The Cowboys didn't get much time to celebrate their first win in 60+ days against the Dolphins, it's back to work for another game on Thursday with the undefeated Carolina Panthers. At 3-7, the Cowboys have little to no room for error and they have a lot of ground to make up in order to stay in contention in the NFC East. So what needs to happen for the Cowboys to pull off a Turkey Day miracle against the top team in the NFC?
This just may be the toughest game left on the Dallas Cowboys schedule, but where there is a will, there is a way to a victory for the Cowboys. In fact, Tony Romo is the only quarterback in NFL history to have defeated multiple undefeated teams with a 9-0 record or better. He beat the 9-0 Indianapolis Colts back in 2006 and the 13-0 New Orleans Saints in 2009. Can he lead the Cowboys to a victory over the 10-0 Carolina Panthers?
When The Cowboys Have The Ball
One of the things that makes this Cowboys team successful is their ability to run the football and control the clock. The Carolina Panthers are bringing in their fourth-ranked defense that is only allowing 94 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys have to find their stubborn ways and run-against-anybody mentality in this game. If they can keep building momentum with Darren McFadden, then they'll have a good shot at slowing down the Panthers' defense. Carolina is also +13 in turnover ratio which is a huge reason as to why their winning all their games. The Cowboys haven't fared so well in the turnover ratio at -9 but with their signal-caller back, there is hope he can turn that around for them. The Panthers play to not give up a lot of splash plays but they haven't faced a young, monstrous talent like Dez Bryant yet. The only big-time pass catcher they went up against was Jimmy Graham in Seattle and he had a huge day with 140 receiving yards. Dallas will likely have to get creative in the passing game because the young corner Josh Norman is having an outstanding season for Carolina.
Where the Panthers are vulnerable is going to be in the short passing game. The Cowboys could really do well in this game by utilizing Cole Beasley and the safety valve, Jason Witten. Also lining up Dez Bryant in multiple spots on the field and especially in the slot could gain big chunks of yardage for this offense. Dallas has a very methodical attack on offense and there may not be a quarterback in the league better at taking what the defense gives them than Tony Romo. It's going to be a challenge to move the ball on such a great defense but if the tackles can perform at the level they are capable of, Romo should get enough time to make something happen. The offensive line had a very tough time against Miami's front, they must improve on that this Thanksgiving.
When The Cowboys Are On Defense
Carolina likes to do a little of what we see makes the Cowboys successful. They love to run the ball and they are pretty dang good at it with an average just below 140 rushing yards per game which ranks them fourth overall. The Cowboys will have to stop the run or this will be a long day on defense. Last week, the Dallas defense perhaps had one of its best games against Miami. One of the biggest reasons for this was because they only saw the field for 1/3 of the game. The Cowboys' offense controlled the ball for more than nine minutes per quarter! That gave the defense ample time to rest and stay ready. The Panthers have also done a nice job in time of possession averaging 31 minutes per game but nobody has been better than Dallas. That is the recipe for success for this Rod Marinelli defense.
The Panthers have some questions at receiver which could be a good thing for the Cowboys' secondary. Byron Jones looks to get his second start at corner as Morris Claiborne is still dealing with an aggravated hamstring. Jones had some struggles against the Dolphins but was pretty solid in coverage and it just makes you wonder if there is anything that he's bad at. The Cowboys could really miss Claiborne on the outside in this game though because it takes Jones away from covering tight ends where he has been outstanding this season. The Panthers' biggest offensive threat has been Greg Olsen who has put together a Pro Bowl campaign for himself. Olsen has already racked up 718 yards, 48 receptions and six touchdowns. They have to keep him bottled up in this game which may require some more help from Jeff Heath.
Dallas got an outstanding game from their linebackers last week and they will need another one on Thursday as sometimes people forget that Cam Newton has some jets. With a big, strong and physical presence at the quarterback position, it creates all sorts of issues for the Cowboys' defense. The best way for the Cowboys to slow down this third-ranked scoring offense is to not let them get their running game going. If they can bottle up Carolina's ground game by containing Newton and Jonathan Stewart, it will force Carolina into one-dimensional football. That's where you tend to get turnovers and the Cowboys need all those they can get. This is a defense with a ton of potential and we've seen them have stellar performances this season, now they must build on it with consistency. They were able to get three sacks and a pick-six this past week, Cam Newton isn't perfect, he will give you one every now and then. Can the defense be there to take advantage of the opportunities, should they arise?
For the next several weeks we're going to hear a lot about one-game seasons and single-minded focus. For a team that lost seven straight before Romo returned, they know that there is a lot of football left to play but they had to get one before they could get another. Now, they just have to find a way to do something that only Tony Romo could do, defeat the undefeated.