Five teams in the Super Bowl era scored 70 or more total points while holding opponents to a combined output of 10 or fewer in the first two games of a season.
One of them, the 2023 Dallas Cowboys, sashays into Arizona to challenge the Cardinals (1-1) on Sunday.
First-year Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon contended with Dak Prescott and company in another capacity previously as defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. This week, part of his challenge is convincing a shorthanded team to erase the recent memory of blowing a 21-point second-half lead to lose to the New York Giants, 31-28.
For the sake of comparison, the Arizona result came a week after the Cowboys (2-0) whipped the Giants 40-0.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Gannon said Wednesday.
With Kyler Murray (knee) unavailable, the Cardinals started Joshua Dobbs at quarterback for the first two games. He completed 42 of 61 passes for 360 yards with one touchdown in the first two games. Facing injuries and a decided playmaker deficit, Dobbs said the Cardinals are locking in on finishing.
A challenge for the offense, which has 44 points in two games, will be finding a way to move the ball while limiting the impact of Dallas pass rusher Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs. The Cowboys are leading the NFL in multiple defensive categories, yielding 5.0 points per game, collecting 10 sacks and boasting a turnover margin of plus-7. Opponents are converting only 23.1 percent of third downs to first downs (6 of 26).
“My sentiment to the offense has been, when we do execute, when we do what we’re coached to do, we’re a really difficult offense to stop,” said Dobbs, who will start three consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Gannon said the Cardinals are cognizant of not allowing Parsons to wreck the game.
“He’s one of the elite players in the world. Explosive, fast, powerful. He can rush, takes the run away.”
Parsons had 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble last week in a 30-10 win over the host New York Jets. Diggs picked off one pass and shares the NFL lead with 18 interceptions since 2020.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said the Cowboys are focused on the Cardinals while also carrying the mentality that they can’t be stopped if they do their jobs.
“Come back to the lab each and every day and work on our fundamentals,” Lawrence said. “I feel like, times like this, when you’re 2-0 and you’ve got the hype around the team and things can get out of whack. People can let that self-confidence lead them into some things they don’t need to be in.”
“(Doesn’t) matter who’s back there. We’re gonna hunt. I feel like every week, we’ll be facing a running quarterback. … If you’re not a running quarterback, you’re gonna wanna make sure your legs work that week.”
Dallas hasn’t had to flex offensively with Parsons, Lawrence and pals bruising opponents.
The Cowboys have at least six points in all eight quarters this season. Quarterback Dak Prescott has been highly efficient with head coach Mike McCarthy calling plays. They ran 83 offensive plays against the Jets and 55 against the Giants. But Gannon said it’s not about who to stop so much as how to stop the Cowboys because of their numerous skill-position threats.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons, it’s a well-coached scheme and they’ve been together for awhile now,” Gannon said.
Running back Tony Pollard is one player that McCarthy plans to ease up on this week. In the win over the Jets, he had 25 carries and seven receptions, the heaviest single-game toll of his career.
Left guard Tyler Smith (hamstring), wide receiver Brandin Cooks (knee), safety Donovan Wilson (calf) and offensive tackle Chuma Edoga (elbow) practiced on Wednesday, but right guard Zack Martin (ankle) worked with trainers.