Five things to watch for in the Cardinals-Cowboys game Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium:
Everything is on the line
You hear it before every game – NFL, college, high school: It starts up front. The Cowboys struggled in Denver last week because the Broncos were superior on both sides of the ball with their offensive and defensive lines. The Cowboys are supposed to have one of the best offensive lines in football, but Ezekiel Elliott could only run for eight yards on nine carries. On the other side, the fits and starts of the Cardinals' offense (with plenty of blame to go around) does begin with the offensive line. The Cards have to find a way to hold up, offensively and defensively.
To whom does Palmer throw?
Larry Fitzgerald is still there, although he could only get three catches in Indianapolis. John Brown's quad is still a problem. J.J. Nelson got 120 yards against the Colts but also a hamstring problem. Jaron Brown is OK, although he did have someone land on his knee last week. Brittan Golden and tight end Ifeanyi Momah were needed for long receptions. The Cards' offense is trying to find its way but already without key pass catcher David Johnson, along with the other maladies, getting a consistent receiving group seems like it's getting more difficult.
About those first impressions
No more 10 a.m.-in-Arizona start times. In fact, the Cardinals don't even get the 1 p.m. kickoff. This one is a night game, with plenty of time to ramp up. It'll be important to be there. The first half has not been kind to the Cardinals' offense in either game. The four-quarter totals of those two first halves for the Cardinals: Six points, 307 total yards, 56 yards rushing, 21-for-45 passing, 4-for-17 on third downs, and three turnovers. Needing faster starts is an understatement.
He doesn't have to be CJ2K, but CJ80 would be nice
Chris Johnson had 44 yards on 11 carries last week to lead the Cardinals in both categories, and he was officially the third running back on the depth chart. He's going to get more carries (It makes sense to figure 15 to 18 attempts, depending on how the game plays out) and could be the starter instead of Kerwynn Williams. Johnson isn't the same gamebreaker that used to scare defenses with potential 80-yard sprints to the end zone. But could he get you 80 yards, especially if the blocking comes through? I think he still has it in him.
Home is where the heart is
The Cardinals haven't had a home game since the Bears visited in the preseason back on Aug. 19. Home field does make a difference in the NFL, and while the Cardinals need to play better, they can get a boost in front of the home crowd. In years past – before the arrival of University of Phoenix Stadium – Dallas fans would dominate. But that has shifted, and getting a chance to be under the lights of "Monday Night Football" along with it being the home opener should up the energy in the Cardinals' favor.