The Dallas Cowboys entered Week 3 undefeated and flexing the NFL's best defense. All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons was the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week, and the Cowboys had led the league in almost every key defensive metric: points allowed (10), takeaways (seven), total yards per game allowed (193.0), yards per play allowed (3.5), red zone touchdown percentage allowed (zero percent), sacks (10, tied with the Commanders), quarterback pressure rate (63.6%) and passer rating allowed (34.2).
However, on Sunday, they looked like a struggling unit. In the desert against the previously 0-2 Cardinals, Dallas allowing the Joshua Dobbs-led attack to rack up points on six of nine drives. If you factor in that the ninth drive concluded with kneel downs, it was actually six of eight. The Cardinals shocked the Cowboys and their vaunted defense with a wire-to-wire 28-16 win.
The defense made sure to take plenty of blame for their contribution to the defeat, particularly for not stepping up in the run game.
"I think we just beat ourselves," Parsons said postgame on Sunday. "We put ourselves behind the eight ball a couple times. It just wasn't championship football. It was just us not executing and being flat…The outcome was definitely shocking. It definitely hurts…. I take full ownership becauseI feel like I give the team a lot of energy and I feel like I got to give more energy, I got to bring these guys together. We got to come together so we can play better on defense. I take full ownership."
"Extremely proud," Parsons said following their Week 2 win about he and his teammates ability to shut down the Jets' ground game. "I think this season we all committed to saying 'we're going to make these guys pass the ball.' We're going to force them to let us rush and when we come out, we come down and set the tone saying 'you won't run on us' and then we go get our sack, now that's what changes everything. To all the teams with them game plans, c'mon. Run at me. Run at whoever."
The Cardinals obliged, racking up 222 rushing yards, with two of their three touchdowns coming the ground via a 45-yard sprint by wide receiver Rondale Moore and a five-yard plunge by running back James Conner. Conner finished the game with 98 yards on the ground and the score on 14 carries, averaging seven yards a pop. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, making his fifth career start, amassed 55 rushing yards on six carries -- the first of which being a 44-yard scramble -- in addition to 189 passing yards on 17 of 21 passing. Sunday marked his first career victory as a starting quarterback.
The 180 rushing yards the Cowboys allowed in the first half were the most allowed by any team in a first half this season, and the most the Cowboys have allowed in a first half since at least 1991. Dallas' first-half run defense was the worst since the Lions 240 rushing yards to the Panthers in the first half of a 37-23 loss in Week 16 last season.
"It's just a game where it never came into our favor," Parsons said. "He [Joshua Dobbs] could have done whatever he wanted, the playbook was wide open. It's hard to play against, hard to play from behind after a slow start. That's just the reality of football."
The Cowboys' 222 rushing yards allowed was their second-most surrendered in a game under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who came to Dallas in 2021. Their worst run defense occurred in a 49-29 blowout victory over the Bears in Week 8 of the 2022 season.
"Our message is never stress, never worry and let's just get better," Parsons said. "It's still early in the season. This is the tough part about playing in the National Football League. Every team has its day. The last two weeks we were on fire and today we came out and we got lit. … We got to take on every game like it's the Super Bowl. We got to play up to our standard. We can't play down to [our opponent], and that's what I felt like we did today."
Cowboys defense this season
|Weeks 1-2||Week 3 at Cardinals|
Total Yards Allowed
Rush Yards Allowed
QB Pressure Rate
* Led NFL
"I think the real problem is that we were too antsy, eager to play," Cowboys Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said postgame on Sunday. "Gap schemes, man, we got beat on a couple of fits. It's just all about us learning from our mistakes and getting better. … There wasn't real dropback passing, it was really all outside the pocket passing. I feel like we still rushed good, he [Dobbs] got the ball out quick. This is a lesson learned. It's still early in the season. Ain't no need to panic or nothing like that."
The biggest panic moment defensively came on a coverage bust in the fourth quarter. Dallas shut out Arizona in the third quarter, which allowed them to get within five, 21-16, thanks to two field goals by rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey. The former MLS and USFL athlete improved to 10-for-10 on field goals in his brief, three-game career drilling three on Sunday. Following Aubrey's final field goal, the Cardinals' first play from scrimmage went for 69 yards. Dallas had a coverage bust, allowing Cardinals third-round, rookie receiver Michael Wilson to spring WIDE OPEN over the middle of the field with no one in his zip code.
"That's just communication from top to bottom," Cowboys safety Malik Hooker said postgame Sunday. "As far as the safeties go, we base that off of us. We did a poor job with communication. We have to all get on the same page, get back in the books and start back with square one on Monday. Obviously a lot of movement happened on that play. Bad eyes, miscommunication and just bad ball overall, especially in that moment. We had a chance to come back and win at that point, make a statement. We gave up the big play and they ended up scoring. That was on us as a secondary."
The loss of Trevon Diggs to a torn ACL in practice Thursday appeared to play a factor in the communication across the board on that play, but the Cowboys defense is looking forward to re-establishing their responsibilities on the back end going forward.
"It's definitely surprising given the way we worked this week," Hooker said. "We have been facing adversity since the beginning of the week from Tre[von Diggs' tearing his ACL in practice on Thursday], obviously Tyler [Biadasz] and Zack [Martin] being down this week. We have been facing adversity all week. We can't let up. We have to keep working and getting better. We just have to do our job. That's just communication from top to bottom. As far as the safeties go, we base that off of us. We did a poor job with communication. We have to all get on the same page, get back in the books and start back with square one on Monday."
Three plays later, Arizona's top wideout Marquise Brown, age 26, blew past 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Stephon Gilmore, age 33, for a two-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. That put the Cardinals up 28-16.
"It's a good wake up call, and I still feel like we're a good football team," Lawrence said. "We have to eliminate the mistakes, learn from them and get better. It's actually good for us to see what it's like. Being on top of the world in Week 3 ain't going to get us nowhere. So being able to have an uncommon opponent and come out not satisfied, I feel like we'll be more hungry."