We’re back. Football is here and Ezekiel Elliotth is ready to rock. After a bumpy ride in 2017 due to constant appeals and finally a suspension, Zeke is ready to roll. Unfortunately, for him and the offensive line, they could be in for a long day when the Cowboys visit the Panthers this weekend.
When comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the Cowboys offense and the Panthers defense, the first thing you notice is how strong Carolina is on the interior of their defensive line, and how weak the Cowboys could potentially be in their interior offensive line. The Cowboys will be trotting out Connor Williams, the Cowboys second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. This will be Williams’ first start in the NFL, and it always seems to take young offensive lineman a couple weeks, sometimes even a full year, to get their feet underneath them. To make matters worse for the Cowboys, Joe Looney will be getting his first start at center for the Cowboys. Looney is taking over for Travis Frederick who is currently sidelined with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
If that’s not enough to worry you, Zack Martin is also working back from a hyperextended knee that he suffered just two weeks ago against the Bengals. With two of the three interior offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys making their first start for the team, and the third coming off a knee injury, there are reasons to be concerned about Dallas running the football, especially when you take a look at what the Panthers will be deploying.
The Panthers were hit pretty heavy by the injury bug over the last couple of months. Multiple offensive lineman, and Curtis Samuel will not be playing on Sunday due to injuries, but where they have stayed healthy is on defense. Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, Vernon Butler, and Luke Kuechly are all slated to play on Sunday and will give the Cowboys running game fits. Kawann Short and Dontari Poe are two of the best run-defending defensive tackles in the NFL, and the Cowboys inexperienced center and left guard will have their hands full on Sunday trying to block them. While both players are excellent run defenders, they can also be very disruptive rushing the passer. Third-year player Vernon Butler can also be very disruptive when rushing the passer.
If the interior of the Panthers defensive line doesn’t scare you, their linebackers and pass rushers should. Carolina has a great group of linebackers led by the best in the NFL, Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is the most dominant, and versatile linebacker in the NFL. He has a couple of really nice sidekicks in Shaq Thompson and David Mayo to watch his back as well. The Panthers edge rushers can also cause problems when defending the run. Julius Peppers and Mario Addison have had long, successful careers, due to their ability to get after the quarterback, but also be good run defenders.
It’s also something to remember that Ezekiel Elliott has yet to take a carry in a game situation since the Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles in week 17 of the 2017 season. In Elliott’s two week one performances, he has combined for 44 carries, 155 yards, and one touchdown. Zeke has had pretty quiet week one performances, and he may be in for another one on Sunday. Even with the concerns running the football, expect the Cowboys offense to run the ball a lot on Sunday, that is the identity of the team, and they have yet to show the willingness to go away from it even if it’s not working.