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Matchups: Cowboys at Cardinals

by Evan Silva
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Monday Night Football

Dallas @ Arizona
Team Totals: Cowboys 24.75, Cardinals 21.75

Carson Palmer enters Week 3 ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards to square off with a Dallas defense that got singed for four touchdown passes by Trevor Siemian last week, along the way losing LCB Nolan Carroll to a concussion and RCB Chidobe Awuzie to an aggravated hamstring injury. Awuzie was filling in for Orlando Scandrick, who now plans to play with a broken left hand after missing Week 2. This will be the Cardinals’ home opener after they almost-unfairly opened the season with consecutive 1pm ET road games, in which West Coast teams notoriously fall short of expectations. Despite the popular narrative he is “washed,” Palmer has shown his usual arm strength and accuracy on downfield throws, but he has gotten minimal supporting-cast help with three touchdown passes dropped and two more negated or overturned. Presently the QB16 in fantasy, Palmer is very streamer worthy in a plus draw with positive regression coming his way. Palmer’s touchdown rate of 2.4% has improvement written all over it with a previous career TD rate of 4.7%. … Kerwynn Williams started last week’s win over the Colts, but he was so ineffective the Cards turned to Chris Johnson in the second half and played Andre Ellington on more snaps than both of them. I think Johnson will lead Arizona’s backfield in touches this week, but that’s not saying much after Johnson did the same in Week 2, yet managed 11 touches for 44 scoreless yards on just 26% of the downs and ran five pass routes. Even against weak foes, this is a backfield to avoid. 

Palmer’s Weeks 1-2 targets: Larry Fitzgerald 19; J.J. Nelson 13; Jaron Brown 11; Ellington 8; Jermaine Gresham 4; Troy Niklas 3. … Fitz is off to a scoreless start, but he ranks seventh among NFL receivers in targets and tied for second in red-zone looks (4). Because the Colts sold out to halt Fitzgerald in David Johnson’s absence last week, Palmer essentially stopped looking Fitz’s way after the duo didn’t connect on an early end-zone target. The good news is Nelson and Brown made Dallas pay with a 120-yard effort by the former and 73 yards for the latter. Fitz simply hasn’t produced enough to be viewed as a truly confident WR2 play, but his volume should be safe. The Cards have yet to play a home game, and last year Fitzgerald averaged 7.8 catches for 75.6 yards per game at University of Phoenix Stadium compared to 5.6 grabs for 52.1 yards on the road. … Nelson has the best matchup in Arizona’s pass-catcher corps as a 75% outside receiver facing the Cowboys’ banged-up boundary cornerback group. Nelson’s 5/120/1 explosion in last week’s win over Indy wasn’t entirely a fluke. In four games missed by John Brown (quad) over the past two seasons, Nelson’s yards-per-game average doubles from 35.6 to 70.5. Regardless of Brown’s availability, Nelson has scored nine touchdowns over his last 11 games and seven TDs over his last seven. … The Colts’ devotion of coverage to Fitzgerald benefited Jaron Brown most with a team-high 11 targets. Across five NFL seasons, it was Brown’s third career game above 70 yards. Still, Brown’s matchup and opportunity are difficult to quibble with as a deeper-league WR4/flex until John Brown returns. … Gresham is expected back from his rib injury after missing Week 2. As Gresham is typically an ineffective player even when healthy, I’d like to see him do something before streaming him. 

The Cowboys got physically manhandled and eventually ran out of gas in last week’s trip to Mile High. They’re back on the West Coast for a date with the Cardinals, who limited Lions and Colts backs to a combined 45/105/2.33/1 rushing line in Weeks 1-2 after finishing last season No. 7 in run-defense DVOA. The good news is Ezekiel Elliott’s volume is vise-grip secure with an 85% snap rate two games in while averaging a whopping 39.5 pass routes run per game, more than doubling his 2016 average (18.9). Zeke’s passing-game usage will raise his floor more often than not. This can’t be spun as a favorable spot or matchup for Elliott, but he is at worst a mid-range RB1 play. … Dak Prescott overcame bad Weeks 1-2 matchups against the Giants and Broncos to notch consecutive QB11 fantasy finishes. I am concerned that the Cowboys’ offense simply matches up poorly with Arizona’s defense as a whole, which we’ll touch on more in a minute. Prescott’s rushing ability and passing aggressiveness keep him in the QB1 conversation, and playing the man-coverage Cardinals should increase Prescott’s opportunities to run. Last year’s Cardinals allowed league highs in rushing yards (348) and rushing TDs (4) to quarterbacks. 

Prescott’s Weeks 1-2 target distribution: Dez Bryant 25; Jason Witten 22; Cole Beasley 13; Terrance Williams 12; Elliott 10; Brice Butler 5. … Bryant is a virtual lock to be shadowed by Patrick Peterson, but there are some reasons for optimism. The Cowboys have moved Dez inside on 31% of his routes, and Peterson has aligned in the slot only 7% of the time. Albeit inefficiently, Bryant paid off as a Week 2 fantasy play in a similarly difficult spot at Denver, turning a whopping 16 targets into a 7/59/1 receiving line. I think Bryant should be downgraded to a WR3, but I’m playing him where I’ve got him in season-long leagues. … Witten has been the biggest beneficiary of Bryant’s brutal early-season schedule with NFL highs in targets, catches (17), red-zone targets (4), and touchdowns (2) through two weeks. With Peterson likely be draped all over Dez whenever Bryant lines up outside, Witten is tough to fade in the middle of the field against a Cardinals defense that coughed up nine catches for 99 yards on nine targets to Colts tight ends last week. … Williams is probably going to draw a ton of burnable Cardinals No. 2 CB Justin Bethel, but we’ve done this dance many a time with Williams before. Williams has scored a TD in just seven of his last 34 games and topped 70 yards just twice in that window. … Beasley has a chance at elevated volume based on matchups in this game, but it is concerning how low in the pecking order Beasley has been with just 13 targets on Prescott’s unsustainable 89 attempts through two games. Beasley is a low-ceiling WR4/flex option in PPR leagues.

Score Prediction: Cardinals 24, Cowboys 23

Evan Silva
Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .