ARLINGTON, Texas – Dak Prescott wasn’t in the lineup and neither was Ezekiel Elliott for the Cowboys, but then again, the Cardinals didn’t play Larry Fitzgerald or David Johnson (or Josh Rosen) either.
So, yes, it felt a little less like a dress rehearsal than perhaps a third preseason game normally would Sunday night at AT&T Stadium. But that didn’t make the five first-half turnovers forced by the starting defense and special teams mean any less to coach Steve Wilks, nor the 27-3 victory over the Cowboys.
By the time the game was over, the Cardinals (3-0) had forced eight turnovers. They are now a plus-15 in three preseason games, having turned it over only once themselves.
“Back when I first started, (getting turnovers) was the mantra we had in Chicago, and that’s stayed with me ever since,” Wilks said. “That’s a staple of our defense.”
Without Prescott or Elliott or most of the Dallas starting offense, caveats are necessary. Then again, the Cardinals were without their top three defensive tackles, and interestingly, spent the game almost exclusively in nickel, with two linebackers and three safeties.
And after a pair of muffed punts gave the Cards their first two turnovers, the defense – which had already forced eight turnovers in the first two preseason games – helped make the game a blowout.
Patrick Peterson had interception he returned 30 yards for a touchdown, and submarined Cowboys running back Rod Smith on a tackle to force another fumble. Safety Budda Baker stopped Dallas’ lone chance at first-half points with an end-zone interception.
“Honestly, this is what I envisioned, what I’ve been talking about all spring,” Peterson said. “This defense is really … set up for us to make plays, at any position.
“We’re flying around, playing together, communicating. It’s fun to see us.”
Wilks raved about his star cornerback.
“I can’t say enough about Patrick Peterson,” Wilks said. “The guy is playing lights out.”
The defense didn’t just do well getting the ball. The top goal of the week was stopping the run and, yes, the Cowboys were without Elliott and that excellent offensive line, but the Cards shut down Dallas with only 52 rush yards.
The Cardinals (3-0) needed the turnovers. Not only did Johnson and Fitzgerald not play, but quarterback Sam Bradford was in for only two series, completing just 1-of-4 passes for six yards and absorbing his first sack as a Cardinal.
“I was hoping he wasn’t hurt and he wasn’t,” Wilks said.
Rosen, nursing the right thumb injury suffered in practice last week, dressed but didn’t play. That meant Mike Glennon and Charles Kanoff got plenty of snaps, and the passing game never really did get untracked. It’s hard to figure out who you might want at receiver when there are only 52 total yards passing – although Wilks lamented multiple dropped passes.
The Cardinals also could only convert 2-of-13 third downs.
The running game did impress, however. Rookie Chase Edmonds had 55 yards on 11 carries starting in place of Johnson, and T.J. Logan – getting a ton of work after D.J. Foster looked to suffer a serious knee injury on a special teams play – gained 86 yards on only six carries, including a 59-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals rushed for 146 yards total.
The offensive imbalance didn’t worry the locker room. Said left tackle D.J. Humphries, “I know what we’re capable of.”
The Cardinals have a short week, hosting Denver in the final preseason game Thursday. They’ll only get one day of practice. The vast majority of the main players likely won’t see the field.
But Wilks emphasized that what the Cardinals showed Sunday – run-heavy on offense, and an opportunistic defense – was his team’s identity. It probably won’t be worth eight turnovers a game, but confidence is high.