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.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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