The Dallas Cowboys are now 2-1 after a dominant win against the rival Philadelphia Eagles. They’re feeling good on both sides of the ball and now have their next test in the undefeated Carolina Panthers.
Carolina is powered by the NFL’s top defense and offensive coordinator Joe Brady who has seemed to reinvigorate Sam Darnold and this offense with the likes of DJ Moore, Chritian McCaffery, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall.
At the same time, they have completely turned their defense into a juggernaut, despite losing rookie first round draft pick Jaycee Horn for the year. Players like Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Shaq Thompson, Haason Riddick, and Jeremy Chinn have made Carolina’s defense one of the most improved units in the league.
The only thing that has made the Panthers seem like legitimate contenders is their resume.
They beat the New York Jets in Zach Wilson’s first start, then followed it up with an impressive all around performance against the New Orleans Saints and beat (although struggled) with the Houston Texans who also started a rookie in his first career action.
This is the kind of tone-setting game that the Panthers need if they’re to be taken seriously.
Despite all that has gone right for Carolina, there are several areas Carolina can be beat, especially considering the key players who won’t be playing. Areas that the Dallas Cowboys have more than enough players and skills to exploit. On both sides of the ball.
Continue to Blitz the Offensive Line
Carolina has 2 definite studs on their offensive line in Taylor Moton and Matt Paradis. Their right tackle and center have been the bright spots on what’s been a questionable overall unit.
Moton is the highest overall graded blocker Carolina has with a 66 is pass protection and an 81 in run blocking. Paradis is right behind him with a 61.8 in pass and a 66.7 in the run. Outside of these two, it’s nothing but problems.
Former Dallas Cowboy Cameron Erving is the left tackle, next to him is guard is Dennis Daley now that Pat Elflein is on Injured Reserve. John Miller is who sits at right guard between Moton and Paradis. All 3 players score below a 52 in pass protection and with both Erving and Miller facing injury issues, will be abused all game long for it.
Panthers' injury report (Thursday): Full – LT Cam Erving (knee), CB C.J. Henderson (groin), LB Shaq Thompson (back). Limited – DE Yetur Gross-Matos (ankle), RG John Miller (shoulder). Out – RB Christian McCaffrey (hamstring).
— David Newton (@DNewtonespn) September 30, 2021
The logical thing would be to see a heavy dose of Micah Parsons blitzing from the right defensive end spot over Erving. Next to him, Osa Odighizuwa lined up at the 3-tech defensive tackle hovering over the left guard.
Odighizuwa and Parsons are currently the team’s best pass rushers on the field and exploiting the offensive line deficiencies the Panthers have is going to be a big part of the defensive game plan.
Air it Out
It might seem crazy to want to throw it to a defense ranked 1st against the pass, allowing only pass yards per game. With respect to Zach Wilson, Jameis Winston and Davis Mills, they’re not Dak Prescott.
Amari Cooper mentioned this play when talking about Dak Prescott managing things so well at the line of scrimmage. “It was an audible. He saw I think it was a linebacker in front of me. It was just easy money … I think he’s playing as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.” pic.twitter.com/0yliHJE5W4
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 30, 2021
Dak currently leads the league in completion percentage at 77.5, with 7.9 yards per attempt. He has elevated his passing game to become one of the league most dangerous passers, with the likes of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz, Cedrick Wilson, Blake Jarwin and the dynamic duo from the backfield in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
The Panthers like to play multiple looks with 4 and 3 man fronts, switching between zone and man coverage. The Cowboys went 1-dimensional against the Buccaneers because the game plan indicated that running the ball wouldn’t work.
Look for this game to follow a similar game plan to the one against Tampa Bay. There will still be a heavy dose of Elliott and Pollard, but Prescott will have to throw it more than he has the previous 2 games. Look for them to pick on new arrival, CJ Henderson, who’s still learning the scheme.
Key on DJ Moore
There’s no question who the number 1 receiver is in Carolina. DJ Moore is coming off his 2nd-straight 1,000 yard season and is on path for another.
He was already the Panther’s biggest receiving threat, but now with Christian McCaffery out, the offensive distribution takes a big hit. Moore leads the team with 31 targets, and with McCaffery out, that takes away the second most targeted player on the offense. Together, they account for 47% of the passing attempts.
DJ Moore again!
90+ yards in 3 of his last 4 games against AFC South opponents 🔥
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 24, 2021
Trevon Diggs is likely going to shadow the top receiver again. He’s the league’s leader interceptions (3) and pass break ups (6), and has only allowed 50% of his targets. Moore’s elite route running ability will make him one of the best receivers the Dallas Cowboys will face. Having an extra defender near by would help reduce the threat of Sam Darnold’s favorite target breaking free.
Force a One-Dimensional Offense
Losing your top running back can hurt. Losing one of the best overall offensive players in the league hurts worse.
Rookie Chuba Hubbard is slated to make his first professional start with Christian McCaffery out with a hamstring injury. Hubbard isn’t the same level of player CMC is, as a runner or as a receiver, but it’s his backfield for the time being. He might not have the same speed and agility, but does posses enough patience to allow for the hole to open to compensate, despite not a lot of size.
Chuba Hubbard doesn’t convert the 4th and 1 here. pic.twitter.com/agLsLQ6DBe
— Edgar Salmingo, Jr. ✌️ (@PanthersAnalyst) September 24, 2021
Hubbard is averaging 3.3 yards per rush, and the Cowboys have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. In fact, no team they have faced have eclipsed 100 yards rushing overall so far this season.
In fact, they’ve forced teams to throw all year long. They could only run on 22%, 32% and 24% for their contests to start the season, respectively.
Taking away their best offensive weapon and playing a rookie against the league’s 6th best run defense is going to alter their offensive game plan. They won’t be able to control the clock as they have.
Carolina has over 32 minutes more combined time of possession through their 3 games this season. A good way to make sure your team wins. As mentioned before, the Panthers have controlled the clock so far. Now, the Dallas Cowboys need to do so.
The team is 4th in 3rd down percentage (53.9%) and 5th in time of possession (32:49 per game), which has kept them in close games against the Bucc’s and Chargers, as well as more scoring opportunities against the Eagles.
Offensive thread. Maybe Cowboys’ finest play from Sunday. Dak Prescott’s ball placement while hit is superb to convert 3rd down to Dalton Schultz. And watch RG Zack Martin plug leaks, slowing one rusher with left hand and another with right. Special from 4 and 70 under duress. https://t.co/lDuqHyy7VR pic.twitter.com/ORPfk3UpdN
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 22, 2021
As long as the Cowboys can control the clock and convert on 3rd downs, as they’ve been doing, this game will finish in somewhere, the Panthers offense won’t be on the field enough to make a difference.