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Game Notes

Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers: Tale of the Tape

John Williams



Is Dallas Cowboys Reunion with Guard Jonathan Cooper A Possibility?

The Dallas Cowboys week one matchup with the Carolina Panthers is the first of 16 opportunities that the Dallas Cowboys have to prove that they belong in the NFC playoff discussion. In almost every matchup there are areas where each team has an advantage over the other. This week is no different.

Both the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers will have a game plan and path to success. The one that is able to execute their plan and win their matchups with greater regularity is going to be the team that comes out on top.

Who has the advantage at each position group? Well, to decide, let's go to the Tale of the Tape.

Also, be sure to check out this week's Inside The Numbers as I breakdown the stats that will have an impact on this week one matchup.

Quarterback: Push

Generally speaking, I don't think that Cam Newton is a great quarterback. He's an average passer at best, but is made better by the work he does with his legs. Despite my opinion of Cam, he has been to the Super Bowl and won a lot of games. He isn't as accurate of a passer as Dak Prescott, but a lot of weeks he finds ways to win the football game.

Through his first 24 games, Dak Prescott was playing really well and was showing signs of developing into one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. The last eight games of 2017 seriously hindered that development as Dak was under pressure a lot and had a hard time going through his progressions. Obviously he still has some things to work on.

In 2017, they had identical passing touchdown and rushing touchdown numbers (22 and 6). Dak has a better career completion percentage and quarterback rating, but Cam Newton has more experience and some playoff success to lean on.

Cowboys, Elliott Should Be Keeping Close Tabs on Le'Veon's Situation

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) dances into the end zone ahead of Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell (23) for a game-winning touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. The Cowboys won 35-30. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Running Back: Dallas Cowboys

Christian McCaffrey is a good running back with some potential to be a really good to great running back. He's got a dual threat ability that is reminiscent of Marshall Faulk. Problem is the Carolina Panthers never give their best running back a full workload. They love to split carries and they won't be any different this year when they give CJ Anderson a good amount of snaps and touches as well.

Ezekiel Elliott, on the other hand, is one of the four best running backs in the NFL. I don't care how you rank Elliott, the Los Angeles Rams' Todd Gurley, the Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson, or the Pittsburgh Steelers' Le'Veon Bell, Elliott is in the conversation.

Ezekiel Elliott averages nearly 130 total yards and a touchdown per game over the course of his 25 career games. He has the tools to take any handoff to the end zone on any play. His combination of size, speed, elusiveness, and patience make for one of the most entertaining players in the NFL. If there is one are where the Dallas Cowboys could get him even more involved, it's in the passing game. Despite averaging more than 10 yards per reception for his career, he's only caught on average 2.3 passes per game.

Wide Receiver: Push

I think the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers are going to be good enough to win games this year. They are a solid group of players that have a variety of skills, which, if used correctly, can make Dak look really good in 2018. Despite how I feel, there is still a bit of a question about how they'll do when the ball gets snapped. The don't have much name value, but there is some talent there.

Cole Beasley is the guy to watch for the Dallas Cowboys. He had a career year in Dak Prescott's rookie season. How teams play him could decide how effective the Dallas Cowboys offense is in 2018. In 2017, Beasley saw a lot of double coverage, which disrupted a lot of what Dak Prescott wanted to do on offense with quick efficient passes and Cole Beasley saw his numbers take a tumble.

The Carolina Panthers wide receiver group seems very similar to the Dallas Cowboys. Devin Funchess and Allen Hurns seem like very similar players. Solid number two receivers.

Torrey Smith was once a good player who is at his best with a big armed quarterback who can throw him open down the field. The problem is, as I outlined in this week's Inside The Numbers, Cam Newton isn't very good at throwing downfield.

The guy for Carolina to keep an eye on is first round draft pick from 2018, Wide Receiver DJ Moore from Maryland. He is a talented wide receiver who can win with route running and athleticism and ball skills. He was on the draft radar for Cowboys Nation this offseason and there was some gnashing of teeth when they passed on him for Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

Overall, I feel like both teams have wide receiver groups that are good enough to win, but aren't going to blow anyone away on paper.

Tight End: Carolina Panthers

This one is simple.

In 139 games started, Greg Olsen has 639 career receptions for 7,556 yards receiving, and 53 touchdowns.

Geoff Swaim is the only Dallas Cowboys tight end who has recorded a catch in the NFL. He has nine catches for 94 yards and no touchdowns.

Olsen is one of the 10 best tight ends in the NFL at the moment and will be an important guy for the Dallas Cowboys to neutralize to secure a victory this Sunday.

Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, offensive line

Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick

Offensive Line: Dallas Cowboys

Despite Travis Frederick being highly unlikely to suit up on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line is still vastly superior to what the Carolina Panthers will be trotting out there on Sunday. The Dallas Cowboys will be starting two players who haven't started a game for the Dallas Cowboys on the offensive line; Center Joe Looney, who steps in for Frederick and rookie Guard Connor Williams who will start at left guard. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin are arguably the best at their positions in the NFL. La'el Collins is an improving talent at right tackle and has the strength and athleticism to continue to improve. He along with Tyron Smith provide excellent bookends along the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.

The Carolina Panthers have already lost two tackles to IR and have a guard and two tackle listed as questionable on this week's injury report. To say that the Carolina Panthers are struggling with health along the offensive line is an understatement. Ryan Kalil is a good center who will likely win his matchups with the Dallas Cowboys interior defensive lineman.

All that said, the edge here goes to the Dallas Cowboys.

Defensive Line: Carolina Panthers

DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL. Randy Gregory has a lot of talent on the EDGE as well. They have really good depth along the edge with Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, and Dorance Armstrong, but their interior defensive line has question marks. Maliek Collins is the best defensive tackle on the roster, but has some questions to answer after only securing 2.5 sacks in his second season after a five sack season his rookie year.

But overall along the defensive line, the Carolina Panthers have the edge. Kawann Short and Dontari Poe make up a really formidable interior defensive line. Julius Peppers and Mario Addison may not have the upside that Lawrence and Gregory have, but they did both have 11 sacks in 2017. Short's 7.5 sacks, per Pro Football Reference, were the forth most in the NFL among interior defense line players.

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line and the Carolina Panthers defensive line is the matchup to watch this week. 

Linebackers: Dallas Cowboys

The Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly is one of the best linebackers in the NFL. That is a fact. Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys is also one of the best linebackers in the NFL. That is also a fact.

The Carolina Panthers will start David Mayo at weakside linebacker in place of Linebacker Thomas Davis (suspended four games for violating the league's policy on PEDs). Mayo has only started one game in his four year NFL career. Shaq Thompson is a capable strong side linebacker, but he only played about 67% of the Carolina Panthers defensive snaps in 2017. Outside of Kuechly, the Panthers don't have a player that can play every down.

Where the Dallas Cowboys have the edge at linebacker is in their depth with linebackers Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, and Damien Wilson. All are capable of starting a game for you or playing meaningful snaps. A starting lineup of Lee, Smith, and Vander Esch could be one of the best 4-3 trios in the NFL.


Jon Machota on Twitter

Panthers QB Cam Newton on what he's seen from the Cowboys' secondary: "Very talented, rangy guys. And they're not afraid to come up and challenge you. ... They are helped by a very cerebral-esque linebacker corps.

Defensive Backs: Dallas Cowboys

In 2017, Pro Football Focus ranked the Dallas Cowboys defense as the 15th best coverage unit. The Carolina Panthers graded out as the 27th ranked coverage defense.

In passing yards allowed, the Dallas Cowboys ranked 11th and the Carolina Panthers ranked 18th.

The depth chart for the Panthers is very similar to 2017.

The Dallas Cowboys defensive back group is pretty much the same as well, but the addition of Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard will bring a hole new mentality to a talented group of players.

His aggressive approach is only going to help Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie excel in this scheme. No longer will we be watching the Dallas cornerbacks sitting back with eight yard cushions on 3rd and 5. I expect them to be improved even off of a pretty solid 2017 season.

Aside from Xavier Woods sitting out, they're going into week one healthy and ready to roll.

Special Teams: Push

Based solely on history, Graham Gano, kicker for the Carolina Panthers, has the advantage over Brett Maher. He's got a career 81% field goal percentage. Maher has yet to attempt a kick in his NFL career. He's got some leg, but regular season attempts are different than the preseason.

On the flip side, Chris Jones punter for the Dallas Cowboys has a massive advantage over Michael Palardy of the Carolina Panthers. Jones is one of the best punters in the NFL. His tackling and ability to run fakes make him the most exciting punter in the NFL.

Coaching: Carolina Panthers

Ron Rivera is three more games over .500 than Jason Garrett is. Rivera's won more games in the playoffs and has a better regular season winning percentage than Garrett.

Before taking the head coaching mantle, Rivera was considered one of the better defensive coaches in the NFL. Oh, and he's been to a Super Bowl.

I like Jason Garrett as a head coach, but Rivera has had more success in his seven years coaching the Panthers than Garrett has for the Dallas Cowboys.

It seems like a fairly even matchup, but I think the area where the Dallas Cowboys will be able to take advantage is the Cowboys defensive line vs the Panthers offensive line. That matchup is going to dictate the game and I think the Dallas Cowboys are much better in that matchup.

My Prediction: Dallas Cowboys 27 - Carolina Panthers 16. 

Who you got?

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

  • Steve

    John I agree with alot of your assessments of each group and I believe that our Boyz will win tomm as long as we contain Cam and keep him uncomfortable! IMO Dak will start out with short throws and try to get everyone involved because let’s face it we WILL run and they know it and it’s a matter of how much they slow us down vs we slam it down their throat! Dak will have to keep them honest if we want to be successful!

  • Spoonydawg

    If Panthers Start out with 8 in the Box..and have success with man cover on the outsides… we could be in trouble if the WR’s can get open…

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

Sean Martin



Sean's Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.

Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.

Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.

  • A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.

The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.

Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.

If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.

  • Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.

The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.

On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.

Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.

  • Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.

Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.

I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.

  • The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.

Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.

Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.

His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.

Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.

Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.

Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.

  • Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.

Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.

Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.

Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.

It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.

This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Game Notes

DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win

Jess Haynie



Ezekiel Elliott

A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.

Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.

Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.

Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.

Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.

Game Notes

  • Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
  • Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
  • Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
  • Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
  • If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.

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Game Notes

Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones’ Hot Streak

Mauricio Rodriguez



Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones' Hot Streak

The Dallas Cowboys will try to get their second road win of the season against another inconsistent Atlanta Falcons team. As both try to get back to .500, this game will be filled with interesting matchups and implications. After upsetting the Philadelphia Eagles 27-20 last Sunday, the Cowboys need to get another upset win to keep being relevant in the league this year.

Here's this week's edition of Cowboys Wishlist! I hope you enjoy and I encourage you to let me know what your wishes are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!

Wish #1: Stop Julio Jones' 100-Yard Game Streak

With the Atlanta Falcons sitting at 4-5, many have overlooked Wide Receiver Julio Jones' hot streak. In each of his last four games, Jones has accounted for more than 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Totaling 476 yards in his last four games, Jones is ready to face Cowboys' Cornerback Byron Jones.

Byron has certainly been a pleasant surprise in 2018, playing at a great level right now. He has faced Odell Beckham and DeAndre Hopkins this year and made a good job of defending these "Tier 1" pass-catchers. It's worth noting the Cowboys are not making him "travel" with these players but rather keep him on a specific side of the field. That shouldn't change against the Falcons.

Wish #2: Contain WR Calvin Ridley

Back in April, Cowboys Nation eyed Calvin Ridley as a prospect who could end up wearing the Star on Sundays. However, Dallas passed on him and the Alabama product fell right unto the Falcons' lap. He's had a pretty good season and despite sharing the field with Julio Jones, he's done a great job as a rookie averaging 14 yards per reception.

The Cowboys need to contain him. While Dallas should feel comfortable with Byron doing his job, the truth is Chidobe Awuzie has struggled at times. Not that he's suddenly a bad player, but he needs to step up his game. Lining up against Ridley today will be a great test and one I wouldn't expect him to pass easily.

Takeaway Tuesday: CB Awuzie Hasn't Met Expectations in 2018

Wish #3: Score 28+ Points

The Cowboys have the huge advantage of going against a defense that ranks 29th in scoring defense. They did a nice job on Philadelphia last week and should continue to build on that success to do something they haven't done much this year: score a lot of points.

Scott Linehan's unit needs to do a better, more consistent, job. They've shown us they're capable of scoring, but they've also shown us their remarkable ability to seemingly forget how to do so. Blame it on play-calling, QB play, poor offensive line or whatever you prefer, it's a flawed unit.

They need to capitalize versus a poor defense like the Falcons' to find a steady rhythm.

Wish #4: Dak Makes This Falcons' Game a Turning Point

Last year, when Dak Prescott was sacked six times in Atlanta (five times by Adrian Clayborn) something changed for the Cowboys' young quarterback. Missing RB Ezekiel Elliott and LT Tyron Smith that day, Prescott had one of the worse days in his career. It was a turning point for him as a QB and the public eye.

Now he has a chance at redemption. A shot at putting the Cowboys at .500 and reviving playoff hopes, as unlikely as it sounds.

I wish that's the case for the Cowboys young passer in Atlanta. As flawed as he is, I'm a fan of his. The kid leaves it all on the field.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones’ Hot Streak" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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