The Cowboys will have the traditional objective of creating 3rd and short situations to improve their chances of converting and sustaining scoring drives. The Panthers on the other hand may just want to avoid 3rd downs altogether and here's why.
Football Outsiders recently posted an offensive splits analysis on the Panthers yards and pass completion percentage on 1st down versus 2nd down and 3rd down.
FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS: Innovative Statistics, Intelligent Analysis | Carolina's Absurd Offensive Splits
This is not because of two or three fluky plays. The Panthers have three plays over 35 yards (66, 51, and 40) but they also have two losses of -12 yards and -9 yards. They have made 45 percent of needed yardage on 48 percent of first downs, which is third in the NFL behind San Francisco and New England. Cam Newton is completing 71 percent of his passes on first down, 56 percent on second down, and 41 percent on third or fourth down
In yards per play the Panthers are actually #1 in the NFL at 7.28 yards per 1st down attempt. Yet just like the completion percentage the yards by down drops off the cliff:
1st down: 7.28 yards; NFL Rank: 1
2nd down: 4.95; NFL Rank: 24th
3rd down: 4.7; NFL Rank: 23rd
On the surface the 1st down performance seems impressive but the fact both numbers drop off so much explains why the offense is a shade of it's 2011 self. Maybe the answer is rather than converting 3rd downs is to avoid them altogether right? What team wouldn't?
The Cowboys on the other hand will try to create 3rd and short opportunities with the running game. That will fall on Felix Jones since #1 RB DeMarco Murray is all but ruled out due to a foot injury. Like most weeks the Panthers will try to create 3rd and long and get some hits on Romo early to see if they can get him off his game. If he has time to throw on 3rd down its going to be a log day for the Panthers.
My point is if the Panthers have a low amount of 3rd downs it may not necessarily be bad. It just might mean they have finally become more effective on 2nd down. Or even better: 1 play scoring drives!
This bye week is killing me but I'm not necessarily thrilled about our chances Sunday. We've just got to hope that both the offense and defense can have a good 3rd down performance the same week.