Analyze The Enemy Week 7 – Cowboys vs. Panthers

October 21, 2012 by: Dustin

“When you are a bad football team, things like that happen.” -@dfwfanconnect

The Dallas Cowboys are a bad football team. There’s no way around it.

Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, and Tony Romo can talk all they want to about the positive things that Dallas did in Baltimore last week, but when push came to shove they still folded under the pressure of a moment that proved too big for them.

Tony Romo threw two TD passes and engineered a great TD drive to give his team a chance, but he still hasn’t captured the mojo he played with for much of 2011. The OL blocked well enough for the Boys to rack up 227 rushing yards on the day, but they also slowed down several drives with a multitude penalties. Dez Bryant had what many consider was his best game of his career, but he failed to catch a perfectly thrown pass by Romo on the 2-point conversion attempt in the 4th quarter.

And defense and special teams? Well, after allowing just 3 yards on back-to-back three and outs to start the 2nd half, the D allowed a 10 play 73 yard TD drive that included a crucial offside call that changed what would have been a 3rd and goal at the 4 to a 2nd and goal at the 1.

You know what the special teams did in yet another putrid effort on gameday.

On Monday, Garrett walked back slightly from the tone of his postgame comments by claiming that for this Cowboys team there’s, “no such thing as moral victories.”

Really Coach? Maybe for the Dallas squad that you lead to a Thanksgiving Day victory in 1994, but the Star has collected a lot of tarnish since then.

Before we rush to judgement on the positive implications of a 2 point loss on the road, let’s remember that the Ravens entered Sunday’s contest 26th in the league in yards allowed. Jacoby Jones, who while he had returned one kick for a TD before in his career, exposed (yet again) a special teams unit that is good for at least one breakdown per game. Oh, and there was that last second implosion by the coaching staff, WRs, or whoever it helps make you feel better to blame.

Dallas did nothing more last week than to invent another way to lose a football game.

Let’s take a look at their next opponent as we analyze the Carolina Panthers:

Strengths:

1) Cam Newton Led Running/Screen Attack – Once upon a time, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both rushed for over 1,000 yards in the same season. Both came into this season with lots of miles on the tires, but that’s not the reason neither will clear 1,000 yards this year.

The Panthers deploy one of the most balanced rushing attacks in the NFL, and it’s led by their second year stud QB, Cam Newton.

In 2011, all three players had 700+ rushing yards and averaged at least 5.4 y/c. Carolina uses the same running based offensive attack this year, and when it’s clicking it’s fun to watch.

In their lone win of the season, the Panthers begin their third drive of the day at their 26 down 13-7 against the Saints. Cam Newton completes a 12 yard pass to start the drive off, but an offensive holding call on the next play puts the Panthers’ drive in jeopardy.

On 3rd and 15, Newton finds Steve Smith (a big part of the offense’s success in 2011) for a 35 yard gain to the New Orleans 32. Here’s where the running and screen attack take over.

Stewart gains 4 yards on a harmless run to the right sideline. Then, Newton completes an 11 yard WR screen pass to Brandon LaFell out of the no huddle. The final play features a double fake hand off to Jonathan Stewart and WR Kealoha Pilares who has been sent in motion that turns into another screen pass. Stewart catches the ball at the 22 and runs untouched into the endzone to give Carolina the lead.

The problem for the Panthers is that this aspect of their team is really the only thing to write about, and it has failed to take over any of the over 4 games they’ve lost this year.

 

Weaknesses:

1) Steve Smith Isn’t Right - Cam Newton threw for 4,051 yards in his first season, a record for a rookie QB. 1,394 of those yards came from 5 time Pro-Bowler Steve Smith.

Smith hasn’t been the same weapon in 2012 that he was in 2011. His receiving yards have declined in each game played this year, and with them his impact in the offense.

He dealt with a banged up knee early in the season, but he’s not missed significant time because of it. Whatever is going on with his drop in productivity, it doesn’t appear to be injury related.

That Smith lit into Newton during Carolina’s blowout loss to the Giants in Week 3 might not have helped the chemistry between the two. Newton’s response to the incident seemed genuine, but something isn’t right here.

2) Another Susceptible Rushing Defense – The Ravens entered last week’s games averaging 118.4 rushing yards allowed per game. The Panthers are averaging 127.4 allowed heading into tomorrow’s game.

One culprit is that the Panthers lead the NFL in missed tackles. This can be attributed to what is thought to be one of the weakest LB corps in the league. Carolina attempted to address this with their 1st round pick of Boston College standout Luke Kuechly.

Kuechly is gaining steam as the season progresses, and Jon Beason’s return to the lineup from an Achilles injury that cost him almost all of 2011 has been a boost.

That being said, the Panthers still haven’t improved upon a rush defense that averaged 130.8 yards allowed per game last year. Doug Martin (95 yards), Pierre Thomas (110 yards), Mark Ingram (53 yards), Andre Brown (113 yards), and Michael Turner (103 yards) all have their most yards in a game this season on the weeks that they faced the Panthers.

3) Not Making It Count – If you’re a team that doesn’t create a lot of turnovers in the first place, then you need to capitalize on the ones that you get. Carolina hasn’t figured that out yet.

On the season, the Panthers have intercepted 5 passes and recovered 1 fumble. Of those six turnovers created, their pick 6 against the Seahawks in Week 5 are the only points they have managed to create off of those turnovers.

In that game against the Seahawks, Carolina managed to create the three turnovers from Seattle on the day consecutively. They recovered a fumble on the kickoff to start the 2nd half at the Seattle 37. They failed to get any points. They got the pick 6 on the next possession. Kuechly then intercepted a pass on the next Seattle possession at the Carolina 20. They failed to score. 7 points off of three consecutive turnovers led to a 4 point loss at home.

By the way, the Cowboys have only created 4 turnovers. They’ve also only scored 7 points off of those turnovers.

 

Key Injuries:

Remember That Shoddy Defense? – The Panthers will enter Sunday’s game most likely missing their top two defensive players (according to Scouts Inc.{$}) in Jon Beason (knee) and Chris Gamble (shoulder).

This is rough news for a team that can’t stop the run, and is facing a Cowboys team that enters Sunday ranked 6th in the NFL in passing yards per game (288).

 

Game Changer To Watch:

Cam Newton – I usually try to look deeper than such an obvious pick, but there is no other player to watch for the Panthers than Newton.

A lot of talk I’ve heard focuses on the fact that Newton is having a poor season. While Carolina’s record is poor (1-4), I just don’t see where the fault lies on Cam any more so than you can blame Romo for the Cowboys 2-3 start.

Newton had a very poor game against the Giants, but after watching the Seattle game I don’t find much fault with him for that loss. His two picks against Tampa didn’t help in Week 1, but my recollection of that game doesn’t seem to place much blame on Newton’s performance.

I may be a QB apologist, but it takes an entire team to win in the NFL. Sleep on Newton at your own risk. He may not win the game for Carolina, but without him the Panthers have no chance.

 

Prediction:

Cowboys 17 vs. Panther 16 – I really tried hard to pick against the Cowboys this week. I mean I REALLY tried, but the injuries to Beason and Gamble are just too much to overlook. Though that doesn’t mean that I can’t hedge my bet.

How can anyone trust this Cowboys team to come out and perform well in consecutive weeks given their recent past? The Cowboys are 3-7 and have failed to win consecutive games in their last 10 played.

I give the Boys the slightest of edges in a match-up of two bottom rung teams.

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Filed under: Cowboys