The Cowboys are officially on a winning streak, and will look to keep the wins rolling versus a tough, undefeated Carolina Panthers team. The Cowboys are still dealing with a few injuries themselves but are facing a team that is going through their own health issues and will be heading into week four without their star running back Christian McCaffrey, and young up-and-coming cornerback Jaycee Horn.
The Panthers come into town with the number one ranked defensive unit in the NFL and present another challenge for Dak Prescott and his potent offensive attack. Similarly on the other side of the ball, is Sam Darnold and his own offensive weapons that look to be a tough test for this improved Cowboys defense. D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson are a much-respected wide receiver duo and the Cowboys will look to limit their big-play ability.
Winning streaks are hard to come by in the NFL, and even more so when you have to square off versus an undefeated team to continue one. The Cowboys have played well and have taken care of business over the last two weeks, they will need to come out in similar fashion if they are going to end the first month of the year 3-1.
Here are five things to watch this week:
1. Trevon Diggs versus D.J. Moore
The NFC Defensive Player of the Month Trevon Diggs has another test on his hands. Diggs looks to see much one-on-one time with Panthers star pass catcher D.J. Moore. Diggs has done extremely well so far this year which earned him the monthly honors, but Moore presents another challenge for the young cornerback.
Moore has very few flaws in his game and probably doesn't get the national notoriety he deserves. Diggs will need to be on his ‘A’ game as Sam Darnold likes to look for Moore early and often. This matchup will be key to this game’s outcome, as the Panthers are without their heart and soul Christian McCaffrey for the foreseeable future. McCaffrey’s absence means this Panthers team will look to the air to get the job done offensively more frequently than they have in the past.
2. Dak Prescott and the offense look poised to throw more this week.
The Panthers have a tough defense, and they are fast and play with high effort. Most of their talent resides in the front seven and most of the opportunity for Cowboys’ success resides in the secondary. Look for Kellen Moore to dial up passing concepts to exploit some personnel mismatches the Cowboys have over the beatable Panthers cornerbacks.
The loss of Jaycee Horn comes at a bad time as the Cowboys possess the ability to shoot it out with any team vertically. If Brian Burns, Shaq Thompson, and the rest of the front seven unit pose a tough challenge on Sunday, look for Moore and Dak to try and take what they want through the air.
3. Micah Parsons reps to increase at defensive end.
Micah Parsons has been everywhere and doing everything for this defense. On Sunday afternoon look for more defensive end reps for Parsons as the position still has a need, but more so because of his continued high level of play at the position. Parsons has proved to be much more than an off-the-ball linebacker through three games and has been everything the Cowboys have hoped he would be, and the idea is to keep more of that coming against the Panthers.
Disrupting Darnold and making him see ghosts in the pocket will be an important factor in this football game. Randy Gregory missed practice Thursday, and although it doesn't seem to be much of a concern, the team is already thin at the position and it just adds to the importance of having Parsons do multiple things within the defense. Look for Parsons to have another big impact in this football game, and the Cowboys will need every bit of it to come out victorious on Sunday.
4. How good can this Panthers offense be without Christian McCaffrey?
When Christian McCaffrey went down versus the Texans, the Panthers offense seemed to sputter. It is no secret that McCaffrey is the engine that makes their offense go, however they aren't short on talent on their offense and it will be interesting to see how they choose to attack the Cowboys defense.
Look for the Cowboys to attack the Panthers offensive line and try to test Darnold and see what this offense can do without their bell cow back in the game. It’s well known by now the Cowboys offense can move the ball at will, and it will be interesting to see if the Panthers offensive unit can keep up with them.
5. Look for Tony Pollard to have an even bigger role.
Tony Pollard possesses a unique skill set that can cause nightmares for an opposing defense. The combination of Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott has been successful thus far in 2021, and the balance this offense has used in their deployment has been a huge key to their well-rounded attack.
This game has the chance to be a Pollard special. Pollard has shown the ability to line up wide, come in motion, and window dress a play before he attacks between the tackles, on the edge, or in the passing game. Look for offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to implement more ways he can put Pollard into advantageous positions to take advantage of the matchup nightmare that Pollard presents to a defense.
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