The Dallas Cowboys regular season schedule kicks off on Sunday Sept 9th as they travel to North Carolina to face the Carolina Panthers in week one of the NFL season. We made it y'all. Real football starts.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers are two teams that have a lot in common.
- Both the Carolina Panthers and the Dallas Cowboys have quarterbacks (Cam Newton and Dak Prescott) who are as dangerous with their legs as they are with their arms.
- Both, though some talent there, have question marks at wide receiver.
- Both CAR and DAL will use the running game to get their offense going.
- Between Luke Kuechly and Sean Lee, each team has a linebacker considered one of the best in the NFL.
- And both teams have had to deal with the absence of their respective player (Kuechly and Lee) due to injury over the years.
As the Dallas Cowboys look to make a run toward the playoffs and hopefully a sixth Lombardi Trophy, the Carolina Panthers are the first hurdle along the way.
As we get ready for the first real football game of the season, let's dig into the numbers that will make this a great week one matchup.
The last time these two played was in the 2015 season - the infamous game in which Tony Romo made his return from a broken collarbone he suffered earlier in the season. He probably shouldn't have come back as he was hit a lot and threw three interceptions before being knocked out of the game with another injury to the same shoulder.
Prior to that, the Dallas Cowboys had won the nine previous regular season meetings and own a 9-4 record over the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have had the Cowboys' number in the playoffs as America's Team has gone 0-2 over the history of the matchup.
The number of seasons in which Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl Quarterback Cam Newton has been sacked less than 30 times in a season. 0. For his career he's been sacked at an average of 36.6 times at a rate of 16 games per season. That would be more than two sacks per game.
With the Carolina Panthers down a lot of offensive line assets to start the season, it would appear that Cam is ripe for the picking.
Only one quarterback since Dante Culpepper did it in 2002 has rushed for double-digit touchdowns in the last 16 seasons; Cam Newton. He's also the only player to do it twice since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Along with Cam, Michael Vick and Steve McNair are the only quarterbacks to have multiple seasons of eight rushing touchdowns. Newton has three of those seasons. Vick and McNair only did it twice.
Keeping Cam Newton contained is a huge key to victory on Sunday.
The amount of times Cam Newton has finished a season with a completion percentage above 60%.
He hasn't accomplished that feat since 2013 -- a streak of four seasons with a completion percentage under 60%. No, completion percentage isn't everything, especially for a player who's just as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm.
A lot of times when you look at a quarterback with a low completion percentage you might think it's because he's taking deep shots down the field. With Newton that isn't the case. According to Pro Football Focus, who tracks number of "deep passing attempts," Newton ranked 19th in deep attempts in the NFL with 57. He only threw deeper than 20 yards on 11.6% of his passes, which was 20th in the NFL. Newton's 35.1% completion percentage on these throws was 22nd in the NFL and he had a quarterback rating of 60.6 on such throws.
What's to be gleaned from this?
Newton isn't a very accurate passer and he lives in the short to intermediate parts of the field. Take that away and it's going to be a long day for Cam.
For a bit of reference: Dak Prescott has had completion percentages over 60% in both of his first two seasons. Newton has played seven years in the NFL.
Prescott attempted 43 deep attempts, which was 25th in the NFL, but completed 44.6% of those passes for over 500 yards and a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Dak had a quarterback rating of 106.2 on throws over 20 yards, which was the 5th best number among quarterbacks with at least 40 attempts.
The Dallas Cowboys averaged 4.5 yards per attempt in 2017, which was third in the NFL and just a touch better than the Carolina Panthers 4.3. The big difference being that the Cowboys rely far less on their quarterback to make things happen with his legs than the Panthers do.
Cam Newton led the Panthers in rushing in 2017 with 754 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart -- the only other Panthers runners to have more than 100 carries on the season -- averaged 3.7 and 3.4 yards per attempt.
With the Carolina Panthers being decimated on the offensive line, it could be tough to get their running game going week one. Even against a depleted Dallas Cowboys interior defensive line.
No, this isn't a reference to former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo, this is where Dak Prescott ranked in total pressures in 2017.
We know that things broke down for Dak in the second half of the season when Tyron Smith was out and struggling with injuries. Here's hoping that Dallas keeps the pressure off so Dak can work his magic.
Carolina finished the 2017 season 11th in the NFL in points allowed. That's a pretty tremendous feat considering they played the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons twice each, the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, and Philadelphia Eagles (before Carson Wentz was injured) and the Detroit Lions.
In those nine games, the Panthers allowed 26 points per game. They went 5-4. In the other seven games they only allowed an average of 13.28 points per game and went 6-1. That against the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears (in a loss), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (twice), Miami Dolphins, and the New York Jets. The New York Jets, who weren't very good last season, were able to score 27 points on the Panthers in week 12 last season.
They were a Jekyll and Hyde defense, and the better offensive teams took advantage. Make no mistake, the Dallas Cowboys are one of the better offenses in the NFL.
Luke Kuechly finished second in the NFL in run-stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus. Only Reuben Foster of the San Francisco 49ers had a better run-stop percentage (11.4%) of players who played at least 50% of their team's run snaps. Kuechly played 53 more snaps than Foster.
Pro Football Focus defines a "run stop" as, "tackles that constitute a 'loss' for the offense." Sean Lee had a run stop percentage of 13%, but wasn't on the field for 50% of the Dallas Cowboys' defensive run plays.
Where the Carolina Panthers ranked in points per game in 2017, just a couple of spots ahead of the Dallas Cowboys at 14. In 2016, the Panthers finished 15th. That's a huge drop off from leading the league in 2015 when they were the only team to score more than 500 points.
The Dallas Cowboys were top-5 in the NFL in 2016, but there was also a big difference in QB, receiver, and OL play in 2017.
The two teams that will face off this Sunday tied for 16th in the NFL in turnover differential with -1. The Cowboys hope that by protecting Dak Prescott better that he'll return to protecting the ball with the same efficiency we saw in 2016.
Cam Newton has never had a season in which he threw less than 10 interceptions, averaging 13.4 interceptions per season.
The Dallas Cowboys, with the addition of Kris Richard as defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, hope Richard will be the key to seeing the Cowboys become a ball-hawking turnover machine.
The Dallas Cowboys' 18 rushing touchdowns were second in the NFL only to the New Orleans Saints' high-powered rushing attack. Remember that Ezekiel Elliott missed six games.
Defensive Ends Julius Peppers and Mario Addison each had 11 sacks last season. Their average age going into 2018 is 33.5 years of age.
These two prove that age is just a number.
The amount of touchdowns Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has scored through his first two seasons in the NFL. That's 25 touchdowns in 25 games.
Only Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Clinton Portis, Curtis Martin, Edgerrin James, Billy Sims, and David Johnson played at least 25 games in their first two seasons and averaged at least a touchdown a game.
Dak Prescott and Cam Newton had the same amount of combined passing and rushing touchdowns last season - 28. They both had 22 passing touchdowns and six rushing touchdowns. Both of these guys will use their legs to make things happen, though Carolina likes to call designed runs more for Newton than Dallas does for Prescott.
The Carolina Panthers' 50 sacks as a team ranked them third in the NFL last season, while the Dallas Cowboys finished 15th in total sacks with 38.
Dallas will have a good shot to improve on that number this year with Randy Gregory back and the depth they have in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong. Hopefully David Irving will be back and unleashing his pass rush prowess week five. But in regular season terms, week five is a long way off.
Last season the Carolina Panthers finished third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 88.1. They only allowed seven rushing touchdowns in 2017, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for third in the NFL. They only played six games against teams in the top-10 in rushing in 2017.
The Dallas Cowboys, on the other hand, averaged 135.6 rushing yards per game in 2017, which was second in the NFL. That's particularly amazing given that Ezekiel Elliott missed six games in the middle of the season and rushed for only eight yards in the week two contest against the Denver Broncos.
Probably the biggest key to the Dallas Cowboys success is going to be how well they run the ball against the Carolina Panthers front seven.
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So, what do you think? Given the numbers mentioned above, who has the edge when these teams kick off on Sunday. Stay tuned for our predictions here at Inside The Star, later this week.
WR Randall Cobb Named Cowboys “Surprise Standout” for Offseason
NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason activities with the close of OTAs, especially where the players are concerned, and await the start of training camps next month. In reviewing the last few months, ESPN had their local reporters each pick a surprise standout from their team's practices. Todd Archer, who covers the Dallas Cowboys full time, selected veteran receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb is in his first season with Dallas after signing as a free agent last March. He's spent the last eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.
Here were Archer's observations on how Randall is doing so far with the Cowboys:
Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver.
If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one.
The notion of Cobb replacing Beasley is a big one. While we'd like to think that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide plenty of firepower for the Cowboys offense, Dak Prescott has enjoyed a reliable threat from the slot position since he arrived.
Randall Cobb, when healthy, can do more than just make clutch catches. He has good run-after-catch skills and perhaps bring more big play potential than Beasley did.
If Cooper and Gallup do emerge as a dangerous starting duo on the outside, Cobb should have even more opportunities to punish defenses than Beasley did.
If nothing else, it's very encouraging to hear that one of the Cowboys' few 2019 free agent moves is already reaping benefits. Cobb still needs to bring it over a full season to really justify the move, but these early reports are cause for excitement.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.
Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.
Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.
The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.
While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.
The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started
Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.
The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.
All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.
Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.
How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.
When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.
Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.
There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.
The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.
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