The Dallas Cowboys formally begin life without star quarterback Dak Prescott when they host the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.
Prescott's season is over after he sustained a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle during last Sunday's game against the New York Giants.
Prescott has passed for an NFL-leading 1,856 yards and veteran Andy Dalton will be asked to keep the Dallas offense churning. The Cowboys lead the NFL in total offense (488.0 yards per game) and rank third in scoring (32.6).
Running back Ezekiel Elliott indicated he isn't the least bit concerned since Dalton has nine prior years of experience as an NFL starter for the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Dak definitely is special," Elliott said. "He definitely is special but I think we have a lot of pieces in this offense and Andy's played at a high level in this league. I think we should still be one of the best offenses in the league."
Dalton, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has passed for 31,705 yards and 204 touchdowns in his career. The Bengals released Dalton in late April after using the No. 1 overall draft pick on quarterback Joe Burrow and Dallas signed him as insurance behind Prescott a few days later.
That $3 million the Cowboys guaranteed Dalton now looks like a stellar investment after Prescott's injury.
Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said there will be adjustments to the offense but he doesn't expect any decline in production.
"We all have great confidence in Andy," McCarthy said. "We've all been working together since training camp. ... I expect Andy to keep our offense moving forward and hopefully we can improve some."
Perhaps the defense will be the bigger issue when the Cowboys (2-3) try to slow down quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals (3-2).
Dallas is allowing an NFL-worst 36.0 points per game and ranks 27th in total defense (404.4 yards) and Murray and offensive-minded coach Kliff Kingsbury are likely salivating at the matchup possibilities.
Murray is highly familiar with AT&T Stadium in Arlington because he won three state high school titles in the facility while playing for Allen High, located about 25 miles north of Dallas.
Murray said there won't be much time for reminiscing during his first visit as an NFL player.
"I will be able to enjoy the moment, but at the same time I know what's at stake," said Murray, who also won two games at AT&T Stadium while in college at Oklahoma. "This isn't about me going home. I'll be able to enjoy it, but at the same time, to enjoy it, you got to win."
Murray passed for a career-best 380 yards in last Sunday's 30-10 road victory over the New York Jets. The second-year pro has passed for 1,299 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions while also rushing for 296 yards and five touchdowns.
Murray and offseason acquisition DeAndre Hopkins have quickly formed a bond. Hopkins had six catches for 131 yards and one touchdown versus the Jets and leads the NFL in receptions (45) and receiving yardage (528).
Hopkins spent his first seven NFL seasons with the Houston Texans prior to the trade but he said he is fitting in well with the Cardinals.
"Those guys trust me to get me the ball downfield," Hopkins said. "A lot of people look at me as just a possession receiver, I guess. And my abilities and my talent, obviously show that I'm not just a possession receiver but I'm a downfield threat."
Arizona received its own injury blow Sunday when star linebacker Chandler Jones suffered a season-ending torn biceps. Jones was the runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors last season when he had a career-best 19 sacks and tied for the league lead with eight forced fumbles.
In better news for the Cardinals, safety Chris Banjo (hamstring) was a full practice participant on Thursday and is hopeful of returning after a two-game absence. Also, safety Jalen Thompson (ankle) is practicing and could be activated from injured reserve. He was hurt in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers.
Dallas standout linebacker Leighton Vander Esch returned to practice Thursday and might be activated from IR. Vander Esch has missed the past four games since breaking his collarbone in the season opener against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Cowboys won the last meeting 28-17 in 2017 after Arizona won the previous four matchups.
--Field Level Media
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