Well, it wasn’t the most thrilling Monday Night Football game we’ve ever seen, but the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals made things interesting. In the end, Dallas moved to 2-1 on the season with a gutsy road win, 28-17, over the home team.
One of the game’s best receivers of all time bounced back from last weekend’s funk in a huge way. The same cannot be said for one of the game’s best defensive players, who uncharacteristically struggled on a number of occasions.
These were the biggest winners and losers from Monday Night Football in Week 3.
Winner: Dak Prescott put the Cowboys on his back
Okay so the counting numbers don’t jump off the page: 13-of-18 passing for 183 yards.
But these numbers do: Three touchdowns and no turnovers.
It was a night in which Ezekiel Elliott didn’t really get going like we’ve seen in the past until late in the game. It was a night in which Dallas’ offensive line was giving up pressure off the edge and up the middle. It was a night in which the sledding was generally just tough no matter what until the end.
Prescott carried the Dallas offense, putting himself at risk to score the first touchdown of the game for Big D, flipping into the end zone after leaping over multiple Cardinals defenders (watch here). Then later on he withstood some tremendous pressure, had to sprint to the right and threw a bullet to Brice Butler in the end zone for his second passing touchdown of the game to give the Cowboys the lead for good.
Loser: Tyrann Mathieu had a terrible night
Early on in the game, Tyrann Mathieu took a couple of really bad angles on running plays in which Ezekiel Elliott got loose. The second time it occurred he was lucky to wrap up the running back. It saved a touchdown, which is certainly a positive.
However, late in the game, midway through the fourth quarter as the Cardinals were down by four points, Mathieu once again took a bad angle. This time it was on a passing play to Brice Butler, who got over the top of the defense. Compounding this mistake, Mathieu didn’t aggressively make sure Butler was down by contact, barely brushing the receiver’s back with his hand as he sprung up and bolted for the end zone. Replay showed Mathieu did get there … just in time.
But that’s not the point. The effort involved, both in terms of executing the defense in the first place and then making sure his guy was down before giving up on the play, was awful. It’s also very surprising, because normally Mathieu is one of the hardest-working, toughest guys out there. Tonight just wasn’t his night.
Winner: Larry Fitzgerald explodes for Cardinals
Without any semblance of a running game to balance the offense out, Arizona’s passing attack has been stressed out of necessity. One player we thought the Cardinals would be able to count on this season is veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald. However, through the first two games of the season he had caught just nine of his 19 targets for 95 yards and no touchdowns. It was easy to wonder if Father Time had finally caught up with the future Hall of Famer.
Based on his huge game Monday night at home, the answer to that question is, “Not just yet.”
Fitzgerald finished with 13 receptions for 149 yards and one touchdown. He single-handedly kept the Cardinals in this game on a night in which the rest of the offense struggled mightily.
Loser: Arizona’s offensive line was awful
We already knew David Johnson is a special running back. But now that he’s no longer available and the Cardinals are working with backups, we’re seeing just how much more valuable DJ really is to Arizona’s offense. The Cardinals gained just 49 yards on the ground (2.3 yards per carry) Monday night against a defensive unit in Dallas that was dominated last week in Denver to the tune of 178 yards of running offense by the Denver Broncos.
On top of that, Arizona’s offensive line was routinely abused by the Dallas defensive front. Palmer isn’t the most mobile quarterback, but he was too often having to evade pressure much sooner than you’d expect. He ended up getting sacked six times and was lucky to escape with his health. Furthermore, Dallas defenders racked up 10 total tackles for a loss (TEN!!!).
It was just an ugly showing by Arizona’s offensive line.
Winner: Cowboys discover a pass rush
Down a couple of key defensive backs, it sure looked like the Cowboys were going to get roasted all night long after Carson Palmer ripped off 11 straight completions and engineered a way-too-easy touchdown-scoring drive on his first offensive possession.
Then out of nowhere, Dallas discovered a pass rush, putting pressure on Palmer on a regular basis throughout the remainder of the contest. DeMarcus Lawrence was a nightmare to block, tallying three sacks and six quarterback hits. Maliek Collins did some damage inside and Tyrone Crawford did some solid work opposite Lawrence.
Overall, the Cowboys finished with six sacks and 11 quarterback hits. If they can continue to create pressure up front, then the young defensive secondary will benefit in a huge way going forward.
Loser: La’el Collins got worked … again
It’s not easy playing offensive tackle in the NFL, especially going up against the likes of Von Miller, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Those are the guys La’el Collins has faced the past couple of weeks, and it hasn’t been pretty.
One week after being worked over by the Broncos, Collins had issues protecting Dak Prescott in the passing game.
La'el Collins, you're killing me and might get Dak killed. pic.twitter.com/UIycPoUM3i
— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) September 26, 2017
Collins also struggled to open up holes in the running game for the second week in a row. He did make some positive strides paving running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott in the second half, but there just was too much negative stuff going on to say he had a good game overall.
Offensive line was a huge strength of the Dallas offense last year. So far, it’s been less impressive, with Collins being a big reason why. If the Cowboys are going to consistently get back to dominating people offensively, Collins will have to step his game up in a huge way.