It’s admittedly hard finding any positives in the Dallas Cowboys’ Week 2 performance in Denver.
The offense was pitiful, averaging the fewest yards per play (4.1) since traveling to face the New York Giants in Week 14 of last season. The Cowboys on that night went 1-for-15 on third down – an abysmal seven percent conversion rate – that faithful evening, which makes its 3-for-14 (21 percent) performance from Sunday seem extraordinary.
Furthermore, the defense was at a complete and utter loss, being gouged for the most total rushing yards (178) since Mike Gillislee, Karlos Williams, and Tyrod Taylor combined for 236 yards and two scores on the ground for Buffalo in Week 16 of 2015.
There was nothing to build on, save for a 25-year-old pass rusher on the final year of his contract performing as such. In his defense, DeMarcus Lawrence may actually have no idea the type of contract former teammate Terrell McClain inked with Washington as a 29-year-old free agent end this past offseason.
Now the co-leader in sacks among the entire league, though, it’s clear Lawrence may have gotten word about a four-year, $21 million dollar deal and trained accordingly. In the meantime, his presence remains necessary for Dallas to have even a puncher’s chance in Arizona.
Carson Palmer and the Cardinals’ aerial attack have been ridiculed mightily early in the season. Although losing all-world and perennial talent David Johnson at running back in Week 1 did them no favors, and receiver John Brown continues battling sickle-cell trait that’s haunted him from Week 7 of last year, Palmer has been labeled as ‘washed up’ and ‘done’ by many.
Some of the brighter evaluators in the game, though, believe his struggles to be a result of the constant pressure he faces. Pro Football Focus, for example, graded all five Cardinals offensive linemen poorly, with center A.Q. Shipley (14th-overall graded center) being the only one of the group to rank top-20 at his respective position.
That’s why Lawrence and the pass rush are so vital. Despite Brown already sounding as if he’ll miss a second consecutive game for Arizona, there are weapons that have thrived in his absence when Palmer has found time in the pocket.
Larry Fitzgerald led the league in receptions (107) last season and needs no introduction. But third-year wideout J.J. Nelson will be a handful whether it’s Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, or even Jourdan Lewis who’s matched up across from him.
Nelson has made the most of his opportunities with John Brown hampered, averaging 7.4 targets, 4.2 receptions, and 89 yards in the last five games the latter failed to record a single snap. Even with both healthy in Week 1, Nelson notably finished with more receptions (5-4) and receiving yards (120-32) on 33 fewer snaps.
As mentioned previously, it will take a Herculean effort from Lawrence and whomever else is called upon to hurry Palmer in order to subdue the Cardinals’ offense. Dallas has unsurprisingly blitzed at a laughably low rate this season, so pressures and sacks would need to come from four-man rushes more so than not.
We’ll soon be able to tell if there are any positives to take away from Week 3.
How will the Cowboys' defensive line fare on Monday night against the Cardinals? Share your predictions with John on Twitter @notJDaigle.