Preview and Predictions for Dallas Cowboys' Week 3 MNF Matchup

Marcus Mosher@@Marcus_MosherFeatured Columnist ISeptember 25, 2017

Preview and Predictions for Dallas Cowboys' Week 3 MNF Matchup

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    After the Dallas Cowboys' disappointing Week 2 defeat against the Denver Broncos, they will look to improve to 2-1 when they head to University of Phoenix Stadium to take on the Arizona Cardinals.

    With the Philadelphia Eagles beating the New York Giants on Sunday, the Cowboys can't afford to fall to 1-2 and a full game behind in the division this early in the season.

    The Cardinals will present an interesting challenge for the Cowboys because they are similar to the Denver Broncos in the sense they have an aggressive defense that will play man-to-man coverage across the board. It should be an intriguing matchup between two high-flying offenses in Arizona.

    Here is the Week 3 preview, including four player predictions and a guess at the outcome for this Monday Night Football matchup between the Cowboys and the Cardinals.

Game Preview

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Time: 8:30 p.m. ET

    Date: September 25, 2017

    Station: Monday Night Football, ESPN

    Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

    In Week 3, two 1-1 teams will battle to move atop of their respective divisions in the NFC. For the Dallas Cowboys, they will be trying to rebound from their pitiful performance against the Denver Broncos. But this will be a test for the Cowboys, as they have lost their past four games against the Cardinals. To make matters worse, they have lost their past seven in Arizona.

    Dallas will be without cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Nolan Carroll, so the Cowboys will be in for a test against Carson Palmer and the Cardinals passing attack. However, Orlando Scandrick's return from his hand injury and defensive end Damontre Moore's return from suspension should help the defense return back to Week 1 form.

    For the Cardinals, wide receiver John Brown will not play in this contest, according to the team's official injury report (h/t radio host Mike Jurecki). That means receivers Jaron Brown and J.J Nelson will be the wideouts opposite Larry Fitzgerald.

    However, expect Arizona to throw the ball a ton in this matchup, as the Cardinals likely won't have much of a run game with David Johnson on injured reserve. It should be a showdown in Arizona to see who can stay above .500 early in the year.

Prediction: Ezekiel Elliott Rushes for 125 Yards

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    Since 2013, Ezekiel Elliott has only been held under 30 rushing yards four times in college and the NFL combined. All four of those performances came when he was a freshman at Ohio State and had under three carries. But last time out, Elliott was held to just eight rushing yards on nine carries. He just wasn't able to get anything going on the ground.

    But to make matters worst, Elliott was criticized for a perceived lack of effort on a Dak Prescott interception. It was just an all-around awful performance from the second-year running back. 

    However, expect Elliott to bounce back in a massive way Monday despite Arizona allowing just 79 rushing yards per game this season. The Cardinals have a solid pass rush, but they don't have the interior defensive linemen or linebackers to stop the Cowboys' wide-zone rushing attack. They should be able to run the ball at will against this Arizona defense.

    As the Cowboys try to improve their balance on offense, expect Dallas to give Elliott a big workload in this contest. If the Cowboys can stick with their run game, Elliott should exceed 125 rushing yards and close to 150 total in this contest. Elliott should have a massive performance on Monday Night Football that silences all the critics.

Prediction: Dez Bryant Will Score 2 Touchdowns

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    After a rocky start to the season, Dez Bryant will be looking to put on a show on Monday Night Football against one of best cornerbacks in the NFL in Patrick Peterson. The 27-year-old is one of the few cornerbacks in the NFL who will travel with opposing teams' No. 1 wide receivers, so it's likely he will shadow Bryant all game.

    This won't be new for Dallas, as Peterson has been given the task of covering Bryant in the team's past two meetings. He's fared well, as Bryant has caught a total of just 10 passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns.

    However, in those two matchups, Bryant saw 24 targets. Peterson has played well against Bryant and typically likes to make the matchup as physical as possible. He will likely press Bryant at the line of scrimmage and force Prescott to throw contested passes in the short to intermediate parts of the field.

    Bryant has had his way with Peterson in the red zone, as both of his touchdowns have come inside the 20. He does a good job of using his body and arm length to box out defenders including against bigger cornerbacks like Peterson.

    The Cowboys love to target Bryant in the red zone, so expect the wide receiver to see a ton of action near the end zone in this contest. Peterson may be able to limit Bryant's impact, but it's unlikely he will be able to keep him out of the end zone. Don't be surprised if this is Bryant's breakout game under the lights in Arizona.

Prediction: Cole Beasley Will Lead the Team in Receptions

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    According to Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus, the Cardinals have surrendered the most targets (23) to opposing slot receivers prior to Week 3. And with Peterson likely following Bryant all over the field, as mentioned before, that means Cole Beasley could see a ton of action out of the slot.

    Despite being the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver, Beasley has played 108 snaps on offense through the first two weeks of the season, according to Pro Football Focus. Beasley should be on the field a lot and see a ton of targets in this game. Beasley will likely be matched against Justin Bethel or Tyrann Mathieu, both of whom have struggled this season.

    If the Cowboys want to improve on their third-down offense (they were just 3-14 on third down in Week 2), they should target Beasley early and often. Expect him to have a massive game, especially if the Cowboys can't establish a run game or get Bryant involved early in this contest.

Prediction: DeMarcus Lawrence Will Continue His Sack Streak

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    After accumulating 3.5 sacks in the first two games of the season, DeMarcus Lawrence will likely add to that total when he faces one of the worst tackle situations in the NFL. With starting left tackle D.J. Humphries being ruled out for this contest, the Cardinals will likely start former Cowboys man John Wetzel at left tackle with Jared Veldheer on the right side.

    In the first two games of the season, Wetzel and Veldheer have combined to allow 24 pressures and 19 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Dallas will move Lawrence around on the defensive line but expect him to expose Arizona's weak tackles.

    With Palmer having limited mobility at this point in his career, Lawrence should be able to find him once or twice in this game behind the line of scrimmage. And if the Cowboys can get an early lead, Lawrence should easily continue his sack streak.

Final Predictions

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    Despite the Cowboys having a significant advantage in terms of overall talent, especially on the offensive line, expect this game to be close until the end.

    Dallas just hasn't played well in Arizona over the past several years, and the Cardinals are a better team than they have shown in either of their first two games. Palmer also hasn't played as bad as the stats suggest, either.

    However, anticipate the Cowboys to win this one late, as their rushing attack should allow the team to stay balanced on offense. Arizona's defensive line just doesn't have the defenders to make Dallas' offensive line struggle. Expect the Cowboys to win this one narrowly by pulling ahead late in the fourth quarter.

    Prediction: Cowboys 21-17