It doesn't take any sort of deep analysis to realize that the Week 6 "Monday Night Football" matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys took on significant added meaning after what transpired last Sunday. Arizona (3-2) won what could only be described as a must-win game over a rather weak New York Jets team to put the stops on a two-game losing streak and keep pace in the NFC West.
On the other sideline, well, I'm not sure if you've heard the news but Dak Prescott had a season-ending injury to his ankle in the Cowboys' last-second win over the Giants. I will assume you already knew about the most publicized injury of the entire season. Now America's Team faces the uncertainty of its 2020 campaign continuing without their franchise quarterback. At 2-3, it is fair to point out that the Cowboys' two wins have come against a pair of winless teams (beat Falcons in Week 2), yet Dallas still finds itself atop a weak NFC East.
This game could be the tipping point in deciding which team is a contender and which one is a pretender.
Monday Night Football: Arizona at Dallas
Kickoff: Monday, Oct. 19 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Arizona -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Andy Dalton back to the main stage.
So now it's Dalton's turn under center as the longtime NFL veteran will try and earn his paycheck. The good news is that the Red Rifle went a proficient 9-of-11 for 111 yards in relief of Dak Prescott last week, leading the Cowboys to a 37-34 win over the Giants. And the even better news is that Dalton has torched the Cardinals for 731 yards, six TDs and zero interceptions in the three times he's faced them in his career, albeit as a Bengal, not a Cowboy. And with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson, he has as good an array of weapons as anyone. He'll be facing a secondary that is one of the most experienced in the NFL with All-Pro talents like CB Patrick Peterson and safety Budda Baker, who returned from injury last week to help squash the Jets.
2. Cowboys' running game vs. Cardinal linebackers.
Obviously, Ezekiel Elliot and the Dallas run game takes on an expanded burden now that Prescott is not around to lean on. Dalton is not the scrambling type like Prescott, so Elliot's effectiveness will be a huge key to whether this Cowboy offense can maintain some balance and provide some makeable down-and-distance situations. But the Cards come into this one a little bit gimpy. All-Pro linebacker Chandler Jones was lost for the season with a biceps injury and he was responsible for 19 sacks a year ago. With Devon Kennard already inactive, that's two LBs down for the Cardinals. Erstwhile special teamer Dennis Gardeck stepped in nicely last week, providing a pair of sacks of Joe Flacco, but how will this unit fare in the run-stopping department? In addition, space-eater Rashard Lawrence also left the Jets game with a sprained ankle, but should play. How effective will he and his D-line cohorts be in plugging the running lanes?
3. Who keeps the offensive momentum going?
This should be interesting because these two teams are both coming off very solid offensive performances. To geek out on a few stats, the Cowboys lead the NFL at 488 yards per game and the Cardinals are 10th with 395. The Cowboys are third in the league in scoring (32.6 ppg) while the Cardinals are 13th (25.6). Of course, the big asterisk is the loss of Prescott and seeing how Dalton adapts to his new role.
We talked about it with the Cowboys above but also keep an eye on how the Cards get their running game going, as they are sixth in the league with 141 rushing yards per game. There might be some wrinkles to work through as the offensive line has had many injuries issues the last few weeks and guard J.R. Sweezy looks doubtful for Monday.
This primetime matchup should be a great game to wrap up the sixth week of the season on Monday night. Both teams snapped two-game losing streaks last week but the Cowboys are somehow at the top of their division with a 2-3 record. It also doesn't help when you consider that their two wins have come against two winless teams. And now they have to move on without Dak Prescott, their fearless leader. That's not a good recipe for a successful season, even if it is in this screwball of a year known as 2020.
Kyler Murray and his crazy legs will pull this one out in crunch time.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Cowboys 20
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.