So much for the Dallas Cowboys’ impressive start to the season that had many local fans already making plans for the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.
That 70-10 margin of victory in combined victory against the New York Jets and New York Giants meant nothing to the previously 0-2 Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at State Farm Stadium.
Arizona had won six of the last seven meetings in the series and continued their dominance over the Cowboys in a 28-16 victory, leading from start to finish.
The Cowboys’ heralded defense, which has mauled opponents the first two games, couldn’t stop run and gave up too many big plays.
A Cowboys offense led by quarterback Dak Prescott continued to struggle in the red zone, settling four two field goals down close and getting turned away twice.
The first one came on fourth-and-3 from the Cardinals 4 and the second one ended any comeback hopes as Prescott suffered his first interception of the season.
The Cowboys host the New England Patriots in a reunion with running back Ezekiel Elliott Oct. 1 at AT&T Stadium.
What we learned in the Cowboys loss win vs the Cardinals
Prescott and Cowboys offense continue red zone struggles
A week after kicking four field goals after penetrating the red zone in a 30-10 victory against the New York Jets, the Cowboys continued their struggles near the goal line against the Cardinals.
Brandon Aubrey had field goals 27 of 26 yards after the offense failed to get in the end zone.
The Cowboys failed on fourth-and-4 from the 4 in the third quarter.
And with three minutes left in the game, a Dak Prescott pass on 3rd and 6 from the Arizona 6 was picked off by linebacker Kyzir White to end any hopes of a Cowboys comeback.
It was the first interception of the season for the Prescott and the first turnover of the season for the Cowboys.
Prescott was 24 of 40 for 249 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
McCarthy said he played well, especially when you consider the adjustments they had to make with three starting lineman out.
“I liked his demanor and command,” McCarthy said. “He was productive. He played very well with his feet. He extended plays. They played heavy coverage in the red area. We got to take a close look at that. That starts with me.”
Cowboys were own worst enemy with penalties
After being penalized just 11 times for 73 yards in the first two games combined, the Cowboys thought were woes with flags from the previous two seasons had been solved.
The Cowboys went back to their old ways in the first half against the Cardinals with 10 penalties for 72 yards, including six pre-snap penalties that played huge role in the 21-10 halftime deficit.
That doesn’t include a pass interference penalty on cornerback DeRon Bland and an offensive pass interference penalty on receiver CeeDee Lamb that aided a Cardinals scoring drive and thwarted a potential Cowboys scoring drive.
And right on cue to open the second half when the defense finally forced a three-and-out, forcing a punt that was returned 51 yards by KaVontae Turpin, a flag on Devin Harper nullified the play, resulting in a 61-yard penalty.
NFL’s best defense gashed on the ground
The Cowboys defense has been so good through the first two games of 2023 they have openly talked about being among the best in the league history.
Now, not so much.
The defense, led by edge rusher Micah Parsons, was first in the NFL in sacks and turnovers. And while they have done a great job stopping the run, it is the area teams will choose to attack them slow down the pass rush.
It was mission accomplished for Cardinals in the first half on Sunday as they gashed the Cowboys defense for 182 yards on the ground while scoring every time they had the ball to take a 21-10 lead.
Running quarterbacks have had moderate success against the Cowboys through the first two games and Cardinals quarterback Josh Dobbs opened with a 44-yard run on the first series, leading to a field goal.
The Cowboys also gave up a 45-yard touchdown run to Rondale Moore and a 26-yard run to James Connor.
The Cowboys did much better in the third quarter, stopping the run and forcing two punts.
But the defense couldn’t stop the Cardinals when it mattered most in the fourth quarter.
After the Cowboys cut the score to 21-16, Dobbs hit Michael Wilson for a 69-yard gain and threw a 2-yard yard touchdown pass Marquis Brown.
The Cowboys gave up pass plays of 69 and 23 yards and also had pass interference penalty against Bland.
“A lot went wrong. I don’t really have words, it’s just bad, safety Jayron Kearse said. “Bad football, it wasn’t sound, it was just bad.”
“They ran a lot of pull schemes, got downhill and didn’t really attack us on the edge, it was just a lot of downhill running with a lot of pull schemes. We weren’t good enough myself included. It was just bad.”
Cowboys play without three starters on offensive line
The Cowboys officially have not played a game with their planned starting offensive line since Tyler Smith was drafted to play left guard in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Left tackle Tyron Smith missed the first 13 games of last season with a hamstring tear. When was ready to return he replaced Terence Steele at right tackle after he suffered a torn ACL.
Then Tyler Smith missed the first two games of 2023 with a hamstring strain. The Cowboys hoped to get their full unit on the field for the Cardinals game. But that was before right guard Zack Martin missed practice all week with a ankle injury and then center Tyler Biadasz injured his hamstring in Thursday’s practice.
Tyron Smith suffered a knee injury in practice on Saturday, resulting in all three missing the Cardinals game.
Brock Hoffman started at center. Chuma Edogo started at left tackle and T.J. Bass started at right guard.
The group held up pretty well as Prescott was not sacked and the Cowboys gained 185 yards on ground, including 122 by running back Pollard.
But having three backup offensive lineman did impact the Cowboys play calling and struggles in the red zone.
“I think it’s obvious,” McCarthy said. “I don’t want to discredit those guys at all. But there’s reps that go in, wrinkles, your variation of your base concept for protection. There’s some things that were taken off. But I’m proud of proud of those guys that they stepped up.
Rookie kicker Aubrey continues to shine
Rookie kicker Aubrey missed the first extra point of the season, but he continues to be perfect since with 11 of 11 field goals, including three against the Cardinals.
He had kicks of 49, 26 and 23 yards on Sunday.
The Cowboys would have had a better chance to win if they wouldn’t have shunned a field goal in the third and failing on fourth-and-3 from the 4.