In a matchup of division leaders, the Arizona Cardinals come to Arlington Sunday afternoon.
While I ultimately think the Cowboys will win this game, there are a few reasons to worry about a suddenly explosive Cardinals team.
1. QB Aging Well
Quarterback Carson Palmer is playing the best football of his career and Arizona has yet to lose this season when he plays. The Cardinals surrounded Palmer with weapons and he has responded with exceptional deep accuracy and ball security.
Arizona is 4-0 in games started by Carson Palmer, largely because he takes care of the ball. With only 1 interception in 154 pass attempts, he leads the league in interception percentage at 0.6 percent. That low number has contributed to Arizona’s +9 turnover margin, second best in the NFL.
Palmer missed three games due to a nerve issue in his throwing shoulder, but his performance in the other four games has been elite. His 7.74 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt — which factors yards, touchdowns, interceptions and sacks — puts him fourth in the NFL behind only Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Phillip Rivers
2. Small-School Gem
A large portion of Palmer’s success this season can be attributed to his receiving corps, which is one of the more underrated groups in the league.
Wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are fairly well known, but the recent emergence of 2014 draft pick John Brown takes this group to another level. Think of Brown as a poor man’s Desean Jackson, whose speed complements the physical Fitzgerald and Floyd.
Brown is currently 38th in the NFL in yards per target, but his 9.7 yards per target since Carson Palmer returned three weeks ago would be 17th, just behind Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown.
The Pittsburg State product is a deep threat that will surely keep the Dallas safeties back, which will open things up for…
3. Pass-Catching Running Back
An already thin group of linebackers was thinned even more when the Cowboys lost Justin Durant for the season. Linebacker Bruce Carter is the only proven intermediate coverage option, and Arizona will likely exploit that with running back Andre Ellington.
Durant likely would have been tasked with covering running back Andre Ellington, who has improved as a pass catcher in his second season. Ellington is a classic receiving threat out of single-back sets, which Dallas hasn’t faced this season.
Look for Arizona to consistently put two pass catchers in the slot, which, combined with the threat of Ellington, will force the Dallas defense to cover a lot of ground.
The Cowboys match up well with pretty much every team in the NFL, but Arizona has the personnel on offense to keep up. If the Cardinals continue their upward trend, they could pull off the upset (yes, the Cowboys are currently favored).