FRISCO, Texas – It feels strange to write this after the weekend, rather than before – but that's the schedule that goes with Monday Night Football.
After a long wait, we know have our first chance to watch the Cowboys since that forgettable outing in Denver. It doesn't look any easier this week, with another tough defense and another rowdy road stadium on the docket in Arizona.
It'll be on the Cowboys to start better than they did last week if they're going to get the result they want. With that in mind, here's what I'm looking for when kickoff finally arrives.
- After two weeks of dealing with quality cornerbacks, I would expect Scott Linehan to come up with some creative ways to generate open space for Dez Bryant. The Cardinals will counter with Patrick Peterson and he will likely travel everywhere that Bryant goes. One of the best ways that offenses buy space for their receivers is by positioning and moving them within the formation. Traditionally, Bryant has played on the outside, but I could see a change this week. Linehan could choose to put Bryant in some tight bunch formations and then scatter from that. The other way I mentioned is to put him on the move with motion. This would give Bryant the opportunity to get moving and would keep Peterson's hands off him. Regardless of which method Linehan chooses, it is something that he knows he has to do in order to help his receiver.
- I believe we're going to see some different defensive front combinations for the Cowboys this week with Damontre' Moore back in the lineup. Moore can play either side of the line at defensive end and some nickel tackle, if needed. DeMarcus Lawrence has the left side locked down, which has made former starter Tyrone Crawford a rotational player. Benson Mayowa has been the starter at right end and rotating with Taco Charlton. What would be interesting is if Rod Marinelli, in looking to get his best five on the field, decides that putting Crawford on the right side over Mayowa and Charlton is his best option? The offensive line did that with Chaz Green at guard. Crawford might not have the quickness of a Mayowa or Charlton, but if the Cardinals take a page out of the Broncos' playbook and try to run the ball, Crawford gives you some stoutness there.
- Anthony Brown will step in for Nolan Carroll this week as the starter at left cornerback. Orlando Scandrick is back in the lineup, as well, after missing the Broncos game with an injured hand. After getting a full week of work, Jourdan Lewis should be the nickel and will come into the game when the situation calls for him. Bené Benewikere will be active for the first time this season since being traded from the Bengals. Between Scandrick, Brown and Lewis, this might be the best combination of cover guys the Cowboys can put on the field. All three play well in press and are quick enough to react to the ball when playing zone. It's a super competitive group that also has ball skills, with Brown and Lewis already having interceptions this season. Something to keep an eye on is how they handle Larry Fitzgerald in this contest. We've seen Rod Marinelli mixing up the coverage on other big-play receivers before to keep them off balance. I would not be one bit surprised to see him do the same thing in this game.
- Through two games this season, when opponents have shown Dak Prescott a blitz, his passer rating is 61.98. When the Cardinals have blitzed opposing quarterbacks, their rating is 97.45, which is only 19th-best in the league.
- The Cardinals' defense has allowed opponents to rush for 4-plus yards a carry on first down on 58 percent of snaps this season. As bad as things were for the Cowboys in Denver, they are still ranked fifth in the league, hitting that number 54 percent of the time. Staying ahead of the chains as always is going to be the key, because it sets up their play action game. That plays right into the strength of Dak Prescott.
- I mentioned after studying the Broncos game, that if I were Rod Marinelli I'd consider using Xavier Woods more in the slot. He looked extremely comfortable playing inside covering receivers, and that kind of skill could be an asset going forward. In talking to a couple of scouts during the week, they mentioned that Woods did that quite a bit at Louisiana Tech. With Chidobe Awuzie being out for this game with a hamstring injury, don't be surprised to see Woods take over Awuzie's role in that dime package. I won't be surprised if he plays well.
- Ezekiel Elliott is a really good one back runner, and that's why we don't see much from Keith Smith at fullback. What I do like about Smith's game is how physical he is digging those linebackers out of the hole. With the Cowboys struggling last week running the ball in "12" personnel, could we see Linehan go with some "21" and replace the tight end with Smith? I don't completely see them going away from "12," but it might be worth a shot to see if Smith can clear some things up inside and edge to give Elliott some traction carrying the ball. Running a fullback downhill at a defense can have a demoralizing effect, and that's what Smith can bring.
- My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Cooper Rush, RB Darren McFadden, CB Nolan Carroll, CB Chidobe Awuzie, LB Anthony Hitchens, OG Jonathan Cooper, DE Charles Tapper.