5 Players to Watch: Cowboys @ Cardinals
The Cowboys (1-1) look to rebound from last weekend’s debacle in Denver when they travel to the Valley of the Sun for Monday Night Football at the Arizona Cardinals (1-1). The Cowboys haven’t had much success recently in Arizona; they’ve lost their last three trips to the desert.
The Cardinals have an excellent defense that features arguably the best cornerback in the game, and offensively they have playmakers at receiver including a future Hall of Famer who is one of only three humans on the planet with more career catches than Cowboys’ tight end Jason Witten.
Let’s take a look at these players who are included in our list of “5 Players/Matchups to Watch”:
James D. Smith via AP
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson #21 and His “STICKINESS”
One of the finest players in the league – regardless of position – Patrick Peterson has been to 6 Pro Bowls in 6 NFL seasons. You won’t find a better cornerback, period.
Will he “travel” with Dez Bryant and follow the Cowboys’ lead receiver wherever Dez lines up? That will be something to watch as the game unfolds. Good luck to whoever goes up against Peterson, whether it’s Dez or Terrance Williams or Brice Butler.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett paid Peterson a huge compliment this week when he talked about Peterson’s “stickiness”. Basically, it means that Peterson sticks to the receiver so the receiver can’t get open to catch a pass. Peterson blankets his opponent in coverage.
Garrett is effusive in his praise of Peterson:“He’s a rare guy. He’s an incredible athlete with great size, speed, quickness, and athletic ability. His change-of-direction is off the charts. He has feel and instincts for the games. His stickiness as a cover guy, his ability to catch the ball and return the ball, he’s a rare football player.”
Ross D. Franklin via AP
Cardinals OLBs Chandler Jones #55 and Markus Golden #44
vs Cowboys OTs Tyron Smith #77 and La’el Collins #71
The Cardinals’ play a 3-4 defense, just like the Broncos, and use their two outside linebackers as pass rushers. Last week in Denver, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins had to block Von Miller & Shaq Barrett. This Monday they draw another very tough assignment: Jones & Golden, a dynamic linebacker combo that combined for 23.5 sacks last year, the most in the league. Each of them reached double-digits in sacks: Golden (12.5) and Jones (11.0). Thanks to their efforts, the Cardinals were league-leaders in total team sacks last year (48).
Cardinals WR J.J. Nelson #14 vs Cowboys Cornerbacks
Nelson was just named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after recording 5 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in Arizona’s Week 2 win over the Colts. The touchdown was a 45-yard catch in the 4th quarter to propel his team to victory.
Mike McCarn via AP
Nelson is a big-play guy. Since entering the league in 2015, he’s led the NFL in yards-per-catch (18.7). He’s also on a red-hot streak for scoring: 7 touchdowns over the past 7 games (dating back to last season).
The Cowboys secondary was decimated by injuries last week with starting cornerback Nolan Carroll suffering a concussion and rookie Chido Awuzie #33 aggravating a hamstring injury. The good news this Monday is that starter Orlando Scandrick #32 will play after missing week 2 with a broken left hand.
It will be all hands on deck (pardon the pun) for the Cowboys this week as they try to defend Nelson and this guy…one of the greatest players in the history of the league…
Michael Conroy via AP
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald #11
Only two players have caught more passes in NFL history than Fitzgerald (1,134): Jerry Rice (1,549) and Tony Gonzalez (1,325). Five years after Fitzgerald retires, he will join those two legends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fitzgerald is now 34 years old and playing in his 14th season, but he’s not slowing down. Last year he led the league in receptions (107).
The Cardinals lost a lot when RB David Johnson (who totaled over 2,000 scrimmage yards last season, more than Zeke) suffered a dislocated wrist in Week 1, but they still have plenty of weapons, particularly in the passing game. If the Cardinals offensive line can protect QB Carson Palmer, he has a skilled set of receivers. But Palmer has been sacked 5 times over the first two weeks and has thrown twice as many interceptions (4) as touchdowns (2). Former Cowboys practice squad player John Wetzel #73 will likely be forced into duty as Palmer’s blindside protector because starting left tackle D.J. Humphries has missed time with a sprained knee. The key to taking targets like Fitzgerald and Nelson out of the game will be pressuring Palmer and stuffing the run.
James D. Smith via AP
Cowboys TE Jason Witten #82
Having Witten on the same field as Larry Fitzgerald is very cool. That’s because Witten is 4th on the NFL’s all-time receiving list, just behind Fitzgerald.
Think about that for a second: we’ll get to see the #3 and #4 all-time leaders in the same game. Fitzgerald (1,134) and Witten (1,116) have combined for 2,240 career receptions and 26,528 career receiving yards. That’s over 15 miles of yards (15.07, to be exact)! Wow!
I wrote about this earlier in the week in a feature on Witten/Fitzgerald, but let me reiterate how special it is for football fans to see these two guys together. Most of the time we get caught up in play-calling and complaining about the officiating. But for a few minutes on Monday night, just take time to appreciate the fact that two of the greatest in league history are playing. And appreciate the greatness of guys like Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. They have the respect of their peers and coaches around the league.
*Monday’s Cowboys-Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium kicks off at 7:30pm central.