By Shawn Lealos

The Dallas Cowboys headed into their week nine game against the best team in the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals, without their starting quarterback and one week after losing their top tackler to a season ending injury. Sadly, that meant that they never really stood a chance in the game and fell to the Cardinals, 28-17. Here is a look at the Dallas Cowboys team grades for their third loss of the season.

Offense

The Dallas Cowboys offense never scored a touchdown until there was less than two minutes remaining in the game and backup quarterback Brandon Weeden could never get the team moving in the game. The Cardinals entered the week with the last ranked passing defense in the NFL, but Dallas could never get the passing game moving. Furthermore, the Cardinals have the third ranked rushing defense in the NFL and really did their part to step DeMarco Murray in this game.

Murray, honestly, did not have a bad game, but it was nowhere near what Cowboys fans have gotten used to this season. Murray finished the game with 79 yards on 19 carries, for a nice 4.2 yards-per-carry. It was his first game under 100 yards this season and the reason was because the Cardinals already stifling rushing defense stacked the line of scrimmage and dared Dallas to throw the ball.

It was a smart game plan. Dallas has what many consider the best offensive line in the NFL. However, they looked less than ordinary in this game. The reason is simple. With the Cardinals sending anywhere from five to nine people on every play, the three first round offensive linemen could only do so much. It stuffed Murray on most plays, but he has to be credited with still breaking off runs throughout the game.

The rush also had Brandon Weeden running for his life. He was only sacked once, but he only completed 54.5% of his passes (18/33) for 183 yards, a low 5.5 yard per pass average. He also threw two interceptions in the game. The biggest problem here was that Weeden didn’t complete a pass to one of the Cowboys’ starting wide receivers until the fourth quarter.

Terrance Williams finished with two receptions for 19 yards and Dez Bryant didn’t catch a pass until the final Cowboys’ drive of the game when he caught two balls for 15 yards and a touchdown. Jason Witten led the team with six receptions for 62 yards.

Offensive Grade: D

Defense

It looked, at the start of the game, that the Dallas Cowboys defense would make up for the loss of Tony Romo on offense. On the Arizona Cardinals first series, Carson Palmer threw an interception to Tyler Patmon, who returned it 58 yards for the opening touchdown of the game. For the game, however, Carson Palmer completed 22-of-34 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Dallas only sacked him twice, with Henry Melton involved in both of them.

Andre Ellington seemed to run at will against the Cowboys defense. He carried the ball 21 times for 95 yards and caught four passes for 39 yards and a touchdown as well. Backup Marion Grice chipped in with 12 rushing yards and a touchdown as well.

In the passing game, it seemed like the middle of the field was open all game long for slants and the Cardinals offense made Dallas look inept most of the game. Larry Fitzgerald led the team with five receptions for 70 yards while Michael Floyd caught four balls for 36 yards. New Cowboys’ starting weak-side linebacker Anthony Hitchens led the team with eight tackles.

Defensive Grade: C-

Special Teams

The Dallas Cowboys were successful in the special teams return game, with Dwayne Harris averaging 25.3 yards on three kick returns and 21.5 yards on two punt returns. However, the almost always reliable Dan Bailey had a short field goal blocked in the game, after hitting a nice 52 yard field goal in the first quarter. It wasn’t a great game overall, but it wasn’t as bad as the rest of the team.

Special Teams Grade: B-

For more Cowboys news and updates, visit Cowboys Central.

Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. aExaminer.com.

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