallas opponents this season came at Terrance Newman completing three passes against him in the first series. Yet he is normally man-up on their best receiver, so his baptism under fire has yet to produce a touchdown for the other team. The Cardinals were forced to punt after Dat Nguyen tipped at pass at the line of scrimmage.
Dallas ran a 9-play drive, which then ended in a punt. But the series, which mixed a combination of passing and running, set the tone for the rest of the half. Quincy came out sharp and completed passes to 3 different receivers and even ran a designed quarterback draw for 8-yards. The Cardinals had less to do with the drive stalling than a dropped pass by Avion Cason. But the tone was set with the success of the offense early.
The next Arizona offensive series featured Emmitt Smith. Two running plays and one pass gained a total of 8-yards forcing a punt. Zuriel Smith returned the kick to the Dallas 49-yard line.
Rushing has set up passing in the Cowboy's three game win streak and Sunday was no different. After Troy Hambrick moved the ball 18-yards on the ground during the previous series, the Cardinals were looking to shut down the run. So Bill Parcells pulls out a flea flicker with Hambrick running a dive play behind Larry Allen. He tossed the ball back to Quincy Carter who hit Terry Glenn in stride for a 51-yard touchdown.
Dallas special teams fell apart on the ensuing kick-off when Josh Scobey gutted Dallas for a 61-yard return. This set up a three play drive, which ended with a 24-yard pass from Jeff Blake to Bryan Gilmore for a touchdown. This was the last gasp of the Cardinals offensively for the rest of the game.
Dallas again enjoyed success in the running game on the next series with Troy Hambrick moving the ball 18-yards in a five play series. Again the play action worked as Richie Anderson scored on a perfect touch pass by Carter.
Yet the Dallas offense was not the only part of the team that scored. One two straight possessions in the third period the Cardinals were pinned on the 1-yard line by the Dallas punter Toby Gowin.
LeRoi Glover sacked Jeff Blake in the endzone for a safety followed by defensive end Kenyon Coleman running Blake out of the back of the endzone on the next series. Dallas held the Cardinals to 151 total yards for the entire game. The defense dispatched them with ease after their first score. At no time did the Cardinals mount a serious drive after the first quarter.
Carter was very sharp the entire day. But he still gets caught up in the game when things break down and tries to make something out of nothing. Early in the second quarter the protection failed against a blitz and Carter threw off a deep ball off his back foot to Joey Galloway. The pass was short and intercepted by Renaldo Hill. The pick ended up being the same as a punt, but for Carter to take the next step he needs to be more careful when things around him break down.
"I was pretty hard on him yesterday. As hard as I've been all year." Parcells said. "But he's handled that pretty well."
The offense wasn't as sharp in the second half, which seems to be the time of the game when they struggle making adjustments. However, the play calling became much more conservative as well as Parcells nursed a substantial lead after the safeties.
Carter has made great strides forward in his quest to be a top-flight NFL quarterback this season. His passes are tight spirals and he finds the open man in his progressions. He moves well in the pocket and has distanced himself from any notions that Chad Hutchinson will take his job this season. He is coming close to putting together a complete game. However, he is also getting in stride as the meat of the season approaches.
Emmitt Smith ended the day on a hit by Roy Williams. Smith suffered a sprained shoulder and left the contest in the first half. Dallas hammered him every time he touched the ball, a hangover from the diamond in the rough comments during the off-season.
But perhaps the best play of the day was an interception by Roy Williams late in the 4th quarter. He ran over a Bryant Johnson during his 38-yard runback. His collision looked like Earl Campbell in during his days with the Oilers as Johnson flew out of his path.
With 365 yards of offense, it's a good bet Dallas will remain the leader in production for another week. The real test will be next Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles visit Texas Stadium with Jim Johnson's blitzing defense.
But at the end of the first quarter of football for the 2003 season, it looks like Bill Parcells has returned the swagger to the Dallas Cowboys and brought them back to sole ownership of first place in the NFC East. The next step is to return them to the top of the NFL.
A Return Of Greatness
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