If you just saw the final 33-10 score, you might conclude that the Dallas Cowboys completely dominated the Carolina Panthers. But if you look at the flow of this game, it was a bit too close for comfort until a little over two minutes were gone in the fourth quarter. This was a win that the Cowboys needed as they are in the heat of the race for the playoffs. Now we can look at the statistics from this game and try and sort out exactly what this might mean for Dallas as they prepare for a slate of games that will determine whether they make the playoffs, which looks very likely, and the important seeding for the postseason.
Low production, high output
After four weeks of increasingly high powered offensive output, this game was decidedly mid in that category. The Cowboys mustered just 311 yards of total offense after putting up more than double that the previous game, and were only converting third downs at a 44% clip. They didn’t have any fourth-down situations to attempt, and we know how Mike McCarthy loves to get aggressive with those. On the positive side, while they didn’t have any really long plays, they put up six of 20+ yards, which reflected some needed explosiveness. However, it must be noted that two of those were due to rather blatant and frankly stupid fouls by the defense. The offense accounted for 27 of the points scored, which was more than enough against a Panthers squad that struggles to put up points at all.
It was also a road win, just their second of the year, and all of their losses so far this season have been away games. Since the season-opening blowout of the New York Giants, going on the road has been a struggle. This game had some difficult elements, and Carolina was a blatantly inferior team with coaching issues as well. Dallas was heavily favored and easily covered the spread. Still, this is encouraging as they look forward to having to play three of their final four games at the other guys’ place. And they have a chance to ramp up for that with their next three coming at AT&T Stadium.
While Dak Prescott was not overly productive with just 189 yards and a 66% completion rate, he had a clean game with no interceptions and no sacks. There was a lot of pressure on him that contributed to some of the misses, but he took care of the ball and the biggest hit on him was the foolish one after he slid down in a situation that would have most likely have resulted in a punt, or a very long field goal attempt. Instead, it kept the drive alive and led to a CeeDee Lamb touchdown.
As can be expected with only 204 yards total through the air, none of the receivers had a big day. Lamb caught six balls in all for just 38 yards, and Brandin Cooks led Dallas with 42 yards on three catches. Jake Ferguson continues to be an important piece of the offense by contributing the longest offensive play of the game for 24 yards. Prescott continued to spread the ball around, with nine different receivers hauling in the ball for him and Cooper Rush, all of them with at least two receptions. One of those was Luke Schoonmaker. The rookie tight end has done little so far in the season, but his 18-yard touchdown reception was a great play by both him and the quarterback. It may be late, but it could be a much needed bit of development for the second-round pick.
The running game was similarly held in check by the Panthers defense. The Cowboys only accumulated 107 yards on the ground and had a lot of third and longs after failed runs on early downs. But Tony Pollard had a pretty good day with a total of 61 yards on 12 carries. While he got stuffed at times, he also had some big runs, most notably his 21-yard touchdown, only his second score of the year, and a 22-yard play where he got a big help from Terence Steele blocking two players right off the field on a textbook run where Ferguson helped execute a beautiful pin and pull play.
Defense continues to make a huge difference
There is an obvious caveat that Carolina is the second-least productive offense in the league in yards per game and puts up the fourth-fewest points. But Dan Quinn’s bunch did exactly what we expected in holding them to just 187 yards, and bedeviled Bryce Young all game with seven sacks (2.5 by Micah Parsons) and the expected relentless pressure, and just 123 yards allowed through the air. DaRon Bland continues his campaign to make All Pro with his sixth pick of the year and fourth returned to the house. That not only ties him for the league lead in interceptions, he is now tied for the all-time NFL season lead for pick sixes, with just ten games played. The defense also forced a Young fumble that Donovan Wilson pounced on to give the Cowboys a +2 turnover margin in the game. Still, WR Adam Thielen was about all they had in the passing game, and he managed to account for 74 yards. There are much better receiving corps down the road, and they need to work on not letting one receiver go off to help beat them.
There is one other concern from the game. Before halftime, the Panthers rushed for 84 yards. They had to lean mostly on the pass during the second half due to the score, but that needs to be watched. Dallas has a disturbing habit of being soft against the run, and more dangerous teams are yet to come.
It was also another nice game for first-round pick Mazi Smith. While he only had one tackle, he helped clog up the middle of the line, and the best thing was the quarterback hit he got on Young. Pressure up the middle from the defensive tackles is a very good thing to have. And Smith only saw 32% of the defensive snaps. He may not have given the Cowboys the immediate impact you would like to see from a first-rounder, but he is developing nicely as things progress.
We track this because there have been so many games the Cowboys have been pretty terrible. This was a better game in that aspect with Dallas getting penalized five times while Carolina drew eight. Still, they need to keep working on this. Any yards gifted to the opponent are bad.
It is always a crucial element, and it looks like the Cowboys got out of this one clean. If they can continue to have good health with the 53-man roster, it could be a big step toward success. You will excuse me while I go knock violently on some wood.
Taking this all in, it was a case where a much better team just kept pressing on the opponent until they put things away decisively in the fourth quarter. The final score might be a bit deceiving as the Panther hung around for three quarters before the lead became insurmountable and Dallas let the backups get some work. After back-to-back games against a couple of outmatched teams, things will just get tougher, with December still looking to be a challenging gauntlet for them. This was a much needed victory to keep some momentum going before that. Now they need to continue the winning streak on Thanksgiving as they host the Washington Commanders, who are coming off an upset loss to the Giants.
Enjoy your holiday, and hopefully a win for the Cowboys.