Cowboys vs. Panthers: What to Watch For


This week the Dallas Cowboys travel to Bank of America Stadium to take on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Every week, I am going to try to write a list of the specific things I will be looking for as I watch the game. Most of them will be posed as questions. If you can answer any of the questions, feel free to email me, and I may include your contribution in my post next week.  In no particular order:

1. Can Dallas Cowboys HC Jason Garrett keep the offense balanced?

October 14, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones (28) gains yardage against the Baltimore Ravens at M

Last week the Cowboys ran the ball 42 times, and QB Tony Romo only attempted 36 passes. As a group, the four Dallas Cowboy running backs averaged 5.4 per carry for a total of 227 yards. Perhaps more importantly, on those 42 rushing attempts, only twice was the ball carrier dropped for a loss.

RB Felix Jones may have silenced his many critics after rushing for 92 yards on 18 carries, including a brilliant 22 yard scamper for a TD.

Has the run-blocking of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line improved that much or is the Baltimore Ravens defense just terrible?

Dallas will be without their workhorse RB DeMarco Murray this week due to an ankle injury. 

Can Felix Jones handle another 20 carries this week? Will he look as agile and determined as he did last week?

Can the inexperienced tandem of two undrafted RBs (Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar) adequately replace Jones when he needs rest?

How quickly will Garrett abandon the running game if they struggle on the ground early?

Phil Costa. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Center Phil Costa, who is constantly maligned by the media for being too small and too weak to be a decent center in the NFL, had a stellar performance against the Ravens. In his first week back from injury, he played spectacularly.  It was Costa’s dominance in the middle of the line, against everyone the Ravens sent against him, that allowed the Dallas Cowboys to establish the running game in the first quarter and then rely on it throughout the day. Not only was Costa able to easily handle his main assignment, he was often able to get to the second level and then take on LBs; several of the Cowboys’ long runs resulted from Costa getting to the LB and removing them from the play. In terms of pass-blocking, Costa did not surrender a single sack or QB pressure.

Can Phil Costa be nearly as effective against the Carolina Panthers NT Ron Edwards? Can he continue to get downfield to take on LBs on running plays?

How many solid outings from Costa will it take before the fans stop demanding that the Dallas Cowboys acquire a “real” center?

2. Can Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant continue to show improvement and finally start to establish the consistency required to be a reliable target for QB Tony Romo?

October 14, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) cannot hold onto a fourth quarter endzone pass over the head of Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chykie Brown (23) at M

Dez Bryant has made a few costly mistakes in recent games. He could have caught the pass from Romo on the two-point conversion; he has had other important drops; he still seems to be running the wrong route occasionally; and he wasted precious time as the clock was running out last week arguing about the spot of the ball instead of hurrying back to the line. Despite those problems, in the last two games, Bryant has caught 21 passes for 200 yards and 2 TDs. He had 13 catches last week. Dez showed against the Ravens that he is capable of being a possession receiver if he continues to improve his route running and timing with Tony Romo.

The Carolina Panthers defense gives up almost 250 yards passing per game. Dez Bryant has a considerable size advantage over both of the Carolina Panther’s cornerbacks: Dez is 6’2” and 220 lbs; LCB Josh Norman, a rookie, is 6 foot and 195 lbs.; RCB Chris Gamble is 6’1” and 205 lbs.

Dez recently set a personal best with 105 yards against the Bears (his only other 100 yard game came in his rookie season against the Giants), can he improve on that record against the smaller CBs of the Carolina Panthers?

The Carolina Panthers offense has the lowest average time of possession in the NFL. Will Dez Bryant be able beat the secondary for a long TD in the 2nd half?

Although Dallas Cowboys WR Miles Austin has a TD catch in 3 out of the first 5 games, he has yet to catch more than five passes in a single game.

When will Miles Austin start to look like he has that “connection” and “chemistry” and “trust” with Tony Romo?

When will we see Miles throw DBs around like they are rag-dolls as he waltzes in for a TD?

3. Will Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith give the Dallas Cowboys secondary as much trouble as Anquan Boldin did last week?

Brandon Carr. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

New Dallas Cowboys cornerbacks Brandon Carr (highly paid free agent) and Morris Claiborne (6th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft) combined to allow 7 catches for 105 yards and a TD. Both of them also missed tackles. Brandon Carr allowed the reception every time he was targeted except once; he also gave up a substantial amount of yards after the catch.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Truth Teller for pointing out a statistical error in the original post; changes have been made to the preceding paragraph.

Steve Smith has had some big games against the Cowboys in years past. Although he is quick, fast, and agile, Smith is only 5’9” and 185 lbs. Brandon Carr is 6 foot and 210 lbs.

Will the Dallas Cowboys have Brandon Carr ‘shadow’ Steve Smith? If not, will the Carolina Panthers line Smith up against Morris Claiborne to avoid the size mismatch with Carr (Claiborne is 5’11” and 185 lbs.)?

Will the Cowboys try to jam Smith at the line to disrupt his timing with Carolina Panther QB Cam Newton?

The Dallas Cowboys have just 10 sacks in 5 games, when will the new, and very expensive, cornerbacks start to provide the lockdown coverage that allows their pass-rushers to start racking up sacks?

Was CowgirlCas right when she argued that CB Mike Jenkins should be starting at CB?

4. How will Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan defend the strong, fast, athletic, and agile Carolina QB Cam Newton?

Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

In the first five games of the season, Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton has run the ball 40 times for 209 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 3 TDs. Newton’s ability to take off and run with the ball on almost every play is something the Cowboys defense must be prepared for.

Will Rob Ryan have a LB ‘spy’ Cam Newton on most plays, just obvious passing situations, or not at all?

If the Cowboys do ‘spy’ Newton, who will have the assignment?

Is ILB Sean Lee too valuable to the defense to be used ‘spying’ the QB?

Can ILB Bruce Carter effectively ‘spy’ Newton?

Cam Newton is so mobile and elusive that he can extend plays for much longer than most QBs in the NFL.

How will Rob Ryan and the secondary handle the need to cover receivers for much longer than normal on at least a few plays? Will they play more zone? Will they keep 2 safeties deep most of the time?

Can the Dallas Cowboys pass-rush keep Cam Newton in the pocket and prevent him from running all over the backfield while he surveys the field?

How often can the first pass-rusher actually bring Cam Newton down or force a throwaway; how many times will Newton escape what would have been a sack with most QBs and then make a big play?


Oct 7, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

Despite the threat that Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton poses to any defense, the Panthers have only one victory in the 2012 NFL season for a reason: they are not a complete football team. Cam Newton is a threat to score on every play, but the Panthers’ offense lacks enough other weapons to consistently move the chains and sustain long drives. The Dallas Cowboys should be able to win on the road if the defense can avoid giving up big plays and quick scores. If they can force Carolina to sustain long drives in order to score, Tony Romo and the offense should be able to score enough points to win.