Cowboys vs. Panthers: Mirror, Mirror

I won't say that looking at the Carolina Panthers is exactly like looking in a mirror for the Dallas Cowboys. Maybe a fun-house mirror - they're not identical, but they do exhibit some common characteristics.

Dallas is 1-1 thanks to an easy road game against the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs. The Panthers are 0-2, and one of those games was a very tough road loss to the Atlanta Falcons and the Panthers were in that game until the end. But when you start looking at each team's one home-game of the season, the similarities begin to creep in. The Cowboys, as I'm sure I don't have to remind you, lost at home mainly due to a QB breakdown in the turnover department. The Panthers lost at home due to a complete QB breakdown in the turnover department.

Now, Tony Romo and Jake Delhomme are being compared to each other as "struggling" QB's by the press.

An AP wire report is headlined - NFL: Struggling quarterbacks face off tonight

Cheer up, Tony Romo. Jake Delhomme knows exactly how it feels. Those frustrating interceptions. All the griping fans.

The support of teammates that you hope is sincere. A body of work that shows turnovers are just part of the deal, the downside of the go-for-broke style that lifted you from obscurity to Pro Bowler and multimillionaire.

I'll still take Romo in that matchup, but there is no denying that both have turned in one giant 'fail' game so far this season. Tonight, it's time to regain the momentum for Romo.

Both teams have another problem to face, high-profile pass rushers who are not getting it done so far in the 2009 season. We all know about DeMarcus Ware's struggles, zero sacks for him, heck, zero sacks for the team. The Panthers are having trouble too, and Julius Peppers is their mystery.

Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware led the NFL in sacks last season with 20; Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers had a career-high 14.5. Both have gotten off to slow starts this season (Ware has no sacks, Peppers one). Their lack of production has been emblematic of both teams' struggling defenses. Shaking off their defensive stars' early doldrums is a priority for both teams.

Both teams are desperate for victories. The Panthers because they can't afford to go 0-3, their issue is pure mathematics. The Cowboys are desperate because you just can't go around losing home games and hope to have a good record in the NFL. Both teams need a win badly.

The Panthers have no problem announcing their desperation.

It's not all-or-nothing, but a win Monday is vital if the Panthers are to get back on course for a goal they've repeated when breaking some pregame huddles this year -- "Super Bowl champs."

"Vital is an understatement," linebacker Jon Beason said. "Oh-and-three is just not a possibility. This is a must-win."

Just to make sure we get it, Beason reiterates to another reporter.

"It's desperation time." That's what Panthers linebacker Jon Beason told me this week when we were talking about Carolina's road game tonight against Dallas on "Monday Night Football."

By coincidence we face another WR named Steve Smith this week, and the Cowboys secondary is a concern. The secondary needs help from the pass rush, but if they don't get it, the name Steve Smith could be our nightmare for the second week in a row.

The Cowboys have issues in the secondary: There are also concerns about the tackling on the back end, and they missed a lot of open-field tackles against the Giants. The Panthers' running backs like to run wide, and in the passing game, [Steve] Smith will run hitches and crossing routes designed to get yards after the catch. Carolina is not overly explosive on offense, but the Cowboys must avoid giving it free yards. If the Cowboys close well and keep everything in front of them, they should be successful against the Carolina offense.

At least if you don't stop the completion, let's make the tackle this week.

We still don't know if Marion Barber will play, I'm guessing he won't. The Panthers have a few injury issues, too.

The Carolina Panthers will likely have a makeshift lineup against Dallas as they try to avoid an 0-3 start.

Linebacker Na'il Diggs was declared out of Monday night's game after missing his third straight practice Saturday with bruised ribs. Starting strong safety Chris Harris, top fullback Brad Hoover and defensive end Everette Brown also sat out the workout and are listed as doubtful.

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