The 19-14 win against the Carolina Panthers wasn't a win that will quiet the doubters of the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys dominated the Baltimore Ravens on the ground with a physical running game, but that disappeared against the Panthers. While the Carolina secondary lacks elite talent at safety and cornerback, they did a very good job of keeping Tony Romo and the passing attack in check.
Where the Cowboys shined the most in this game was on defense. Facing Cam Newton is never an easy task, and I think that the Cowboys knew that entering this game. Newton made some mistakes, but he still kept his team in the game and gave them an opportunity to win. Winning in the NFL isn't always going to be full of highlight reel plays. The Cowboys win against the Panthers clearly lacked style, but it's an important win that ends a two-game losing streak.
This was a game that the Cowboys had to win. If they dropped to 2-4, this season would basically be over. Instead the Cowboys still have a chance to compete for a playoff spot in the NFC East. This Sunday's game against our division rival New York Giants is going to be one of the biggest games of the season. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a closer look at who shined against the Panthers.
Romo wasn't outstanding against the Panthers, but he played a very good game and led his team to a victory. In a game where the secondary did a very good job in coverage, Romo took what was available to him and played like a "game manager". Some have called for Romo to be more conservative, and yesterday's performance was exactly what you get when Romo attempts to do less.
The only real flaw in his performance was an errant pass into traffic that was nearly intercepted by linebacker James Anderson. Had Anderson came away with that interception, it would have been Romo's seventh consecutive game with an interception.
Romo's best pass of the day came on a fade pattern to Miles Austin for a 26-yard touchdown in the third quarter. It was a perfect pass that was placed only where Austin could make the catch in the corner of the end zone. That was a flawless throw that great quarterbacks make.
The wide receivers need to be more consistent and make more plays for Tony Romo. If the wide receivers can step it up and elevate their game, then Romo is going to play at an even higher level. I've said it before and I will say it again, Romo cannot do it all by himself. Players on this team other than Romo need to step up and help the Cowboys win football games.
Spencer's two-game departure from the starting lineup really hurt the Dallas defense. With Spencer back in the lineup, the Cowboys were able to prevent Cam Newton and the Carolina offense from having a big day. Spencer's run defense has always been top-notch. He helped the defense set the edge and prevent big plays in the running game.
Alex Albright and Victor Butler are good football players, but it's becoming clear that Spencer has a big role in this defense. Don't get me wrong, Spencer still leaves a lot to be desired as a pass rusher, but he has been more disruptive this season. He could have finished with a better game statistically had brought down Newton on two other opportunities, but when the Cowboys needed a big play, he provided it.
Spencer has never produced more than six sacks in a season during his career. After playing only four games in 2012, Spencer has now registered three sacks. With Eli Manning coming into Cowboys Stadium, the Cowboys need Spencer to continue playing the way he has in 2012.
Josh Brent was very solid when he stepped into the starting nose tackle role while Jay Ratliff recovered from a high ankle sprain. Brent continues to make the most of his opportunities. His pressure on Cam Newton down in the red zone led to Newton making a bad decision and forcing a throw which Morris Claiborne intercepted. Rob Ryan needs to figure out how he can get Brent and Ratliff on the field at the same time.
Ratliff has been a force on the defensive line since he returned to the lineup last week. When healthy, Ratliff can be a dominating nose tackle who can get into the backfield and make plays as a pass rusher. Ratliff consistently beat his blocks and made plays against the Panthers. He may never be an All-Pro again, but his presence changes the dynamic of the defensive line.
Brent (1 tackle and 1 quarterback hit) and Ratliff (2 tackles, 1 pass deflection and 1 quarterback hit) didn't dominate the game in the box score, but they had a huge impact in this game.