Morning Cup of Joe: getting back to the formula

On the morning of each Cowboys game, you'll get a chance to take a sip of Joe's gridiron insights with our 'Morning Cup of Joe.' He'll offer five storylines to follow when the Cowboys take the field and his thoughts on what to expect.

Phoenix -- As you get your work week routine started, the Cowboys are preparing for a Monday night matchup against the Arizona Cardinals at The University of Phoenix Stadium. And after the debacle in Denver, the Cowboys will be looking to show just how resilient they can be. Here are five storylines to follow.

1. Zeke's answer
Cowboys running back Zeke Elliott is coming off his worst day as a pro. Actually, his worst day as a football player.
Ever.
Elliott will be more than motivated to make up for his subpar play, as well as letting his frustration get the best of him, giving up on the play after a Chris Harris interception.

"It's definitely not me. It's definitely not the type of player I am. It's definitely not who I am for this team," said Elliott.

Look for Elliott to be more than motivated as he tries to back up that statement.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's play selection and the Cowboys offensive line getting more push will play a prominent role in this storyline, too. Elliott had just 4 carries at halftime in Denver. Expect that number to increase dramatically, as the Cowboys offensive line tries to set the tone, and get back to the formula that was so successful for the Cowboys last season.

2. Prescott's resilience put to the test

Prescott suffered half as many interceptions against the Broncos as he had in the first 18 starts of his career, and he's fortunate he didn't throw a couple more.

His 50 pass attempts against the Broncos are about 20 too many for Prescott to be at his best. But Prescott doesn't believe a course correction is needed, he says the Cowboys will stick with what they do best.

"I think we just didn't play our game and we didn't execute the way that we should or we normally do," Prescott said. "I kind of encourage teams and hope teams give us that same scheme and those same matchups."

When asked if the Broncos offered a blueprint to slow down the Cowboys high-powered offense, Cardinal's coach Bruce Arians said only if you have those players. Stacking the box is nothing Prescott hasn't seen. He's flourished against it before and will again, and don't be surprised if it happens tonight.

3. Marquee matchup: Dez vs Peterson

Receiver Dez Bryant says he's confident that it won't be long before things click this season between him and Prescott.

So far, against the likes of Jenoris Jenkins and Aqib Talib, its been a struggle. Bryant's 25 targets this season are second-most in the league, but his 9 catches rank 34th.

"It's coming," Bryant said. "When it clicks, it's going to click. Everything that's going on is all going to change."

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson may be the toughest cover Bryant has faced yet, with six pro bowls on his resume'. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett says he has great "stickiness" as a defender.

The Cowboys have played the Cardinals twice since Peterson joined the team. Bryant has 10 catches for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns in those games.

4. Back end must step up
Defensive back Chido Awuzie and Nolan Carroll will miss the game, but defensive captain Orlando Scandrick returns to the field after having surgery on his hand.

The Cowboys made Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian looks like Peyton Manning, so there is quite a bit of work to be done. Jourdan Lewis got thrown into the fire, struggled, and figures to see more action.

This is a unit that is in transition and allowing Carson Palmer and Fitzgerald to get going could prove lethal.

5. Can Tank keep rolling?

With four sacks through two games, DeMarcus Lawrence is arguably the Cowboys best player through two games.

Pro football focus has a metric called pass rush productivity that measure pressure on per snap basis. Through two games Lawrence leads the entire league in PRP.

With the Cardinals suffering through injuries on the offensive line, Lawrence's ability to keep the heat on could make a difference in the outcome of this game.

It's hard to believe Lawrence could keep up multiple sack production, but even if he can't, the attention he'll command could open up things for another defensive lineman. Look for defensive tackle Maliek Collins to benefit from this scenario and notch his first sack of the season.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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