First place in the NFC East meets first place in the NFC West when the Arizona Cardinals clash with the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.
Arizona is very physical and explosive, but Cowboys fans have a few reasons to be optimistic.
1. NFL's Best Zone Runner?
The offensive line is normally the star of the running game, but this week’s matchup is different. Arizona’s defense is the stingiest in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 3.3 yards per rush.
The last time Dallas faced the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense (Seattle), they steamrolled it. Seattle’s defense is based on speed and swarming, though, and Arizona’s stout, physical front could neutralize the Cowboys’ athletic linemen.
This is where DeMarco Murray comes in. Stretch zone runs are great against an aggressive defense like Arizona's, and a healthy Murray might bet the best stretch zone running back in the league. The Cowboys' line will create lanes and Murray will find them.
2. Aggressive Defensive Coordinator
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Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is a rising star and likely a head coaching candidate as soon as this offseason, but his style of defense might cost his team the game Sunday. No team in the league has blitzed on a higher percentage of defensive snaps than Arizona during the last two seasons, but only one team in the NFL has fewer sacks in 2014.
Tony Romo is a game-time decision, but the Cowboys likely already know if he'll play. If he won't, the coaching staff has probably spent the entire week preparing back-up quarterback Brandon Weeden for 0-blitzes all week.
If Romo does play, his pocket presence and experience should help him avoid the rush long enough to find openings in the secondary.
Especially because of…
3. Overrated Cornerback
If cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman are still debating on Twitter about who the better player is, Peterson’s play this year should end it.
Peterson, who recently signed a $70 million contract, has been terrible this season. It seems like he’s burned for several catches and a touchdown each week, and now add to that the fact that he’s questionable after suffering a concussion last week. The way he's played this season, Arizona might be better off resting him.
Peterson is in a bad way right now, but he’s a supremely talented defensive back that should bounce back. It likely won’t be this week, though, and wide receiver Dez Bryant has a chance for a big day.
Arizona will be a tough matchup for the Cowboys Sunday, but there are enough weaknesses to exploit. If the Cowboys play the game they’re capable of, they should win the game and stake their claim as the team to beat in the NFC.