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X Factors

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X Factors: 10 game-changers for Cowboys & Cards


FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys and Cardinals face off Sunday in Arizona in a matchup of a team looking to get to 3-0 against one trying to avoid an 0-3 start.

Since the Super Bowl is always the goal for every team, we decided to rank the Top 10 X-factors for the Cowboys and Cardinals, using roman numerals, since 10 = X.

Here we go, these 10 guys will likely be big difference-makers one way or another.

X - Joshua Dobbs – In his first two games of the season, Dobbs hasn't done enough to get the Cardinals to a victory, but he's not exactly the reason they're 0-2. He's got 360 passing yards in two games with an 89.1 QB rating. Dobbs has just one touchdown pass but no interceptions. And while he hasn't been a consistent running threat, with only six attempts for 38 yards, he did score a 23-yard rushing touchdown last week against the Giants.

IX - James Conner – The success that Arizona has found early in the season has started with the run game and starting running back James Conner. Last week against New York, Conner rushed for 106 yards and one touchdown as he played a big role in helping to get the Cardinals out to a 21-point lead. If Arizona wants to keep the offense flowing with a backup quarterback against one of the top pass rush groups in the league, then getting Conner going early and often will be required.

VIII - Zach Ertz – He's starting to look like the guy the Cowboys faced twice a year with the Eagles. The veteran tight end leads the Cardinals with 12 catches so far, with six receptions in each of the first two games. The Cowboys might have the best crop of safeties they've had since Darren Woodson was lining up back there, and the reason for that is their ability to cover. So that matchup will be interesting to see who the Cowboys attempt to cover Ertz, who has always been a solid possession receiver to move the sticks.

VII - Dennis Gardeck – Despite the Arizona defense already having to replace Budda Baker and Carlos Watkins early in the season due to injuries, outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck has been able to step up and find success early in the season in rushing the passer and in the run game. Already with three sacks to his name at this point, Gardeck has made life difficult for both Sam Howell and Daniel Jones in the pocket, and an opportunity awaits for the Dallas offensive line to hold firm against a pass rusher on a hot streak or for Gardeck to keep his success going against a veteran-led offensive line.

VI - Brandin Cooks – Circumstances through the first two weeks haven't been the most kind to veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks, as the weather played a role in him hauling in just two receptions in week one and a knee injury kept him out of week two. However, going into week three, an opportunity awaits for Cooks to take advantage of a young, inexperienced secondary on the boundary and find success both in the short game and downfield.

V - DeMarcus Lawrence – The run game has been stifled for opposing offenses in the first two weeks, and DeMarcus Lawrence has played a big role in the final rushing stat lines for the Giants and Jets. Going into week three against an offense that has to get James Conner going to find offensive success, Lawrence will get to face off against first-round rookie Paris Johnson Jr. in order to keep his run dominance going.

IV - Stephon Gilmore – Speed was something that Garrett Wilson was able to take advantage of last Sunday when lined up against Stephon Gilmore, and the speed weapons only increase when looking at Arizona's skill group. With receivers like Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore expected to test Gilmore on Sunday, keeping the speed limited in front of him will be key to Joshua Dobbs not being able to find any big plays downfield.

III - Dak Prescott – The two-time Pro Bowler was surgical against the Jets, a great improvement over the muted rain-drenched outing in Week 1. He and CeeDee Lamb turned the screws on one of the best defenses in the league, but this week they're facing a Cardinals' unit that is without three-time All-Pro safety Budda Baker and interior pressure-man Carlos Watkins. If both Tyler Smith and Brandin Cooks are back in the mix, Prescott might put this one away early.

II - Osa Odighizuwa – This is a guy who had a career year in 2022 with four sacks, doubling his rookie output in that category from the previous year, but who now has three sacks through the first two games of this season. He's done everything asked of him and more, including eating up and beating double teams, and the Cardinals are likely going to find out that Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence aren't the only pass rush terrors on the defensive line. Odighizuwa, through the first two games, is statistically better than even Aaron Donald at taking down QBs from the inside.

I - Micah Parsons – You'll probably never see this list not include Parsons, and for good reason. He wreaks havoc on a weekly basis and even when his stat line isn't bursting at the seams, look around and you'll notice his presence having created opportunities for others. He's also played Josh Dobbs before, in 2022, so he knows the QB's tendencies — on an offense that lacks playmakers around the 28-year-old backup. With three sacks (should be four) through two games, Dobbs is in for a long day of being hunted.

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