Call this match-up what you will, but their records indicate that this will be a battle between two cellar dwellers in their respective divisions.
The Cowboys are coming off a gut wrenching loss in week six at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, 31-29. A mistake driven defeat, the Panthers can only hope the Cowboys will still be nursing their wounds from.
Carolina on the other hand, had week six off, giving the team ample time to fix an offense that sputtered to a halt in their week five loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The last time the Panthers and Cowboys met on the field of battle was back in September of 2009, the Cowboys trouncing the Panthers, 21-7. The Cowboys hold a 6-1 record over Carolina since 2001, the Panthers lone win coming in the wildcard round of the 2003-2004 playoffs.
Stopping the run has pretty much eluded the Panthers defense all season, but right now it looks like Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray will be sidelined on Sunday because of a sprained left foot he suffered in week six.
However, the Keys for Carolina in this one remain on the defensive side of the football. “Pressure,” will of course be the critical word for a Panthers defense that must find a way to ruffle Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. Getting to Romo won’t be an easy task, especially with Panthers linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Chris Gamble expected to miss Sunday’s contest. Plus, the Cowboys offensive line has proven steady this season, but showed plenty of vulnerability in week six.
Pressure doesn’t always mean sacks. It’s important for Carolina to force Romo to make bad decisions, something he is very prone to doing. Flush Romo out of the pocket, force him to throw off his back foot, and force him to throw under a mass amount of confusion. Those kinds of plays on defense will surely force Romo to turn the football over.
Romo has tossed nine interceptions this season, meaning the Panthers can’t leave the field on Sunday without having something to show for their play on defense.
On offense, the likely assumption for Carolina should be to stay patient with a very talented Cowboys defense, a defense that ranks first in the NFL in total yards allowed with 1,426. Though, the Panthers should not be patient, that hasn’t work very well for them at all.
No, Carolina should attack early and often downfield, challenging Dallas’ tired secondary with rested receivers. Utilizing their weapons in their passing attack should hopefully create opportunities for quarterback Cam Newton to use his legs, keeping what should be a worn-out Dallas defense guessing all afternoon long.
That would of course be a dream scenario for the Panthers, but that kind of aggressiveness hasn’t been seen from them for the majority of the season. Hence Newton’s poor numbers, a shabby running attack, and 1-4 record.
Carolina has been given the chance to win almost every game this year, with the exception of one. They can beat Dallas on Sunday, but it will take a fundamentality different approach in the play calling department.
All facets of Carolina’s offense must be clicking, including their trio of running backs Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Mike Tolbert.
The theme for the contest of “pressure” will make or break the Panthers in this one. The team that will take home victory in this game, will be the team that forces the most mistakes and makes the other quarterback play sloppy. Then again, it’s never that simple in the NFL.
Robert Kester, Carolina Panthers Columnist. Contact @robertkester1.