Cowboys vs Panthers Film Review: Standouts, Notes, and Observations


The Cowboys took on the Panthers in the match-up of The Desperate vs The Disrespected. Who and what stood out on tape?

The worst team in the NFC against the best team in the NFC took the field on Thanksgiving Day afternoon. One team seemingly destined for a top seed in the playoffs took on another team destined for a top-5 pick in the draft.

But records can be misleading and with the Romo-led Cowboys being undefeated entering the game, this was supposed to be tough game for the Carolina Panthers. Because statistics don’t tell the whole story we dive in a bit deeper and grade individual player performance (even on plays they don’t see the ball – gasp!).

Here are Thanksgiving Day’s standouts, notes, and observations:

  • After Dez Bryant dropped a well-contested but completely catchable ball, the Panthers responded by single-covering Bryant. Bryant hasn’t beaten a good DB this season so the Panthers faked a Cover 2, singled Dez and doubled Witten. Romo fell for it and handed the Panthers a Pick-6 forcing the ball to Witten against a defense that wasn’t scared of Dez Bryant.
  • DT Nick Hayden, the Cowboys most underrated defensive linemen, was bullied early in the running game. Normally the lone soldier with 2-gap responsibility, Hayden struggled with just 1-gap against the Panthers.
  • The Zone Read rushing attack is tough to defend for “rushmen” like the Cowboys. The Cowboys need to invest in girth this offseason if they want to be able to stand up against strong rushing attacks. We all know that Rod Marinelli hates investing in a 2-gap, 1-Technique defensive tackle but at some point the Cowboys need a blue-collar run-stopper in the middle.

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    Dez Bryant in the slot? This is something I’ve been lobbying for but the Cowboys have been resisting. In the past couple weeks, the Cowboys have been trying to move Dez and get the man better match-ups since he’s struggled beating the NFL’s top CBs. This is something all the top receivers can do and the coaching staff has stunted Bryant’s growth by resisting this long.

  • The size of the cushion that Byron Jones gave Greg Olsen was troubling. Olson may be averaging 15 yards per reception but he’s a TE and certainly not a burner by any measure. The Cowboys essentially “gifted” Olsen first downs on the outside, a place where he should have been completely shut down.
  • The Panthers DE, Charles Johnson began the game a little hesitant from a run stopping perspective and the Cowboys  went right after him rushing to his side early but for some reason they moved to a less-precise zone blocking rushing attack. I realize the Cowboys favor a ZBS (zone blocking scheme) 75/25 but if you spot a weakness – attack it.
  • DE Jeremy Mincey has been poor against the running game his entire NFL career but this season, it’s been his strength. I’ve been hesitant to give the eight-year vet his props in this regard but it’s very apparent that being a complete player is important to him this year.
  • 3rd and 11? Cam Newton may be an undefeated QB but that doesn’t mean he’s a good passer. That also doesn’t mean he’s a bad QB either. Newton is  a player with a special set of skills that fit the strengths of his team. He’s beatable. Extremely beatable but the Cowboys coaches and players have to be smart enough to do so and they are clearly not. This was a disappointing performance from both the players and the coaches.
  • Tony Romo took the field on Thursday with a 15-3 regular season record (CBS pointed out all other Cowboys QBs are 0-8 in that span), with something still to prove and no time to waste. Jason Witten, quite possibly the greatest Cowboys of all time, walked on just six catches short of 1,000 receptions. The stage was clearly set for greatness but the Cowboys couldn’t seize it.
  • Next: The Future of QB in Dallas

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