Which team can strike first?
It’s a statement game for the teams here in week 4.
The Panthers have a surprising 3-0 record, but the schedule is set to get tougher than they’ve seen so far. These challenges are expected to begin on Sunday when they travel to AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys have won back-to-back games to get a 2-1 record and have one of the best offensives in the NFL, facing a Carolina defense that ranks first in many categories.
Here’s a look at the keys to victory for the Panthers and Cowboys.
The Cowboys will win if …
The Cowboys will get the win on Sunday if they can keep playing the balanced offensive offense we’ve seen in the first three games. One thing offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has shown us so far is that he’s ready to play any style of game plan needed to win. We saw a passing attack that essentially gave up the race at Tampa Bay and that was enough to win. We saw a running game that kept the Chargers on their toes. And then against the Eagles, the Cowboys went back to an old-fashioned approach that applied directly to the Eagles and Dak was more of a game manager, but was still effective without the flashy stats. So whatever the Panthers give, the Cowboys have to be prepared to adapt to that and be successful. More than likely, it will be a vertical passing game with occasional runs to make up for the Panthers blitz.
Defensively, the Cowboys need to put pressure on Sam Darnold and make him uncomfortable. The Panthers don’t have the most experienced offensive line and they can be vulnerable. If Dan Quinn can find a way to get creative with Micah Parsons again and get Randy Gregory off the edge, the Cowboys should be able to knock down the Panthers enough to take the lead.
The Panthers will win if …
Carolina won three games because the offense was effective with Darnold as quarterback. He was an astute signalman and also has three touchdowns on the ground, showing his mobility. But they have to win without Christian McCaffrey, so the Panthers have to rely on rookie Chuba Hubbard, who has a lot of speed but just lacks experience. Carolina needs DJ Moore in mismatch situations and if he’s locked up with Trevon Diggs then he needs to win his share of those battles. Moore leads the NFL with over 20 catches with six and that needs to continue for the Panthers to win.
Defensively, the Panthers must use their team’s speed to rally to the ball. If Dak Prescott has a lot of time to throw shots, he’s going to split them up, as he’s shown this year. But blitzes and exotic blankets are something that has to work in this game. And with 10 days to prepare since their last game, the Panthers must use that time to find a way to confuse the Cowboys in their short week. . An early lead will help turn the Cowboys into a passing team, and while that doesn’t mean instant success, keeping them one-dimensional is one way to slow them down.