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Five things to watch for in Cowboys-Cardinals on ‘MNF’

Five things to watch for in Cowboys-Cardinals on ‘MNF’

It’s never too early to begin again, even when your invincibility has been shaken and your strengths have been exposed as weaknesses. So call this week’s edition of Monday Night Football three and a half hours of soul-searching in the desert, because both the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals are looking for answers after their early-season setbacks.

This NFC matchup of 1-1 teams pits two franchises against one another that have both exceeded expectations with 13-3 seasons in the past two years, but have since fallen on hard times, brief or not.

In Arizona’s first game, their everything on offense, David Johnson, went down with a devastating wrist injury, keeping him out for at least half the from china season. With no equivalent replacement at the position — Johnson’s dual-threat attributes know no equal throughout the league — the Cardinals have had to rely on the aging Carson Palmer and a wide receiving corps paced by Larry Fitzgerald, both of whom are rumored to be playing out their final seasons in football jerseys. This wasn’t the plan in Glendale, but it’s now the reality.

Nike Cardinals #31 David Johnson Black Men's Stitched NFL Limited Rush Jersey
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The Cowboys haven’t been bothered by injuries so much as by, depending who you ask, a lack of effort. Dallas’ blowout loss to the Broncos last Sunday saw Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ run game shut down for the first time in his career, and then saw the back give up on a game-sealing interception. (I won’t say “quit” because that’ll irk Michael Irvin and Cowboys fanatics worldwide and be disastrous for my mentions.) Dallas still has the talent to take the NFC East and lay waste the conference, but now has to rebound from arguably its worst offensive performance of the Dak-Zeke era and yet another cheap jerseys and distraction.

Dallas found unusual success with base rushes against Arizona’s offensive line, which struggled mightily on the edges and forced Palmer to constantly step up to avoid being sacked. Demarcus Lawrence was a terror off the edge, recording three sacks and getting to Palmer many more times than that. With 6.5 sacks in three games, Lawrence is in the middle of the race for the sack crown as we near the quarter pole. Maliek Collins was right behind Lawrence on Monday night with two sacks of his own.

Dallas’ frequent pressure, which included six sacks was visibly affecting Palmer, who lofted a pass off his back foot with room to step into a third-down throw, underthrowing an open receiver. He was effective on a drive late in the fourth, despite the pressure, but the next possession went down in flames after a three-man rush got to Palmer on third down, effectively ending Arizona’s comeback hopes. Another three-man rush ran right around Cardinals tackles John Wetzel and Jared Veldheer on the Cardinals’ next drive, and a five-man attack resulted in another sack shortly thereafter on a night to forget for the two tackles.

Has Larry Fitzgerald aged at all? The wideout caught 13 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, including an outrageous grab in which he took the ball from Orlando Scandrick in mid-air, bobbling it off his forearm before securing it once on the ground. The catch extended a Cardinals drive that resulted in a Phil Dawson field goal. The 34-year-old passed Marvin Harrison for eighth place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list with his touchdown grab (hat tip, @NFLResearch) and was a frequent target of Palmer’s, who is as Around the NFL’s Marc Sessler tweeted one of the league’s more entertaining quarterbacks to watch, win or lose. We’ll miss Fitz once he hangs it up.

The Cardinals re-signed running back Chris Johnson on Tuesday, the team’s  announced.

Arizona cut the veteran running back earlier this month after Kerwynn Williams won the backup gig.

Turning 32 years old on September 23, Johnson didn’t impress during the preseason, carrying 13 times for 41 yards (3.2 yards per attempt) with a fumble.

Johnson adds depth to a muddled Cardinals backfield that will be without dual-threat David Johnson for at least the next eight weeks.

Williams is expected to get the early down carries. Chris Johnson could siphon off some of this role moving forward. Andre Ellington likely will see pass-catching snaps with Elijhaa Penny playing the big-back role in short-yardage situations.

Palmer, though, went on to throw a second interception that set up a long Lions touchdown march. His third errant lob, coming late in the fourth quarter, was snagged by safety Miles Killebrew, who returned it 35 yards for a score that put Detroit up 35-17 with 4:03 left in the game.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job,” Palmer said. “I put that solely on myself. I’m disappointed in myself. I just felt like had I made a handful of throws, we would have been in a different position.”

Palmer spent much of the offseason resting his arm, hoping to solve some of the fatigue issues cheap that plagued him early last autumn.

That didn’t help on Sunday, with the veteran lacking accuracy on too many of his throws despite finishing with 269 yards and a touchdown.

It’s too early to panic, but even Palmer admits the issues  better be fixed in a hurry.

“We will get past it. I will get past it,” Palmer said. “We’ve got another big road game playing in another environment similar to this next week [in Indianapolis]. Sunday can’t come fast enough. We’ve got to get the work done, but at the same time, I can’t wait to get this taste out of my mouth and move past this.”