The second game of Thanksgiving sees the unbeaten Carolina Panthers travel to Texas to face the Dallas Cowboys, who look primed for a resurgence with Tony Romo back. Can the Panthers stay perfect against the Cowboys? The Panthers open as underdogs for this game, which both myself and Coach Ron Rivera find slightly disrespectful. Carolina are one of the league’s best teams this season, overcoming early injuries with MVP level play from Cam Newton and a stout defense. Dallas started 2-0 with Romo before missing seven games with a fractured clavicle – all of which the Cowboys lost. Now a long shot to make the playoffs, Dallas took care of business against Miami last week in Romo’s return. The whole team looks stronger with Romo back, and could be a dangerous opponent down the stretch.
Three Keys to the Game
Carolina’s pass rush
With Romo back, Dallas’ opponents must now pay attention to the passing game as a legitimate threat instead of stacking the box to stop the run. With pressure easing up on the backfield, Darren McFadden should be more productive, but if opponents can lock down the passing game, McFadden will be in trouble. The Panthers are equipped to do just that. They get their best pass rusher – Charles Johnson – back from injured reserve this week. Combine that with the linebacker corps of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis as well as a strong young secondary led by Josh Norman, and Carolina has a big chance to stifle Dallas’ attack.
Controversial pass rusher Greg Hardy will be one of the dangers against his old team on a defense that has played reasonably well this season. The Panthers have had surprising depth on offense this season; alongside running back Jonathan Stewart, Carolina’s receiving corps hasn’t been lost without Kelvin Benjamin. In the dominant win over Washington last week, Cam Newton’s five touchdown passes went to five different targets. With the emergence of rookie receiver Devin Funchess last week, Newton has two big targets in Funchess and tight end Greg Olson that will be matchup nightmares for the Cowboys.
Dallas’ running game
If the Panthers are able to keep Dallas’ passing game in check, Darren McFadden will have a rough day. Carolina’s defensive tackle Kawann Short has lived in opposing backfields for much of the season, and linebackers Kuechly and Davis are terrors against the run. Dallas need to run effectively to have chances to win games, and they may not be able to against the Panthers.
Matchup to watch
Josh Norman vs Dez Bryant
Josh Norman has had this matchup circled on his calendar for the whole year. Locking down one of the NFC’s best receivers will prove how well Norman is playing this season. Norman has emerged as a lockdown corner as opposing quarterbacks haven’t been testing him much since his fourth interception in Week 4. Dez Bryant looked better with Tony Romo back, but is still recovering from a broken foot suffered earlier in the year. Bryant struggled to be on the same page as Romo against the Dolphins. Despite catching a touchdown, Bryant failed to haul in at least half of his targets and finished with four catches for just 45 yards. Unless he gets back to 100% this week, Bryant could be easy pickings for Norman.
The Panthers are a much better team than the Cowboys right now. Carolina are also no strangers to playing big in hostile environments this season, having beaten the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 6. With Cam Newton leading a potent offense that can beat Dallas multiple ways and backed up by a playoff-calibre defense, the Panthers look good to reach 11-0.