By Zach Walker
How’d it go for the Cowboys?
Let’s start with the positives: Tyler Patmon proved that he can make some big plays. Henry Melton is getting better with each game he plays. Jason Witten is a seriously underrated track star, and DeMarco Murray didn’t fumble the ball.
Now the negative: Brandon Weeden. Everyone kept bringing up the clever reminder that Weeden “is the most prepared back-up quarterback in the league, because he’s been taking snaps every Wednesday.” Which brings up an even larger question, what exactly are they practicing on Wednesdays? Weeden looked beyond bad against the Cardinals.
The Cardinals started very strong, converting a 3rd and 10, then gashing the Cowboys for plays of 12, 11, and 5 yards before hitting a bump. The bump was Henry Melton, who sacked Carson Palmer for a 7 yard loss. The next play, would inspire some hope that this game could go really well for the Cowboys. Tyler Patmon absolutely sharked the ball intended for Michael Floyd, and took the ball 58 yards for the Cowboys first score of the game. Between that pick, and the one in the preseason, where he read the play like he wrote it, and intercepted the ball and scored it, he’s shown genuine ball awareness.
With a little under nine minutes to go in the first quarter, things were, let’s say, peachy. A swing pass to Lance Dunbar, with beasts in front of him, plowing the road for 40 yards, set up the offense at the Arizona 30 yard line. A Tyron Smith false start penalty was the hint of how this drive would end. A check down to Murray in the flat was a gem of a decision on 2nd and long, then on 3rd down, Dez didn’t really look up for this play and let this one go.
Into the second quarter, the Cardinals drove the full 80 yards, and capped their drive with a Carson Palmer to John Carlson 7-yard touchdown pass, with Rolando McClain pursuing in man coverage, which I don’t have a problem with on that play, but I do find that dropping Henry Melton into coverage on 3rd and 6 from the 7 yard line a bit of an overthink. The Cardinals scoring drive was followed by a Cowboys’ three and out. But the two teams would exchange three and outs, until the Cardinals would convert on a 3rd and 10 from their own 37. Tyler Patmon came nearly free, and came just about as close to hitting Palmer, forcing him to re-rack, roll left and find Michael Floyd for 12 yards and the first down, with Orlando Scandrick in close coverage behind him. Then Andre Ellington would gain back-to-back 20 yard plays, first a rush, then a very well executed double screen, where Palmer faked the throw left, quickly turned back and threw to Ellington with men in front to pave the way for the next 20 yards. Palmer would put it in the endzone with an 11-yard zip connection to Jamal Brown with Brandon Carr drawing the flag for pass interference.
The Cowboys would piece together a pretty solid drive, with a first play strike to Jason Witten for 18 yards, working the middle of the field, and on the 5th attempt at trying to get Dez Bryant the ball, the play drew a pass interference call on Patrick Peterson, who would continue to give Dez absolutely zero breathing room throughout the entire game. Two plays for DeMarco Murray would pick up 12 yards and another first down. Then the first deep shot of the game for Dallas, but Weeden had some mustard on it and over threw Terrence Williams, working against Antonio Cromartie. A sweet cut-back run by Murray for 17 yards took the ball to the Arizona 16 yard line and the half to the two-minute warning. After nothing on 1st down, Weeden would get sacked on 2nd down, where Mackenzy Bernadeau would actually push the Cardinals Nose Tackle Dan Williams into Weeden, or at least, that’s what it looked like to me. A 3rd down draw play to Murray for 8 yards set up a chip shot for Dan Bailey. But against Arizona, the kicking game always gets funny, and the kick was blocked by Justin Bethel and recovered by the last player the Cowboys could have wanted, the dangerous return-man Patrick Peterson, but if there’s ever a better play to demonstrate Jason Witten’s football IQ and skill, this one is a good one. All he heard was the “THUD” of the ball being blocked, before he even gets fully around to locate it, he’s tearing down the field after Patrick Peterson. After Dan Bailey got held back from making a play, Witten wrangled Peterson down at the 19 yard line to save the score and preserve the game at 14-10.
The three and out as the second half got under way for the Cowboys hurt, because there was evidence of a clear disconnect between Dez Bryant and Brandon Weeden. The 1st down pass was simply behind Dez, and the 3rd down pass was a hot pass and out of reach for Dez to get after. But, the Cowboys defense would force another three and out, and give the ball back to their inept offense, with help by Dwayne Harris returning the punt to the Dallas 46 yard line. On 2nd down, “Hooray,” the pass from Weeden was caught by Dez Bryant, for no gain, but there was a tripping penalty called on Sam Acho, so still no catches for Bryant, but there hadn’t been a catch made by a receiver yet for the Cowboys. But, on the following 2nd down, it was time to #PonyUp with Cole Beasley for the wide receiver slump-buster for 12 yards, while making a man miss a tackle. Two solid runs by Murray, moving the ball 11 yards down the field. A short gainer by Murray on 1st down, and Weeden on 2nd down, left Dez out to dry with a slant pass thrown late and the safety Deone Bucannon could have torn Dez in half if he felt like it. On 3rd down, Weeden threw the ball inside while trying to get it to Witten running an out-route, and was picked off by Tyrann Mathieu.
At this point in the game, 8 minutes left in the third quarter, Orlando Scandrick was shown getting extremely worked-up on the sidelines, and on the Cardinals’ drive, he vent his frustrations. On a short crossing pattern to Michael Floyd, Floyd would run into his teammate Josh Brown and Orlando Scandrick at the same time, and Scandrick popped the ball loose, but it would get recovered by Arizona. After a 20 yard gain by Larry Fitzgerald, Scandrick would deflect the ball straight into the air, but it fell into Josh Brown’s arms and he would just tuck it and fall on it. A chop block penalty would kill the Cardinals’ drive. On 2nd down of the Cowboys drive, Weeden and Terrence Williams would disconnect again, this time, Williams ran a go-route, and Weeden threw a curl, just another epic miscue by Weeden and the receivers. The next play, while in a sort-of slap-box with each other, Patrick Peterson was flagged for illegal use of his hands while working on the equally guilty Dez Bryant. But Zack Martin would get flagged for tripping on the next play. Weeden would find Dwayne Harris on a curl for 12 yards, then DeMarco had back-to-back punishing runs to close out the third quarter.
On 3rd down, Weeden would spy an opening to get the two yards needed to move the chains, but a solid wrap-up by Ed Stinson would force the Cowboys to punt. The Cowboys defense however, would not budge. After a penalty on George Selvie, Selvie would disrupt the end-around to Josh Brown, allowing Anthony Hitchens to mop up the loss. On 2nd down, Palmer put too much air under a screen pass to Fitzgerald, so the defense had time to swarm him, and on 3rd down, Henry Melton, Anthony Spencer, and Tyrone Crawford would all swamp Carson Palmer for the sack. After another excellent return by Dwayne Harris, the Cowboys would get nothing on the drive. The 2nd down pass attempt was exceptionally poor. Weeden held the ball too long for the protection on the three-step drop and tried forcing it into Dez, and again it didn’t work. A completion, and a generously sweet spot by the ref on 3rd down, it was time to go for it on 4th. But as it was all game, the Cowboys just couldn’t come up with anything better, and ran the ball straight into the 16/18 man jumble and the rookie Bucannon came around and made sure it was Arizona’s ball.
After picking up a first down, Palmer dropped a dime on Ted Ginn Jr on 2nd down for 27 yards, and it perfectly split the zones of Barry Church and Sterling Moore. The Cards’ would hurry to the line and get a 17 yard rush by Ellington before the Cowboys could sub out, then a slant to Fitzgerald down to the 1 yard line. But the defense would hold on through two plays, Rolando McClain stuffing Ellington on 1st down, and Selvie forcing Palmer to throw the ball away on 2nd down. But a one-route in the flat to Andre Ellington gave Arizona the 11 point lead. And with six minutes left in the game, down by 11, the defense knows that the offense has to press. Combine that with a total miscommunication throughout the entire game, and great things weren’t bound to happen. While Terrence Williams thought the ball was going to come out later on the out-route, Weeden threw the curl, and Antonio Cromartie intercepted the pass.
The Cowboys were going to lose, at that point, it was clear, but the following sequence might have epic resonating effects going forward into the rest of the season. They run the ball on 1st down for 4 yards, then a pass to the fullback Hughes goes for 18 yards down to the 6 yard line, where JJ Wilcox made the stop, but in that hub-ub, Rolando McClain gets some ricochet contact from that tackle, and goes down with an apparent knee injury. Next play, on the tackle of Marion Grice, Nick Hayden looked like he suffered a shoulder injury. And two plays later, Tyrone Crawford went down with an apparent knee injury. It might not be fair to put these injuries on Brandon Weeden, but it is justifiable, because if he was just THAT much more efficient, and connected with his receivers more than twice as of the 55 minute mark of the game, maybe the defense doesn’t have to be on the field for the final drive. Then, in garbage time, Weeden found Terrence Williams two straight passes. With 2:45 left in the game, Weeden decided to finally venture outside the pocket. Weeden would connect with Witten for 24 yards, then for 10. With 1:55, finally get a high-point ball to Dez for 12 yards, connect with Dunbar on a scramble right for 12 yards, and finally, a jump ball to Dez in the endzone for a fantasy football touchdown.
All in all, the offense was terrible, and it’s going to be very interesting to see the results of the McClain and Crawford injuries, but Romo did get his healing time. Let’s just hope there’s enough team left when he gets back.