To be fair, those odds are probably pretty accurate. The Cardinals have struggled all season to find consistency on both sides of the ball, while the Cowboys seem to be rolling in the right direction under Tony Romo.
The Cardinals have the potential to be a better team than their record indicates, though. They’ve played many of their losses close, losing most by four points or less. If not for a few quirks of fate, the Cardinals could just as easily be 7-4 and in the hunt for a playoff spot despite their consistency issues.
Although the Cards are realistically out of the hunt at this point in the season, they still have a lot to play for on Sunday. In addition to playing spoiler to the Cowboys, they could still potentially rally at this point in the season to come away with a .500 record.
In order to make it to that point, many individual players will need to step up starting this week. Over the next few slides, we’ll take a look at a few of them.
It seems as though Kevin Kolb is ready to return to the field and relieve backup John Skelton of his starting duties.
Although Skelton has been at the helm during the past four weeks—during which time the Cardinals have gone 3-1—he has not exactly been a great asset to the team. Much of the credit for those three victories must go to the Cards’ special teams, defense and running back.
In order for the Cardinals to come up with an upset on Sunday, Kolb must come back to the field with a fierce desire to protect his starting job. He needs to throw touchdowns, protect the ball and lead his offense on drives that put points on the board.
Those are all things he has struggled with in the past, so we’ll see if four weeks on the bench has helped him finally learn the subtleties of the Cardinals offense.
Linebacker Daryl Washington has really begun to blossom in 2011, although he still clearly has plenty of room to grow.
He needs to come up with a big game against the Cowboys, particularly given their rejuvenated running game. Coming up big in pass coverage is another must. Any disruption that will take Tony Romo out of his rhythm will be huge for the Cardinals.
When the Cardinals offense stalls—as it inevitably does—the only hope for putting points on the board comes in the form a field goal.
Enter Jay Feely and his consistency issues this season. On a bad day he has shown that he can miss multiple times. His mental mistakes start early and compound as the game goes on. Those mistakes keep points off the board for the Cardinals, and act as huge momentum swings for the opposition.
If Jay Feely has a good day, the Cardinals can chip away at the Cardinals even when their offense can’t quite make it all the way to the end zone. He has the power to keep the team in a tight game.
It’s no big secret that Arizona’s entire offensive line is one of the team’s weakest links. Much of the blame falls on Levi Brown (and deservedly so), but the whole offensive line is culpable. Their play is messy—they earn plenty of penalties—and they are weak against pressure, giving up huge numbers of sacks each week.
Any time it seems as though things might go the Cardinals’ way the offensive line seems to collapse, thus rendering the quarterback completely ineffective.
In order for the Cardinals to find any success at all against the Cowboys the offensive line will need to stand up strong against a very good Cowboys front seven.
Although the punt return game has been exciting and largely successful this year, the kick return game has been the opposite.
LaRod Stephens-Howling has the potential to be a huge threat. Although his chances to run one back have been reduced this year by the new kickoff rules, he has had his share of tries out of the end zone. Unfortunately, he has been mostly unsuccessful, averaging just 23 yards per return—that means he’s barely getting the ball back to the 20.
Against the Cowboys, poor starting field position for the offense will be a killer for the Cardinals offense. Stephens-Howling can contribute to his team by finding a 30-, 40-, or even 50-yard return. It might be too much to ask for him to run one into the end zone this year.
Is there a more electrifying rookie in the league than Patrick Peterson? Although he hasn’t quite lived up to his elite cornerback potential (yet), he has certainly made a name for himself in the return game.
Running one back against the Cowboys would be a huge step in the right direction for the Cardinals as they try to find a victory.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Peterson needs to keep improving on the defensive side of the ball. He’s been steadily getting better as the season goes on, so expecting several defended passes and perhaps an interception wouldn’t be amiss.
After setting a Cardinals franchise rushing record last week despite playing through a knee injury, Beanie Wells has thrust himself into the spotlight.
It’s unreasonable to expect Wells to put together another record breaking game on the heels of his performance last week, but if the Cards want to win he’ll need to have a solid performance on Sunday.
If Wells can scrape together a 100-yard game with a touchdown it’ll be a good day for the Cardinals offense.