Cardinals Crush Cowboys on SNF as Dak Prescott, Josh Rosen, More Starters Sit

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2018

Arizona Cardinals defensive back Patrick Peterson (21) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on an interception during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

The Arizona Cardinals remained perfect in the preseason with a 27-3 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

Arizona moved to 3-0, while the Cowboys fell to 0-3 in a game that was more notable for those who didn't play—Josh Rosen, David Johnson, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, among others—than those who did.

It was a particularly ugly performance for the Cowboys, who turned it over eight times and lost in blowout fashion even though Arizona scored just one offensive touchdown.

         

Far Too Early to Panic About Cowboys' Rushing Attack

The Cowboys averaged 2.5 yards per carry in Sunday's loss as Rod Smith (seven carries) and Bo Scarbrough (seven carries) received the lion's share of the work and struggled to find holes against Arizona's defensive front.

It was business as usual for the Cowboys' ground attack this preseason:

It would be easy for Dallas fans to look at those numbers and break into panic mode, but the absence of Prescott meant the Cardinals didn't have to worry about his passing and could adjust accordingly in the box against an offensive line dealing with significant attrition.

Clarence Hill Jr. of the Star-Telegram reported offensive tackle Tyron Smith is dealing with a "slight hamstring" setback, guard Zack Martin was out with a knee injury and center Travis Frederick was out after he announced on Twitter he was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome with no timetable to return.

While Frederick may be out for an extended period, the regular-season version of the Cowboys will have a stronger offensive line, Prescott available to force the defense to be honest and Elliott serving as a game-changing back. If anyone can play Superman for the Cowboys, it's Elliott after he tallied 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in 2016 as a rookie and 983 rushing yards in 10 games last year.

The Dallas rushing attack in September and October will be much different than the one from August.

         

Randy Gregory Is Pro Bowler in the Making

Sunday's game was rather forgettable from Dallas' perspective, but there was at least one positive takeaway—the Cardinals couldn't block Randy Gregory.

Gregory finished with three tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits, per ESPN.com, and looked like a five-year veteran hitting his prime instead of someone who missed nearly two seasons of action and is looking to bounce back as an important contributor.

He unleashed spin moves, speed off the edge and power when attacking the inside and figures to be a defensive building block for Dallas moving forward if he can remain on the field.

The Cowboys selected Gregory with a second-round pick in 2015, and he played 12 games as a rookie before he missed all but two contests in 2016 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He was then suspended another year prior to the 2016 playoffs and hasn't played a regular-season game since for Dallas.

The NFL reinstated him this offseason, and he already looks like a Pro Bowler in the making despite missing so much action.

That is a worrisome thought for opposing offensive lines, especially since they can't afford to send many double-teams his way with Demarcus Lawrence at the other defensive end position. Lawrence was a Pro Bowler last year with 14.5 sacks, and Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton provide quality depth as well.

Dallas was a middling 15th in the league in sacks last year, but that total will drastically improve if the Gregory who showed up Sunday remains for the regular season alongside those other pieces.

          

Patrick Peterson Will Thrive as Turnover-Creating Machine in Zone

Defensive back Patrick Peterson has little to prove, but things figure to be different in 2018 under new head coach Steve Wilks and new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb.

New will mean more production for the seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time First Team All-Pro member after he had one interception last year.

Peterson returned a Cooper Rush interception for a touchdown and forced a Smith fumble in the first half, thriving in his role in Arizona's zone. He wasn't the only defender making plays, as Trent Sherfield recovered one of Lance Lenoir's two muffed punts for a touchdown before Budda Baker prevented a Cowboys' scoring chance with an interception in the end zone.

According to Kyle Odegard of team's official website, the combination of Holcomb and Wilks means Arizona will play more zone this year, and Peterson looked comfortable as a turnover-creating menace Sunday.

The zone means he won't have his back to the quarterback while he is keeping pace with the opponent's best receiver and will give him a bit more freedom to improvise on plays if he senses an opportunity as a playmaking defensive leader.

Opposing offenses are officially on notice.

          

What's Next?

The Cowboys and Cardinals finish the preseason Thursday against the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos, respectively. It would be a surprise if either team's starters see significant time in the final contest before the 2018 campaign begins.

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