Desperation in football is a beautiful thing-- the fingertip catch, a last-second pass breakup, or the critical third down conversion; all are a product of what happens when competitors become all-consumed with achieving a single goal. Both the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys are in full-blown desperation mode. Sitting at 1-4 and 2-3 respectively, neither team has lived up to their lofty expectations, but both organizations have also seen the two hardest starting schedules in the league. It is unsure whether the Panthers re-tooled their offense in the bye week (they needed it), but on defense they need to stay the course, rush the passer and make an impact. Today we're looking at the defense, and how it will cope with Tony Romo and the Cowboys.
X-Factor: Josh Norman
The first-year cornerback has been a mixed bag this year. There are flashes, but the problem with a flash is that it's all too fleeting. Make no mistake, he has potential-- and this is still a player who will wind up being one of the better late-round picks in recent memory, but for now it's hard to advocate that Panthers are better starting Norman, than they would be if they found a cheap veteran in free agency.
Norman's key problem is that he gives WRs too much of a buffer, likely as a method to mitigate their first-step. To this end he matches up quite well with Dez Bryant, but against Miles Austin it's an entirely different story. Given how much the Panthers sit in zone, they're very vulnerable to coordinators move players around a lot. Anyone with an iota of creativity has seen this on tape, so don't be too confident they won't pick on Norman all day long.
Dallas run offense Vs. Carolina run defense
Losing DeMarco Murray is a huge loss for Dallas-- and that's no understatement. At this point everyone knows who Felix Jones is, immensely talented, but immensely inconsistent. Meanwhile, the Panthers have really improved their run defense this season.
The Panthers rank 23rd in the league in yards allowed per attempt, which isn't great-- but this 4.4 per attempt average is greatly skewed by that a week four loss that saw them allow 7.9 yards per carry to Michael Turner. Marshawn Lynch was held to a season-low 4.0 YPC, and that alone showed the improvement Carolina have made. If Dallas are smart they'll only run enough to keep the defense honest, and throw on their porous secondary non-stop. This week, however, the Panthers can stop a Dallas offense minus Murray.
Dallas pass offense Vs. Carolina pass defense
The most dangerous team for Carolina to face isn't one with one standout receiver and then a bunch of meh (like Arizona, or, say... us?) but rather it's teams who have 3-4 solid weapons that simple overload the talent the Panthers have in their secondary.
Hold onto your hats, this is going to get extremely nerdy (and very self-revealing).
The Panthers don't struggle with Space Marines, they have issue with Orks. Put them up against a small group of Marine devastators and Chris Gamble can handle them, make them face a horde of boyz (particularly after a 'waaagh!') and they're in trouble.
Non-nerd translation: The Panthers don't have a solid way of stopping Dez Bryant AND Miles Austin AND Jason Witten AND Kevin Ogletree. Out of those four receivers, one is going to get theirs, and it's here the Panthers will falter.
This is one of those games that on paper seems to be all about the Cowboys. Both teams are desperate, but I can't help but feel like on the
tabletop field, it will be the Panthers who rally around Ryan Kalil's injury to pull off an inexplicable win.