Posted on September 26, 2017, by Travis Pulver

It is way too early for a single game to be so important that it is called a ‘must-win’ game. But the Dallas Cowboys needed a win Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals. They needed to give themselves and fans something other than the crushing loss to the Denver Broncos to think about. Dallas needed to prove to themselves and the fans that they are not anywhere near as bad as they looked against the Broncos—and they did (sort of).

At first, it looked like the game was going to be a repeat of the week before. The defense couldn’t do a thing on Arizona’s opening drive of the game. Carson Palmer guided the Cardinals into the end zone with relative ease with an eight-play, 82-yard drive for a touchdown.

Via @ESPNDallas

The offense started off just as inept. They went three and out on their first two drives, Ezekiel Elliot was getting stuffed, and Dak Prescott wasn’t connecting with anyone.

Dallas caught a break when the Cardinals ended a 15-play drive that took nearly nine minutes with a missed field goal. But the real break came a few drives later when rookie Ryan Switzer field a punt and returned it 21 yards to set the team up in field goal range at the Arizona 33-yard line.

Three plays later, Dak Prescott ran it in from ten-yards out and tied the game up at 7-7.

While Dallas did appear to finally get it together towards the end of the first half, they were still being outplayed by the Arizona Cardinals. Carson Palmer, when he was able to throw, was tearing apart the Dallas secondary at will.

The only thing keeping the game from looking as bad as the Denver loss was the play of the defensive line. They were not letting the Cardinals running back find any room and made life difficult on Palmer throughout the game. They seemed to be especially effective when the team went with just three down linemen.

By the time the game was done, Dallas had sacked Palmer six times and recorded 11 hits on him. All six sacks were by a lineman with Demarcus Lawrence leading the way with three. The last Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman to have three sacks in a Monday Night Football game?

Ed “Too Tall” Jones. So, yeah, Lawrence had a pretty good game.

Once the defense started going with three down linemen more, they had better success against the Cardinals passing game. Palmer still finished with 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But it took him 48 attempts (with 29 completions) to get it. With no running game to help (21 total carries for 49 yards; Chris Johnson—12 carries for 17 yards), it wasn’t enough.

While Palmer played well and got a ton of help from Larry Fitzgerald (13 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown), the real story of the day was Dak Prescott.

“Dak was an animal today,” Elliott said after the game (ESPN). “He came out there and made some big plays. Sometimes he has to use his feet to get out of the pocket to make those downfield throws, but he played amazing.”

Via @Marcus_Mosher

After a slow start on offense that once again saw Ezekiel Elliot struggle to find room to run, it was a couple of runs by Prescott that began to open the gate. When the Arizona defense started to be wary of him running, he began to connect on a few more passes. Once the Cardinals defense couldn’t focus on stopping the run anymore, Elliot started to gain some ground.

It wasn’t a banner day for anyone on offense for the Cowboys. But they were all successful enough. Prescott finished with 183 yards passing and two touchdowns along with one on the ground. Elliot only averaged 3.6 yards a carry, but 94 total yards and a touchdown. Dez Bryant only made two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown. But the drive and fight he showed on his touchdown reception will make all the season-ending highlight reels.

But, of course, the hard part for the Cowboys will be doing it again. Next week’s opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, have a much better run game. Todd Gurley already called the Dallas defense out after the Rams beat the 49ers Thursday night. Jared Goff has shown a lot of promise lately. He could give the questionable Dallas secondary a lot of trouble.

The Rams defense will be even harder for Elliot to get moving against.

Arizona will look to get back on track next week with a home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

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