After two consecutive losses, the Cowboys (2-3) will head to Charlotte to face a team that is in even worse shape than they are. The Carolina Panthers are 1-4, have lost their starting center Pro Bowl center, Ryan Kalil, for the season; are without their best cornerback, the injured Chris Gamble; have a quarterback, Cam Newton, who has failed to imitate his sensational performance as a rookie; and have a big-play receiver, Steve Smith, who has yet to catch a touchdown pass. The Cowboys’ problems, frankly, pale in comparison to the ones Carolina is facing. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Just when it seemed the Cowboys’ rushing attack was revving up after gaining 227 yards on the ground last Sunday against Baltimore, there is reason to believe it could slow down once again. After all, tailback DeMarco Murray has been declared out Sunday after spraining his left foot against the Ravens. While backup Felix Jones gained 92 yards last week, he has never been reliably productive in a featured role. But he has a chance to author his second consecutive strong performance against a Carolina defense that is the 10th-worst against the run.
When the Cowboys pass
Despite the fact that Miles Austin has surpassed 100 receiving yards in only one game this season, the Cowboys’ passing offense is still one of the most prolific in the league. The Cowboys are gaining 287.8 yards per game through the air – the sixth-highest average in the NFL. Dallas has benefited from the re-emergence of tight end Jason Witten, who has 19 catches for 200 yards in his last two games. Witten and quarterback Tony Romo should able to attack a Carolina’s pass defense that has yielded 249.6 yards per game. But Romo, who has thrown interceptions in each of his last six games, needs to be careful against a Carolina team that has returned two picks for touchdowns.
When the Panthers run
A backfield that features DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and quarterback Cam Newton would seem to be a formidable one. In many ways, it is. Carolina is producing 4.45 yards per carry – the seventh-highest average in the NFL. But they are in the bottom half of the league in rushing attempts. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have been solid but unspectacular against the run. They are ranked 13th in average yardage allowed but have stopped the opponent in the backfield nine times – the second-fewest in the NFL this season.
When the Panthers pass
In his second season in the NFL, quarterback Cam Newton has slumped. He has thrown five interceptions versus four touchdown passes and his quarterback rating of 80.9 is 23rd-best in the NFL. Newton has been seen sulking repeatedly on the sidelines and he has admitted he has performed poorly. Meanwhile, his most prolific receiver, Steve Smith, has been affected by Newton’s struggles. He has yet to reach the end zone this year. The Cowboys’ pass defense, ranked first in the NFL despite looking vulnerable the last two games, hopes to keep Smith locked down.
This season, the Cowboys have fumbled on a kickoff, had a punt blocked and yielded a 108-yard touchdown return. Special teams, in no uncertain terms, have been a disaster for the Cowboys. That much was obvious long before Dan Bailey missed a 51-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds against Baltimore. Amazingly enough, Carolina’s special teams haven’t been much better. The Panthers have turned the ball over twice on returns and have had a punt blocked. But Carolina has allowed a lower average return on kickoffs than any other team.
Despite losing 31-29 to Baltimore last Sunday, the Cowboys were encouraged by their performance. Now they face Carolina, a team that the Cowboys have defeated in eight of their nine previous meetings. Dallas knows that this is perhaps the least-challenging opponent it will face in its next four games – three of which will be on the road. The Cowboys’ chances at claiming a playoff berth would be reduced significantly if they lose Sunday. They should be motivated.
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Trackers and Scoreboards
View game stats and scores online while you watch or listen to the game. Click HERE
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Sounds of the game
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Watch the game on TV or online
Watch on TV, tune to FOX. Click HERE to watch online (NFL Sunday Ticket)
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Bookmark The Boys Are Back blog
The Boys Are Back blog | Read | Listen | Watch | Comment
Check back here for box scores, videos, pictures, highlights, resources, recaps, interesting articles, and Dallas Cowboys information all season long. Signup for email alerts, RSS feeds, or add The Boys Are Back to your favorites.
Don’t forget to ‘LIKE US’ and SHARE The Boys Are Back blog with the buttons below!
Enjoy the game!
GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers postgame coverage