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.
Cowboys Defense Faces Tough Matchup vs Falcons Passing Attack
When you're a 4-5 team in the NFL with preseason expectations of making the playoffs, the last half of the season has a lot of of must-win games. This week is no different. The Dallas Cowboys face another 4-5 team in the Atlanta Falcons who is also looking to keep their playoff hopes alive. Both teams are still in the hunt, but have slightly different paths to get there. The Dallas Cowboys would probably have to win the NFC East to make the playoffs with the Falcons only real chance coming via the wild card. The New Orleans Saints look to be the kings of the NFC South this season.
In order to stay in the hunt, the Dallas Cowboys are going to need a huge defensive effort against a fierce Atlanta Falcons passing game. Through the first nine games, the Cowboys have provided reason for optimism that they can slow down Matt Ryan and company, but they've also had some porous efforts this season.
The front seven of the defense has played pretty well through the first nine games of the season and Byron Jones has been one of the best corner backs in the league. They've had problems on the left sde of the defense with Chidobe Awuzie and with the safeties.
The Cowboys will face a really difficult challenge as they travel to face the Atlanta Falcons passing game led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Matt Ryan is in the top five in most passing categories including yards, touchdowns, passer rating, completion percentage, and leads the league in passing yards per game. In yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, and air yards per attempt, Matt Ryan is sixth in the NFL.
As you can see from the chart above provided by Next Gen Stats and NFL.com, Matt Ryan has been average to better than average throwing to every area of the field this season. Particularly troubling is what he's doing when he's throwing to his right, which happens to be the side of the field occupied by Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie is allowing a passer rating of 129.7 this season, which is the 15th worst number in the NFL among corners who have played a minimum of 92 coverage snaps.
What's potentially more troubling than how efficient Matt Ryan's been throwing to Awuzie's side of the field is the fact that Julio Jones will play all over the formation and can beat you in every area of the field.
The chances are high that we'll see Awuzie lined up against Julio Jones on several occasions on Sunday. Pray for Chido, y'all.
Jones has only scored two touchdowns this year, but through nine games, he's already over 1,000 yards receiving, which is leading the NFL. Julio is fourth in the NFL in receptions and is averaging more than 15 yards per catch. He's third in the NFL in yards per route run at 2.99 sitting behind only Michael Thomas and Albert Wilson among players with at least 20 targets on the season.
From Jones' chart against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week six, you can see that they lined him up all over the formation and they ran him on a large variety of routes to a large variety of depths. Julio Jones is one of the best route runners in the NFL, which is scary considering he provides huge size and athleticism to go with it.
As good as he's been this season, the secondary receivers for the Falcons -- Calvin Ridley, Mohammed Sanu, and Austin Hooper -- have also played well. Each of them has more than 400 yards receiving on the season. To put that in perspective, Cole Beasley leads the Dallas Cowboys in receiving yards at 403. Each of the Falcons' top four targets have more receiving yards than Beasley does.
Not sure if that speaks of how good the Falcons passing game has been or how bad the Cowboys passing game has been.
The Cowboys will be facing the player that fans wanted the team to select instead of Leighton Vander Esch at 19th overall; Calvin Ridley. Ridley's been excellent this season with 500 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions. He's averaging 13.2 yards per reception. Ridley's second on the Falcons in receptions for first downs and Matt Ryan has a passer rating of 138.9 when targeting Ridley.
Austin Hooper doesn't get the same publicity that Jones and Ridley do, but he's been effective this season as well. Hooper is second on the Falcons in receptions with 46, which is the fourth most among tight ends in the NFL. Hooper will test Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in the middle of the field as well as Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath down the seem.
Mohammed Sanu will be the matchup to watch for Anthony Brown in the slot. Though Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones will run routes from there on occasion, Sanu is the primary slot receiver. He ranks 22nd in the NFL in receptions and yards from the slot. Of his 45 targets, 33 have come while in the slot and 25 of his 34 receptions. When Matt Ryan throws Sanu's way, he's got a passer rating of 125.8.
And if all that wasn't bad enough, you have the Dallas Cowboys defense as one of the worst in the NFL at getting off the field on third down. The Atlanta Falcons are second in the NFL at getting off the field on third down.
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The Dallas Cowboys are likely going to give up some long drives to the Falcons, and that's ok. What they don't want to do is give up big plays to the Falcons passing attack. The Cowboys rank sixth in the NFL in red zone defense allowing teams to score on only 48.1% of their trips inside the 20 yard line. The Falcons are seventh in the league at scoring in the red zone, but have had their issues scoring touchdowns when getting inside the 20. If the Cowboys can hold them to three instead of seven, I'll count it as a successful drive for the defense.
The Dallas Cowboys defense is playing really well this season and it ranks in the top 10 in most team defensive categories. However, if they have a weakness it's been in their pass defense, primarily Awuzie and the safeties. If they want to win this game and continue to get themselves back into the playoff picture, they're going to need better performances from their defensive backs not named Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, and to a lesser extent Xavier Woods.
Facing the Atlanta Falcons prolific passing attack is a huge test for this defense and one that could define the rest of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season.
Cowboys’ Revenge Against Atlanta Hinges on These 3 Key Matchups
With their seasons hanging in the balance, the Dallas Cowboys (4-5) and the Atlanta Falcons (4-5) know all too well the importance of this matchup. The Cowboys however might have a little extra incentive to win this game, revenge. The Falcons absolutely throttled them in 2017, but Dallas is looking to turn the tables on them this year.
Playing in hostile territory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium isn't the ideal place to secure a victory, but I believe the Dallas Cowboys have a excellent shot at coming out of this contest with a "W". This time around the Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith at their disposal and they should pay huge dividends. Having these two players in the lineup will certainly factor into the outcome of the game, but there are other matchups worth keeping an eye on as well.
Here are the three matchups I believe will decide the outcome of this game:
Amari Cooper vs. Falcons' Secondary
If the Atlanta Falcons secondary continues to play the way they've played for the majority of the 2018 season, the Dallas Cowboys should be able to find quite a bit of success in the passing game. That's why I'm expecting Quarterback Dak Prescott and his receivers to have a big game, especially Amari Cooper.
The Falcons are surprisingly giving up 294.4 passing yards a game, which happens to be third worst in the NFL. But what's more surprising is they are also the worst at defending their opponents best receiver, ranking 30th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). That's why I think Amari Cooper could end up having his best game to date in a Cowboys uniform.
Cooper's ability to threaten an opponent's defense all over the field has already made the Cowboys offense better and that should continue to improve as his bond with Prescott develops. He has already become one of the most highly targeted WRs in the NFL since coming to Dallas and that is not only helping improve their passing game, but the running game as well.
Ezekiel Elliott vs. Falcons' Run Defense
As much as I'm excited about the damage Amari Cooper could do to the Falcons secondary, I'm even more excited about how dominate Ezekiel Elliott can be against Atlanta's defensive front. A lot of that has to do with the way both of these teams played in these areas a week ago, and it's a matchup that heavily favors the Cowboys.
The Cowboys are coming off their best rushing attack of the 2018 season. The offensive line completely manhandled the Philadelphia Eagles top ranked run defense last week, allowing Zeke to rush for 150+ yards. We could see a repeat performance, especially with the way the Falcons failed to stop the run last week against the Cleveland Browns.
Rookie Running Back Nick Chubb had a career day against the Falcons a week ago, amassing 176 yards and a touchdown on the ground and another 33 yards and a touchdown through the air. If that's an indication of what we can expect from Atlanta's run defense, Zeke should have a huge game. Controlling the clock with the running game would more than likely secure a much-needed victory.
Cowboys' Defense vs. Falcons' 3rd-down Offense
As good as a Dallas Cowboys defense has been this season, they have really struggled to get opposing offenses off the field on third down. In fact, they're currently the fourth worst third-down defense in the league, allowing offenses to convert a first down 44.07% of the time. That's not good, especially if you factor in that the Falcons convert 51.26% of their third downs, ranking second in the NFL.
The matchup between the Cowboys defense and the Falcons third-down offense could end up being the most important. Dallas absolutely have to find a way to get Matt Ryan and his offense off the field and the ball back in the hands of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. They can't allow Atlanta to get out to an early lead, because they're not a team who's built to come from behind.
Hopefully the Cowboys can capitalize on the Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott match ups (previously mentioned), that way they're play on third-down becomes less of a factor. But if it ends up being a close game, they will without a doubt have to improve their third-down defensive efficiency.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys get their revenge against the Falcons?
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.
Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line
The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.
Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.
Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.
Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp
What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.
The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.
Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.
To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.
Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.
If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.
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