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2011 Cardinals Week 13: Five observations

Five things I noticed while watching the Arizona Cardinals during their 19-13 overtime victory against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 13:

  • Field goal confusion benefited Arizona. The Cowboys twice called timeouts before failed field goal attempts. Dallas snapped the ball and was running a fourth-and-2 play midway through the first quarter when officials whistled the play dead. Tony Romo threw incomplete after the whistle, making it tough to know if he might have done anything different had there been no whistle. The Cowboys had called timeout. They then attempted a 53-yard field goal, which missed. The second pre-kick timeout made headlines because Dan Bailey, having connected from 49 yards for the apparent game-winner, had to re-kick following a late Cowboys timeout call, only to miss.

  • LaRod Stephens-Howling's return to health. The Cardinals' offense wasn't the same when a hand injury sidelined and then limited the third-year running back and utility player. He helped beat Philadelphia with a 30-yard reception on fourth-and-2 a few weeks ago. He finished this game with a 15-yard run, three kick returns, one special-teams tackle and the winning 52-yard touchdown reception in overtime.

  • Defense better against tight ends. The Cardinals' defense has too often struggled against tight ends, especially last season. Arizona fared well against the Cowboys' tight ends. Jason Witten caught five passes for 47 yards. Two plays on one drive in the first half stood out. Safety Adrian Wilson rocked tight end John Phillips at the line of scrimmage, cutting into the backfield to help bring down DeMarco Murray for a 3-yard loss. Two plays later, Paris Lenon and Rashad Johnson blanketed Witten to force an incomplete pass on first down. The drive ended with Darnell Dockett getting a sack on third down. (Arizona turned loose its defensive linemen effectively, including when Calais Campbell rushed inside to stop Murray for a loss, with outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield responsible for outside run containment to Campbell's side.)

  • Matching Cowboys' OLB sack counts. The teams combined for nine sacks, five by Dallas. The Cardinals' outside linebackers matched the Cowboys' outside linebackers in sacks, 2-2. Arizona will happily accept that trade-off. Clark Haggans and Schofield had one apiece. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer each had one for Dallas. This game featured quite a few coverage sacks and/or sacks when quarterbacks held the ball too long. Arizona also unleashed some of the inside linebacker blitzes the team envisioned using this season. Lenon had a sack.

  • Kolb protects the ball. Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb played a turnover-free game for the first time since the Cardinals acquired him. He had eight interceptions and three lost fumbles in seven previous starts for the team. If taking an extra sack or two meant suffering no turnovers while scrambling or forcing balls into coverage, the Cardinals were better off. Taking sacks instead of throwing higher-risk passes also helped Kolb complete 64 percent of his passes, ending a streak of four consecutive games with completion rates between 47-59 percent.

This victory was only a mild upset, in my view. The Cardinals have a chance at home against 10-2 San Francisco in Week 14 if their defense continues playing well and Kolb protects the ball.