Cowboys at Cardinals score, takeaways: Arizona stuns Dallas for first win as double-digit underdogs run wild
Dallas couldn't handle the heat in the desert and lost for the first time in 2023
The Dallas Cowboys visiting the Arizona Cardinals appeared to be perhaps Week 3's most lopsided game. That wasn't the case, as the Cardinals shocked the Cowboys and the football world with a 28-16 victory.
Arizona was an 11-point home underdog after entering Week 3 winless following a collapse against the New York Giants in which they blew a 21-point second-half lead to lose 31-28. Dallas entered Week 3 leading the NFL in points scored (70), points allowed (10), point differential (+60), giveaways (zero), takeaways (seven), turnover margin (plus-seven), total yards per game allowed (193.0), yards per play allowed (3.5), red zone touchdown percentage allowed (zero percent), sacks (10, tied with the Commanders), quarterback pressure rate (63.6%) and passer rating allowed (34.2). The loss is the Cowboys' largest upset loss since falling, 39-31, to the Detroit Lions as 13-point home favorites in Week 17 of the 2006 season.
ReigningMicah Parsons challenged teams to after they held the New York Jets to 64 rushing yards in a 30-10 Week 2 win.
"Extremely proud," Parsonsabout he and his teammates ability to shut down the Jets' ground game. "I think this season we all committed to saying 'we're going to make these guys pass the ball.' We're going to force them to let us rush and when we come out, we come down and set the tone saying 'you won't run on us' and then we go get our sack, now that's what changes everything. To all the teams with them game plans, c'mon. Run at me. Run at whoever."
The Cardinals obliged, racking up 222 rushing yards with two of their three touchdowns coming the ground via a 45-yard sprint by wide receiver Rondale Moore and a 5-yard plunge by running back James Conner. Conner finished the game with 98 yards on the ground and the score on 14 carries, averaging seven yards a pop. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, making his fifth career start, amassed 55 rushing yards on six carries -- the first of which being a 44-yard scramble -- in addition to 189 passing yards on 17 of 21 passing. Sunday marked his first career victory as a starting quarterback. The 180 rushing yards the Cowboys allowed in the first half were the most allowed by any team in a first half this season, and the most the Cowboys have allowed in a first half since at least 1991. Dallas' first-half run defense was the worst since the Lions 240 rushing yards to the Panthers in the first half of a 37-23 loss in Week 16 last season. The Cowboys' 222 rushing yards allowed was their second-most surrendered in a game under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who came to Dallas in 2021. Their worst run defense occurred in a 49-29 blowout victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 8 of the 2022 season.
Penalties also hampered the Cowboys, as they committed 13 for a total 107 yards surrendered. The 13 infractions are tied for the third-most in a game under head coach Mike McCarthy, since the 2020 season. Three plays in the fourth quarter solidified the Cardinals victory, one on offense and one on defense. Dallas shutout Arizona in the third quarter, which allowed them to get within five, 21-16, thanks to two field goals by rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey. The former MLS and USFL athlete improved to 10-for-10 on field goals in his brief, three-game career drilling three on Sunday. Following Aubrey's final field goal, the Cardinals' first play from scrimmage went for 69 yards. Dallas had a coverage bust, allowing Cardinals third-round, rookie receiver to spring WIDE OPEN over the middle of the field with no one in his zip code. Three plays later, Arizona's top wideout Marquise Brown, age 26, blew past 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Stephon Gilmore, age 33, for a two-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. That put the Cardinals up 28-16.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott had an inefficient outing while missing three of his usual offensive line starters. Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin (ankle) and Pro Bowl center Tyler Biadasz (hamstring) were inactive while Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith (knee) suited up but did not play in the game. He was sacked twice and pressured on 28.9% of his dropbacks -- the seventh-lowest rate in Week 3 entering "Monday Night Football" --, but Prescott was unable to get in rhythm throughout the contest, throwing for 249 passing yards for one touchdown -- a 15-yard screen pass to undrafted running back Rick Dowdle (his first career score) -- and an interception -- the final offensive play for the Cowboys on Sunday. He was looking for Brandin Cooks, but Cooks had three defenders in zone coverage around, allowing Arizona linebacker Kyzir White, an NFC East foe on the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago, to haul in Prescott's first interception of 2023.
Here are the major takeaways from Sunday's stunner.
Why the Cardinals won
The Cardinals dominated at the line of scrimmage, plain and simple. They caught the Cowboys defense off guard -- at least that is how it appeared. Mobile quarterbacks annoyed Dallas in Weeks 1 and 2, as it allowed 43 rushing yards on 13 carries to Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in Week 1 and 36 rushing yards on five carries to Jets quarterback Zach Wilson in Week 2. However, Dobbs blew past both of those totals on one run in the first half with a 44-yard scramble. After that run, the Cowboys defense, which had clearly been the league's best through two weeks, was playing on its heels the rest of the afternoon.
Arizona scored points on six of its nine drives, although the ninth one concluded with kneel downs, so really six of eight in terms of scoring on drives in which it actually attempted to score. The Cardinals took advantage of Dallas playing its first game following Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs', as their receivers seemed a step quicker than the Cowboys defensive backs. They also capitalized on the major zone coverage miscommunication that led to Michael Wilson's 69-yard catch-and-run. Defensively, they took care of business in the red zone. Dallas went one-for-five with two field goals, the screen pass touchdown to Dowdle, a turnover on downs and an interception. That's winning football -- keeping your opponent out of the end zone when it gets inside the 20.
Why the Cowboys lost
Sloppiness across the board. The combination of 222 rushing yards, communication and execution miscues in the secondary, and 13 penalties is a losing formula. Simply put, Dallas played like it was the inferior time Sunday. Yes, not having three offensive line starters is significant, but the persisting red zone issues are something that should concern McCarthy and company going forward. The Cowboys are 6-for-15 in terms of converting red zone drives into touchdowns after three weeks, as their 2-for-6 performance last week, lumped in with their 1-for-5 showing this week, are not long-term indicators of success. Dallas has plenty of time to get its red zone issues turned around, but that element of its offense, plus the overall sloppiness, are why it is traveling back to Texas with a disheartening defeat.
Turning point and play of the game
Michael Wilson's 69-yard catch-and-run. This play was a microcosm of what went down in the desert Sunday. Arizona stifled Dallas' momentum by reaching first-and-goal on the seven on the first play of its drive following the Cowboys trimming its lead to five, 21-16. Wilson easily found the wide-open middle of the field and then utilized his speed to put on the afterburners. This play led to Dobbs' only touchdown pass of the afternoon and a 12-point lead the Cowboys couldn't claw back from.
The Cowboys will host a former franchise leader, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and the New England Patriots (1-2) in Week 4, while the Cardinals will hit the road to face another NFC heavyweight in the San Francisco 49ers (3-0).
That should do it. Dak Prescott throws his first interception of 2023 on third-and-goal from the Cardinals six to Arizona linebacker Kyzir White, an NFC East foe on the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago. Cardinals lead 28-16 with two minutes to go. Not much Dallas can do.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown, age 26, simply beats cornerback Stephon Gilmore off the line for a two-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. Arizona stretches their back to two scores, 28-16, with 7:22 left to play. Rookie third-round pick receiver Michael Wilson provides the big play of the drive with a 69-yard catch-and-run after the Cowboys had a coverage bust.
Cowboys rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey drills the 26-yard field goal to get Dallas even closer as they now trail 21-16. The former MLS and USFL athlete improves to 10-for-10 on field goals in his brief, three-game career. He has hit from 49 yards 27 yards and 26 yards. Dallas went two-for-six in the red zone in terms of scoring touchdowns last week against the Jets, and they drop to one-for-four in such opportunities today after that last drive.