GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s been a month since the Arizona Cardinals have played a football game in their own stadium and they can’t wait to finally be on their field. Given the scrutiny he’s been under recently, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is probably happy to be playing at University of Phoenix Stadium, too.
In a game that could swing either team’s early-season fortunes in the right or the wrong direction, the Cardinals (1-1) and the Cowboys (1-1) will meet here on Monday Night Football with a lot on the line for a Week 3 game.
For Elliott, the Cowboys’ second-year star already mired in controversy as he awaits word on the stay of his six-game suspension stemming from domestic-abuse allegations, it’s a chance for redemption inside his own locker room after his efforts were called into question during Dallas’ humbling 42-17 loss last Sunday in Denver.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett wasn’t pleased with Elliott’s hustle or competitiveness when the tailback showed zero-to-little interest in turning into a defensive player following two Dak Prescott interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown and one during which Elliott turned away from the play with his hand on his hips.
“One of the things we preach to our team on both sides of the ball when there is a turnover, everybody is involved,” Garrett said. “If you’re an offensive player, become a defensive player on a fumble or an interception. Zeke is one of the most natural competitors I’ve ever been around. He loves to play. He loves to practice. I think we’ve seen that through his first year playing.
“Those two plays were not indicative of the kind of competitor that he was and we have to get that addressed.”
Elliott had more carries (nine) than rushing yards (eight) in the rout against the Broncos, but Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn’t see a player that suddenly has lost his way or forgot how to break tackles and squirt through holes.
“No. I saw a team that got behind then, obviously, you’ve got to start throwing it,” Arians said. “That changes everything when you’re down.”
The Cardinals are just happy to be home after playing each of their first two games on the road and three of their past four overall, including the preseason, in an Eastern time zone. They lost their opener at Detroit 35-21 before rebounding on the road last week in overtime at Indianapolis, 16-13. They played their final two preseason games in Atlanta and Houston, respectively.
“Yeah, that was a long ago,” quarterback Carson Palmer said of getting to play at home. “It seemed longer than that, too, but it’s just good that we finally get a chance to play in front of our home crowd, on our grass. They’ll be a bunch of Cowboys fans there, I’m sure, but it’s been a long four weeks, no doubt.”
Offensively, Arizona and Dallas rank 12th and 13th in the league in total average yards per game at 348.5 and 330.0, respectively. Both teams are averaging under 100 yards rushing — 84.5 by the Cowboys and just 64.0 by the Cardinals.
The Broncos held Dallas to just 268 total yards in Week 2, swallowing up the run game and getting a multitude of hits on Prescott. Arians was asked if Phoenix can use Denver’s defense as a blueprint for success Monday night against the Cowboys.
“Well, if I could have Von Miller, I’d be happy,” Arians said, referring to Denver’s disruptive outside linebacker. “He’s special. We’ve got a pretty good one, too, (in Chandler Jones), so yeah, it’s a copycat league. But you can’t change what you do. They have some unique stuff that they run that you have to be very aware for. Hopefully, our matchups are pretty solid.”
If the Cardinals stack the box to try and contain Elliott, the Cowboys will have to rely on Prescott beating Arizona to the outside and that could prove difficult since their best receiver, Dez Bryant, will be shadowed throughout the game by All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson.
According to Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, Bryant tends to struggle when facing elite corners.
“Dez, to me, is one of the best receivers in the game,” Sanders said on the NFL Network’s postgame show this past Sunday. “But this is the streets talk. When Dez plays against a dog, he has to hunt. And the last few times Dez has gone against a real, pure dominant corner, they haven’t gotten the ball to him or he hasn’t made his catches or he hasn’t had productivity.
“I don’t know where the inconsistency with he and Dak (is), but you don’t see this with (Steelers receiver) Antonio Brown. You don’t see this with (Falcons receiver) Julio Jones. … If you’re not getting productivity out of Ezekiel like you didn’t (against Denver), Dez has to come up. He has to win the one-on-ones and he and Dak have to get on the same page.”
The Cardinals could turn to their second new starting running back in two weeks since losing star David Johnson to a left wrist injury in Week 1 at Detroit. Kerwynn Williams was the starter against the Colts last week and it appears Arians will turn to veteran Chris Johnson as the bell cow in Week 3 against the Cowboys.
Both teams have injury issues. Besides losing their best player in Johnson, Arizona is expected to be without starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (sprained MCL) and speedy wide receiver John Brown (quadriceps). Dallas, meanwhile, has several issues at cornerback, where Chido Awuzie (hamstring) and Nolan Carroll (concussion) are hurting and Orlando Scandrick is recovering from surgery to repair a fractured bone in his hand.
The Cowboys are banged up elsewhere, too, but it’s their pride and ego that were wounded the most during the rout at the hands of the Broncos.
“I’ve never judged a team or a player off of one bad performance,” Palmer said. “This is a very, very good group that’s coming off a tough loss on the road and they’re getting to play on Monday Night Football. We’ll be ready.”