Bruce Arians’ first home game at University of Phoenix Stadium was a mixed bag of sorts as his team put together a 12-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Jay Feely converted four of five field goal attempts for Arizona’s only points of the game, and the Cardinals' defense turned Dallas over six times in the contest.
Let’s take a deeper look inside the box score and figure out what we learned in this contest.
How did Tyrann Mathieu fare in his first NFL start?
The Honey Badger likely logged the most minutes of any single player on either team Saturday afternoon, but having not played a down of college football last season, it is more a matter of getting his legs back under him than anything else.
Mathieu led the team with seven tackles in the contest, but he also played a role in the Cardinals forcing six turnovers on defense. Although Mathieu put together a nice punt return in Week 1 of the preseason, Week 2 featured a return that lost three yards and called into question the young man’s decision making in the special teams’ game.
The early returns on Matthieu seem positive considering the former LSU Tiger did not play college football last season. His comfort with former LSU defensive backfield mate Patrick Peterson seems to be helping him transition to the next level. The key for the Honey Badger is staying in the headlines for his play on the field, and not making any with his actions off the field.
Has Carson Palmer developed a rhythm with his new receivers?
Palmer quietly put his name among the top quarterbacks in the NFL last season throwing for over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns as signal caller for the Oakland Raiders. Will he continue to impress fans throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, one of the top pass catchers in the game?
Palmer led the Arizona offense for the first three series of the game on Saturday and was able to move the team the length of the field on the first two possessions (albeit with help from the replay official on the first drive of the game).
The overall numbers for the quarterback are not jaw-dropping. He completed seven of fifteen passes for 66 yards, and his longest drive of the game (14 plays for 80 yards) ended without Arizona putting any points on the scoreboard. I do, however, think that Palmer is an upgrade for a team that was No. 28 in the NFL in passing yards per game last season with 187.8.
Did the Dallas Cowboys show any ability to run the ball?
Saying the Cowboys have been miserable rushing the football over the past year and a half would be putting it nicely. Despite a handful of outstanding efforts by DeMarco Murray during the 2011 and 2012 campaigns, Dallas still finished No. 31 in rushing yards per game last season (79.1). Week 2 of the preseason could not have given Cowboys’ fans much confidence in the team’s growth throughout the offseason.
Dallas was only able to manage 44 yards on 16 attempts against Arizona on Saturday afternoon. This would not be a telling statistic unless you factor in Arizona’s absolute inability to slow down opponents’ running attacks in 2012 (No. 28 in the NFL allowing 137 yards per game).
Murray’s key to success this season will be staying healthy. Dallas was very eager to add talent at the tight end position during the offseason, which could help the team’s rushing attack. The Cowboys also added Joseph Randle, a rookie out of Oklahoma State who will be looking for his own breakout performance during the 2013 season. Randle and Lance Dunbar will battle for the backup/third-down running back position.
Did Joseph Randle solidify his spot on the roster and in the Dallas offensive backfield?
With a starting running back who epitomizes the term “injury-prone”, the Cowboys felt it was important to add some depth in the offensive backfield, and did so in the form of Fifth Round pick Joseph Randle.
The positives for Randle: he led the team in rushing attempts and rushing yardage.
The negatives for Randle: he led the team in rushing attempts (8) and rushing yardage (16).
Randle’s highlight reel play came with a 13-yard scamper in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough to turn many heads. Being the “workhorse” during the preseason gives you plenty of reps, but will it be enough to vault Randle over Lance Dunbar for the backup position? We will have to see what Week 3 of the preseason brings.
Which Arizona running back took the biggest step towards being the Week 1 starter?
Coming out of Virginia Tech in 2011, Ryan Williams appeared to be the answer at running back, and the heir apparent to Beanie Wells. Fast forward two seasons, and Williams has played in only five of 32 games with Arizona thanks to injuries in 2011 and 2012.
During the offseason, the Cardinals added some depth to the position in the form of former Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall and rookie Stepfan Taylor from Stanford. Mendenhall has seen his fair share of injuries over the past two seasons, but does have two 1,000-yard rushing seasons on his resume. Taylor was considered by many draft experts to be the most “pro-ready” of the running backs in the 2013 Draft.
With Williams sitting out the contest, Mendenhall and Taylor shared most of the carries in the game against Dallas. Mendenhall led the team with 32 yards on seven carries, while Taylor added 20 yards on six carries.
Assuming Mendenhall stays healthy throughout the remainder of the preseason, he is the favorite to win the starting position. Taylor is a solid option at backup, and could provide a spark towards the middle and end of the season, or if Mendenhall is lost to an injury.