The best way to neutralize a dominant pass rush like the Dallas Cowboys is to run the ball right at it. And the Arizona Cardinals showed the New England Patriots and the rest of the NFL just how susceptible Dallas is against the run in a Week 3 contest that Cowboys’ Micah Parsons called “shocking.”

“I think it was clear from the start that they were going to test the middle of our run defense,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Sunday after Dallas’ 28-16 loss at State Farm Stadium, per the team. “It’s something we have to be better at and we know that’s going to be the challenge.”

The Cardinals attacked the Cowboys with pull schemes and downhill runs as opposed to attacking the edges. In doing so, they lessened the impact of Parsons, the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year, and fellow edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence. Arizona totaled 222 rushing yards with an average of 7.4 (!) yards per attempt on 30 carries.

The Cowboys allowed 172 rushing yards over their first two games, though their big leads in those contests forced opponents to have to throw more. Dallas now ranks 25th in rushing yards allowed this season and 30th in yards allowed per attempt.

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Is Dallas as bad as those three-game stats indicate? Well, maybe not. But it’s certainly an area that can be exposed. After all, the defense in Big D is built on speed, not power. They have more talent on the edge than they do at defensive tackle while at times asking safeties to play at the second level.

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When speaking to reporters Monday, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn highlighted the big plays Dallas allowed. Quinn said there were five explosive runs and six missed tackles. They helped the Cardinals compile 180 yards rushing in the first half, score points on each of their five first-half possessions and take a 21-10 lead at the break. Arizona was a 12.5-point home underdog entering the contest.

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“That’s what I really wanted to emphasize,” Quinn told reporters after the Cowboys allowed 400 yards of offense, per the team. “We didn’t play with relentless energy.”

The 222 rushing yards the Cowboys allowed were the most since Week 8 last season. Dallas allowed 200-plus rushing yards just twice last season so those sorts of outbursts aren’t overly common. However, on a star-studded defense that doesn’t have a ton of flaws, it can prove to be one of them. The Cowboys were 17th in yards allowed per rush last season and were one of the worst run defenses in the league in 2020 before hiring Quinn.

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Enter the Patriots, who travel to AT&T Stadium on Sunday to face the Cowboys. New England is a 7-point road underdog in the contest.

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It would be wise for New England to commit to the run, especially given it is coming off a contest in which the offensive line did not allow a sack. Patriots coach Bill Belichick credited that to the fact the Patriots weren’t playing from behind as they did in their prior two games.

The Patriots also rushed for 157 yards against the New York Jets in Week 3. It marked their highest total of the season, against a defensive front that was thought to be one of the deepest in the league. Ezekiel Elliott (16 carries, 80 yards) and Rhamondre Stevenson (19 carries, 59 yards) headlined the effort. Elliott now will return to Dallas, where he played his first seven NFL seasons.

Elliott knows as well as anyone the Patriots are toast if they get into third-and-long situations where the Cowboys know the pass is coming. Parsons, Lawrence and company have feasted in those situations and they’ll do the same against quarterback Mac Jones if given the opportunity.

Running the ball effectively on early downs is one way to prevent that. And ultimately it might serve as New England’s best chance for a Week 4 win.

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Featured image via Joe Rondone/USA TODAY Sports Images