It wasn’t the runaway train type of blowout the Dallas Cowboys have grown accustomed to against teams they’re heavy favorites against this season. On a game day that started out with great news for fans of America’s Team everywhere as Jerry Jones finally announced Jimmy Johnson will join the Ring of Honor this December, the Cowboys still did more than enough to control the game in Carolina and move forward with a 33-10 victory.
The Cowboys out-gained the Panthers in total yards 311-187, didn’t turn the ball over while generating two of their own with another defensive touchdown by DaRon Bland. They continued to work out their run game issues with Tony Pollard’s third quarter touchdown turning a one-score game into the more decisive win that Dallas earned on Sunday.
Not only is the team handling a winnable stretch of games with workmanlike performances that have mostly allowed Dak Prescott to watch from the sideline by the fourth quarter, they’re doing so in a fashion that’s made the trio of Mike McCarthy calling the offense, Dan Quinn on defense, and John Fassel on special teams one of the hardest coaching staffs to prepare for around the league. All three consistently have their fingerprints all over these wins, and continue to find new and creative ways to use personnel and show the Cowboys may truly just be getting started on playing their best when it matters the most into December.
With a short turnaround now for a divisional home game on Thanksgiving against the Commanders, let’s jump straight into some notes on this Panthers win.
- We’ve all heard the expression “don’t poke the bear”, but if the same has never been said about a lion before, it’s time to consider it. After not showing up on the stat sheet against the Giants, Micah Parsons was out to prove he can still take over games, and did so with a 2.5 sack performance that hardly tells the full story of how he wrecked the Panthers’ offensive game plan.
The Cowboys are deep enough up front to still win when teams put that much extra attention on Parsons, which the Giants did in hopes of finding some ground game with Saquon Barkley. This is what led to strong games from Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore, Johnathan Hankins, and Mazi Smith on the interior last week, but when the Panthers went with a more spread approach for Bryce Young to see the field, it opened the floodgates for these pass rushers to take over. Parsons was blazing fast off the line, rushing with the bend and pursuit angle to hone in on Young and rarely allow him to extend plays.
Parsons working against Carolina’s offensive line allowed players like Odighizuwa, Sam Williams, and DeMarcus Lawrence to take advantage of one-on-ones, while Damone Clark and Markquese Bell were once again ready to clean up any plays behind these pressures that Quinn regularly dialed up. It was a turn back the clock type of performance from Lawrence, who helped Parsons get his first sack when he came off his rush to tackle a second down screen pass in the first quarter. Instead of the Panthers setting up the screen to bring up third and short, Lawrence put them back in an obvious passing situation that Parsons took advantage of for a quick sack. As the Cowboys offense has done so many times this year after the defense gets off the field with a splash play, Dak Prescott led them down the field with a drive ending in Luke Schoonmaker’s second touchdown of the year.
- CeeDee Lamb mentioned to the Dallas media this week that the team’s speed at receiver was going to be something they focused on to get Tony Pollard going on the ground, and while it’s been the vertical passing game from not only Lamb but Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup making big plays, the Cowboys had a different emphasis in this game. As amazing as it is to be talking about an offense still testing things out on game days and developing new looks in Week 11, that is exactly what McCarthy was doing for large stretches of this game. The horizontal speed to stretch defenses sideline-to-sideline and pull defenders from the box to get Pollard going up the middle more was on full display, with jet motion and play-action looks.
Defenses have had to respect the Cowboys speed on the edge all year, with linemen like Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, and Zack Martin getting out in space and doing what they do best. Faking the outside zone to Pollard set up an easy touchdown for Lamb against the Giants, but it was refreshing to see Pollard be able to call his own number with a simple jab step to the outside on a pitch play that got the defense flowing left, before taking the designed run up the middle behind Martin for a score. Putting his head down and breaking tackles on the 21-yard touchdown run had McCarthy fired up, and for good reason as it’s been a long time coming for Pollard to make that type of play, coming at a point that helped put the game away.
Some of the wildcat plays the Cowboys used to get Rico Dowdle involved may be better off left in Carolina, but overall this game was a shining example of the depth of options this team has to get their best players the ball regularly. Besides a Jalen Tolbert five-yard catch on this Pollard touchdown drive, the Cowboys went down the field with only Lamb and Jake Ferguson touching the ball. Prescott taking matters into his own hands and targeting his more reliable playmakers is all the defense needed to get the turnover streak going, with Bland’s pick six and Donovan Wilson’s forced fumble coming on the next two Panthers drives.
- One of the things Carolina was determined to take away from this game as a team sitting on just one win was some semblance of progress from rookie QB Bryce Young. While the Cowboys pass rush had other plans, Young did lead a 17-play scoring drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock. It took moving the chains on fourth down three times, and targeting the likes of Juanyeh Thomas and Jourdan Lewis matched up against Adam Thielen, but it was the only point all game where Carolina’s offense really got the best of Dallas’ defense. This should hardly be a reason for concern moving forward defensively though. Opposing offenses have been discouraged from these long, methodical drives against the Cowboys because of how the explosive Cowboys offense is capable of matching scores more quickly, as well as knowing that many drop backs in one series against the likes of Parsons is typically asking for disaster. The best example of a team playing patient offense against the Cowboys this year was in Philadelphia, where the Eagles took care of the ball and never allowed Dallas to stamp the game with a takeaway.
Much of this had to do with the Eagles offensive line giving Hurts plenty of time. The matchups for the Cowboys to win up front won’t often be as easy as they were against the Panthers the rest of the season. The twists, stunts, and overall pass rush plan Quinn used has plenty in the tank to make up for any lapses in coverages if teams want to throw away from Bland and Stephon Gilmore consistently.
On their only other scoring drive of the game, the Panthers found some success on the ground with two runs of 14 yards to get down to the red zone, but Lawrence and Odighizuwa combined on a tackle-tackle stunt with Odighizuwa exploding off the ball to give Lawrence a clean path right in the face of Young, shutting down the drive and holding Carolina to three points.
Throw in another strong game from Damone Clark at linebacker, who played with great physicality on the second level and produced multiple big hits, and this Cowboys front seven proved they can take matters into their own hands at a moment’s notice.