The next few weeks are certain to unveil just how the 2020 season will go for the Dallas Cowboys. After a 2-3 start to the year and losing Dak Prescott to a season-ending injury, a division heavy middle of the schedule is on the horizon. Before the Cowboys take on another NFC East foe, they'll have to get through a high-flying Arizona Cardinals (3-2) team that brings a bevy of weapons to the table. With a chance to get back to .500 on the line, Monday Night Football serves as an early season opportunity for Dallas to find their footing before back-to-back road games against divisional opponents. Here are five critical storylines heading into Monday's matchup with Arizona.
- Much like the rest of the NFL, Arizona has had their own fair share of injured stars they'll have to do without. The most notable subtraction to the starting lineup this week is linebacker Chandler Jones who left their Week 5 matchup with the Jets with an apparent bicep injury. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said that Jones will get an MRI this week to confirm a suspected tear and if confirmed, he would be out for the season. Along with Jones, the Cardinals have offensive line health issues as they lost both starting guards Justin Pugh and J.R. Sweezy at different points during their 30-10 win on Sunday.
- It's a trio of homecomings for the star-studded Arizona core as quarterback Kyler Murray, coach Kingsbury, and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins return to Texas. Both Murray (Bedford) and Kingsbury (New Braunfels) are from the Lone Star state and will make the trip to AT&T Stadium for the first time in their new NFL roles. Murray has played at the stadium on multiple occasions during his time with nearby Allen High School (2013-15) and the Oklahoma Sooners (2017-18). While Kingsbury would have a yearly matchup in Arlington against Baylor as the head coach of Texas Tech (2013-18). As for Hopkins, he did not grow up in Texas, but called the state home for the first seven years of his career with the Houston Texans.
- Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals with a 2020 4th round pick from the Texans in a blockbuster deal this spring. The Texans received a 2020 2nd round pick and a 2021 fourth rounder along with veteran running back David Johnson in the deal. So far, Arizona has passed the trade grade with flying colors as Hopkins enters Week 6 with a league-best 45 receptions, 528 yards and two touchdowns. He brings a receiving corps with future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and former Texas A&M product Christian Kirk to Arlington this week.
- Even after the Hopkins trade was finalized in March, there was still some rumors that Arizona would be interested in current Cowboys rookie CeeDee Lamb during the 2020 NFL Draft. Arizona held the eighth overall pick in the first round and could have easily added another key weapon to complement Hopkins in the passing game, a player who had already been a common comparison for Lamb. Instead, they selected Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons who through five weeks has seen only 57 snaps and made just five tackles in a disappointing start to the year.
- One of the strengths the Cardinals boast is their experienced and All-Pro secondary. Led by 10-year veteran Patrick Peterson and fourth-year safety Budda Baker, the Arizona secondary continues to be one of the best units in the league. This season, opponents have been held to 222 yards passing per game and just over a 60-percent completion percentage against the Cardinals. Each statistic is marginally lower than the numbers that the Dallas defense has collected. However, Arizona has yet to face an attack as tough as the Cowboys with their three wins coming against three of the worst offenses in the NFL with New York, Washington, and a banged-up San Francisco squad.
- The biggest storyline in the NFL this week was the injury to starting quarterback Dak Prescott in the third quarter of last Sunday's matchup with the Giants. By now it's pretty well known that Prescott suffered a compound fracture in his right foot and will be out the rest of the season, leaving veteran backup Andy Dalton in the starting role. Dalton started the first 133 games of his NFL career in Cincinnati before signing with Dallas this offseason. The ninth-year signal caller and three-time Pro Bowler is 11th on the active list in passing yards, touchdowns, and completions.
- Jerry Jones, during his weekly interview with 105.3 The Fan, mentioned that the Dak Prescott injury "does impact expectations" when it comes to the way that the front office will evaluate the 2020 season. Jones' comments continued with a broad look at the original mindset of how to deal with what has been the most unpredictable year of his tenure. "This is a different year," Jones said. "If you ever had a year to approach things in an unorthodox way, this is it." He continued by giving his support to Dalton in the quarterback role and said that while he is confident that the veteran can have success, the overall view of the season has to be taken into consideration.
- Though the Cowboys seemingly got back on track with a 37-34 win over the Giants to get back to 2-3, both of their wins in 2020 have come against winless organizations. Dallas defeated Atlanta in Week 2, a team that just fired their head coach and has a legitimate shot at starting anew. And they also beat the Giants, who are in a complete rebuilding phase already around Daniel Jones and Joe Judge. So even though the victory was much needed, it still brought notable skepticism from the nation as they've only beaten the lowest caliber teams in the league by a combined four points. Monday Night will mark the first time that Dallas will face a team with both multiple wins and multiple losses through the first five weeks of the season.
- Jaylon Smith (12 tackles) and DeMarcus Lawrence (strip sack resulting in touchdown) each had their best games of the season this past weekend as the defense continues to get healthy in certain areas. Beginning this week, Chidobe Awuzie is eligible to return from injured reserve and while it hasn't been said yet, there is a possibility that both he and Leighton Vander Esch could return this week. Vander Esch saw time on the practice field last week in pads but not a part of team drills or anything involving contact. It is still unsure whether either will make their return this week but with the possibility on the table and the reinstatement of Randy Gregory slated for next week, things are looking up on that side of the ball.
- Dallas also took a major hit this week when Trysten Hill tore an ACL in the second half of Sunday's game as well. Head coach Mike McCarthy touted Hill as the "most improved player" on the Cowboys this season after a solid offseason and start to the campaign. Hill had taken 212 total snaps, almost 100 more than he took last season, and tallied eight tackles, nine total pressures and three quarterback hits. The interior of the defensive line continues to be a problem spot for the defense and will undoubtedly miss his effort and motor that was showcased through the first five games. Third-round pick Neville Gallimore will likely get more reps in the middle this week.
The Cowboys are back at AT&T Stadium next Monday night, October 19th , to take on the Arizona Cardinals. A limited number of tickets starting at $89 are on sale now. Get yours now before they sell out!
Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium this season can be viewed at www.DallasCowboys.com/safestadium.