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Spagnola: Don't You Ever Forget How Important The Quarterback Is Again

ARLINGTON, Texas – And now, once again, we thoroughly understand how important the quarterback is.

         Cardinals 28, Cowboys 17, is our latest prime example.

         One quarterback completed 22-of-34 passes for 249 yards, with three touchdowns, one interception and finished with a 103.7 passer rating.

         The other, with the score 28-10 and 4:20 remaining in the game, had completed 11-of-23 passes for 103 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 24.4 passer rating.

         Want to guess which guy won?

         Bingo, the Cardinals' Carson Palmer, who at times was shaky himself, while the other, you guessed it, Brandon Weeden, starting in place of the injured Tony Romo, was the disappointing one, meaning the Cardinals now have the best record in the NFL (7-1) and the Cowboys, after six consecutive wins, now have lost two straight, and at home at that, dropping to 6-3 and a half game behind Philadelphia (6-2) in the NFC East.

         On top of that, the Cowboys must now climb upon their charter flight to London, leaving at 7 p.m. Monday and arriving at 10:30 in the morning London time on Tuesday, spending the entire week in the UK preparing for Sunday's game against Jacksonville (1-8).

         So hear me out on this quarterback stuff. This is not all about stats, either, not all about numbers. Because no matter what Palmer was doing, and what Weeden was unable to do before 85,688 here at AT&T Stadium Sunday afternoon, with a mere 9:36 left to play, the score was Cardinals 14, Cowboys 10.

         Fourteen-Ten for cryin' out loud.

         And to think the Cowboys already had one field goal blocked, one pass intercepted at the Arizona 10, dropped at least two passes and missed a fourth-and-1/2 yard conversion attempt at the Cardinals 34.

         No can do when you are starting your backup quarterback, Weeden having a full week's preparation since the injured Tony Romo knew by Wednesday that he would not be able to play this Sunday with his two transverse process fractures along his vertebrae suffered the Monday before.

         I mean, let your mind wander. Had Dan Bailey's mere 35-yard field goal been good, and he certainly hardly ever misses, leaving the Cowboys trailing just 14-13, then they might have attempted another 52-yard field goal for the lead on that fourth-and-1.

         But that was typical of the game, the Cowboys sudden inability to run the ball effectively on a consistent basis. And you know why?

         The Cardinals, ranked No. 3 in run defense, absolutely had no fear of crowding the line of scrimmage. They had no fear of blitzing the Cowboys in run situations.

         With Romo on the sideline and Weeden starting, the Cardinals had decided there was no way in (insert place of your choice) the Cowboys were going to run for the 160 yards they had averaged over the first eight games. That there was no way in the place of your choice that Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was going to make them the ninth straight opponent to get trampled for more than 100 yards.

         Oh no. While last week Washington regularly blitzed Romo in passing situations with one and sometimes two more than the Cowboys could block, eventually breaking his back, Arizona gap-blitzed on running downs, basically gambling if they stopped the run they would stop the Cowboys.

         That Weeden couldn't beat them.

         They did, and won the bet.

         Amazing the Cowboys were leading 10-0 at the end of the first quarter with Murray gaining just 11 yards on four carries. Or that they merely trailed 14-10 at halftime with Murray rushing for only 45 yards, 17 of those coming on just one carry.

         Certainly it was tough sledding in there with the Cardinals crowding the line of scrimmage, trusting their corners Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie to handle Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams well enough with Weeden at quarterback. And they did. Both were shut out in the first half. No catches. In fact, no Cowboys receiver had a reception in the first half, and until the final drive, which began with 4:20 to play, Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley had the only wide receiver catches at all, one each.

         "Obviously they come into it with a commitment to stopping the run," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said, probably realizing the Cowboys had gained a season-low 108 yards in the first half. "When you play a team that has run as well as we have, that's going to be the No. 1 priority. And they wanted to do that.

         "What you need to do is be persistent and stubborn in the running game. I think we were, but you need to be able to chase them out of it by being effective and efficient in the passing game. We didn't do that consistently enough throughout the game and that hurt us."

         Killed 'em.

         Now, certainly their cause was not helped with two-fifths of what's been called the best offensive line in football missing. No Doug Free (foot), again. No Ron Leary (groin). But most of all, no Romo. That takes a toll, no matter how badly you want to subscribe to this next-man-up theory.

         [embeddedad0]Murray would finish with only 79 yards on 19 carries. The Cowboys would finish with just 92 yards rushing, 68 below their average. They would total just 266 total yards, their fewest of the season, 74 yards less than the previous low.

         This all caused significant problems on third down for the NFL's third-down conversion leaders going into the game (55.7 percent). The Cowboys converted only three-of-11 third downs, that 27 percent half of their season-long efficiency percentage. In fact, how about this: The Cowboys converted their first two third-down conversions, then failed on the next eight straight, not including one conversion by penalty, until converting their final one needing just 2 yards.

         Of those third-down opportunities, seven of the 11 were from at least 8 yards out, and four of those from 10 or more yards. And on top of that, they failed on that ever-important fourth-down try.

         "They had a game plan to stop our bread-and-butter runs," Weeden said.

         Then combine that with Weeden getting intercepted at the Cardinals 10 with the Cowboys only trailing 14-10, and then again at their own 28 to set up the Cardinals' fourth touchdown, there is no way to survive against the team with the best record in the NFL.

         Here was another problem, as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones saw it, and it had something to do with seeing.

         "We hoped he would have had a better day for us," Jones said. "He certainly was intent on getting the ball out. I would have liked for him to get (to) some third and fourth options because we had them. That would have made a big difference out there. But again, that's a lot to expect in this situation."

         Maybe so, but sorely needed.

         All of which continues to confirm how the running game and the passing game complement each other, that you can't just load up and run the ball just because you want to or need to. You had better have another viable threat.

         And that's where fear of the quarterback comes in.


         And don't you forget it.

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