Undefeated Dallas marched into town looking like one of the finest teams in football with maybe the best defense in the league (according to our own evaluations of those nine companies).
After all, in Week 1, the Cowboys held the New York Giants to 104 yards passing by Daniel Jones and forced two interceptions. Dallas limited the New York Jets’ Week 2 road game scoring output to ten points by picking off quarterback Zach Wilson three times and forcing four turnovers. A win for Dallas seemed certain.
Wow, a lot can change in a single hour
The final score was 28-16, and it was the Cardinals’ first victory of the Jonathan Gannon era, which caused a lot of heads to turn in the NFL. First-year starting quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw for 189 yards and a score as he led his team to victory. Arizona clinched the victory thanks to the efforts of James Conner, Rondale Moore, and the miscues of the Dallas Cowboys.
What do we learn from this matchup, then? Was this just a Dallas letdown game? Did the Cowboys fumble the ball and give the Cardinals an opportunity? Is there anything that Arizona tried on offense that other teams may try to replicate?
Maybe a mix of all three, but we’re going to give special attention to the third factor.
Some originality in your sprinting
Arizona cranked up the innovation in the running game, dialing up looks for Conner, Moore, and even Dobbs by using a wide variety of formations and personnel packages.
The start of the play raises their hopes even more. Conner lines up to receive a handoff and follows the two-man convoy to the right as Arizona dials up a GT counter and pulls both the left guard and left tackle in that direction. Only one twist remains.
Dobbs and Conner cross paths at the mesh point, and Dobbs reads Micah Parsons as an unblocked defender. When Parsons is left unblocked, it usually doesn’t end well for the offense. The Cardinals, though, use his aggressive nature against him in this situation. Dobbs sees Parsons coming in for the handoff and pulls the ball, keeping it towards the left sideline. There, the two tight ends take care of the two lurking defensive backs, and the quarterback rushes for 44 yards.
Minutes later, though, Arizona tried yet another counter concept, and it paid off when Conner ripped off a 20-yard gain on the left side of the field behind an improbable lead blocker.
Michael Wilson, a brand-new wide receiver
Conner takes off for the right side, and Dobbs comes out from the middle to join him there. But then the running back angles to the left, letting Wilson cut across the formation and guide him into the hole. Conner gains 20 yards after a block from Wilson, who locates cornerback DaRon Bland in the void.
Dallas has shifted much of their defense to the right to account for their cluster of three receivers to the side. Safety Should Arizona choose to run inside or to the left, Markquese Bell lines up in a linebacker’s position over the center, the primary defensive line.
Given this background, where do you suppose Arizona attempted to run the ball with Moore?
As a result of Arizona moving Moore to the left, left guard Trystan Colon is in a position to meet Bell on the second level. In the run game, when a guard faces off against a safety, the offense will almost always choose the former. Moore bursts free through the middle of the defense for a 45-yard touchdown run.
Also, the Cowboys’ field goal had just been made, bringing Arizona’s advantage down to 9-3, making this play all the more important. In a second, the Cardinals had a 15-3 lead.
Arizona was able to establish the run game because of a combination of talent, structure, and innovation, which included using the aggressiveness of players like Parsons against them. Arizona has made a terrific effort. However, this just scratches the surface.
In Rhythm Nation, Joshua Dobbs is the star
The quarterback who just gained his first victory as a starter may now be discussed. Dobbs’ performance on Sunday was noteworthy despite his lack of stat sheet stuffing against a defense that many had pegged as one of the best in the league. Trevon Diggs’ season-ending knee injury on Thursday was a major setback for Dallas. Let’s go into Dobbs’ performance and let time tell whether what we saw on Sunday will stick with Dallas.
After putting the Dallas defenders on edge with some pre-snap movement and eye candy, the Cardinals promptly gave Dobbs the same post/over combo we see every week in the NFL. Dobbs displays excellent pocket mobility and composure under duress by maintaining his eyes downfield before releasing a pass on an open-over route to Wilson.
Just before the play, the Arizona defense moves Moore from the right side of the formation to the backfield. Dobbs starts the play by fooling him into thinking he’s shooting left, then he fools Conner. Due to the opposition’s distraction from all the flash, Wilson finds himself in a wide open situation on the overrides.
When pressure is in the pocket, Dobbs effectively moves to create space and completes a 17-yard pass to Wilson.
Dobbs makes a brilliant prediction for the conclusion of the third quarter. When in a 3rd-and-4 situation, the Cardinals often call up a mesh strategy that includes diagonal approaches. Although this would be successful against man coverage, Dallas drops into the zone and brings pressure from the left side of the defense on this play.
Dobbs notices this, and with the cornerback on the left side of the field receiving no help over the top and any presence underneath now coming after him rather than lurking in the throwing lane, the quarterback shifts his focus to the out route on that side of the field and makes a timing and rhythm throw to Marquise Brown to advance the ball.
They connected just before halftime on another timing-dependent pass from the quarterback.
Dobbs leaves this pass a little high, but that’s OK since Parsons is coming at him from behind in a loop and Brown has plenty of room to work with because of the timing of the throw.
This play also kicked off a drive that resulted in a field goal with 25 seconds remaining in the half, giving Arizona a 21-10 lead going into the locker room.
Dobbs threw two of the game’s greatest free shots in the second half. First, there was this spectacular third-and-long conversion pass thrown vertically to Brown down the right side of the field:
As the clock wound down in the fourth quarter, this drive stalled, and Dallas took over by eight points. After a lengthy drive that covered more than 50 yards and consumed more than five minutes off the clock, the Cowboys kicked a field goal on the 4th from the Arizona 8-yard line, trimming the margin to 21-16.
That set up a potential game-winning touchdown drive for Dobbs and company. Which they accomplished with the game-changing complete from Dobbs to Wilson on an excellently conceived retro touch:
With Moore moving from right to left, Dobbs fakes a run to Conner and then rolls to the left. Everything about this play screams “three-level read on the left side” to the Dallas defenders, with Moore releasing vertically along the left sideline, Brown running a deep post working from right to left, and tight end Geoff Swaim blocking and releasing to the left flat.
Wilson, though, goes against the grain of the play by running a post route out of the slot and from the left side to the right. While the Dallas secondary loses him, Dobbs keeps on going.
After covering 69 yards, the Cardinals are in first-and-goal territory.
Midway through the fourth quarter, they would extend their advantage to 28-16 on a short touchdown pass from Dobbs to Brown. An unbelievable play, an interception of Dak Prescott in the end zone, capped a stunning victory for Arizona.
The Cardinals’ attack, though, caused headaches for Dallas’ defense on Sunday owing to some clever combination of personnel, formation, and execution.
in addition to providing food for thought for the rest of the league.