Lo and behold, the Dallas Cowboys do indeed have a running game. After gashing the Baltimore Ravens for 227 yards last week, you know head coach Jason Garrett is going to try to attack Carolina's run defense in Week 7. That's probably a smart move since the Panthers have had some issues stopping the run this season. Hopefully, the 'Boys can get Felix Jones going enough to take advantage of potential eight-man fronts from Carolina.
- The Numbers on Carolina
The Panthers' run defense ranks just 23rd in the NFL in yards-per-attempt allowed. They're particularly weak on the edges; while defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy can rush the passer, they don't usually hold up well against the run. I think you'll see Garrett run right at both players using the same power and stretch plays that got the offense off to a hot start in Baltimore.
You may very well see more weak-side runs than normal this week. Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly generally plays the weak side, thriving when he can flow across the field to the football. He's racked up an impressive 16.4 percent tackle rate – compared to 17.6 percent for Sean Lee – by shedding blocks and chasing down the ball-carrier. He'll be playing middle linebacker during Jon Beason's probable absence, however, and the Cowboys will likely want to test backup linebacker Thomas Davis.
I'd like to see the Cowboys utilize any rushing efficiency they might have by attacking the Panthers through the air. Cornerback Chris Gamble has been sensational in coverage this season. He's been targeted at a lower rate, once every 12.6 snaps in coverage, than any other cornerback in the NFL. The rest of Carolina's secondary hasn't been nearly as productive, though.
Fellow starting cornerback Josh Norman has played decent football, allowing 8.23 YPA on 31 targets. Safeties Charles Godfrey and Haruki Nakamura have combined to yield three touchdowns on just 18 attempts. Nakamura alone has allowed 32.4 yards-per-completion. Thus, I really think this is the game in which Dez Bryant or Miles Austin will receive a deep play-action look. I love the chances of either receiver in a jump-ball situation with any member of Carolina's secondary; only Gamble stands over 6-0.
- Projected Stat Lines
Tony Romo:25-for-35 for 290 yards, 2 TD, INT
Felix Jones:20 carries for 105 yards, 2 catches for 15 yards
Dez Bryant:5 catches for 85 yards, TD
Miles Austin:6 catches for 90 yards, TD
Jason Witten:6 catches for 75 yards
Since Gamble has been shadowing No. 1 receivers this season, we might see the Panthers place him exclusively on Bryant. I don't think that should limit how much Romo looks to Bryant; the receiver should get the ball pretty much anytime he's singled up. Still, you'd think Austin can utilize his quickness to get open on Norman. Austin will be matched up on Captain Munnerlyn when he's in the slot, and the receiver should be able to overpower the 5-8, 186-pound cornerback from the inside.
- Around the League
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Titans:Fitzpatrick could make a nice bye week fill-in against a Titans defense that has already allowed nearly 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air.
RB: Chris Johnson vs. Bills:The Bills have remarkably given up over 1,000 yards on the ground in 2012. I'm pretty sure I could average 5.0 YPC on them.
WR: Marques Colston vs. Bucs:The Bucs own the league's worst pass defense and they don't have a cornerback who can stand up to Colston's size, especially now that Aqib Talib is suspended.
TE: Coby Fleener vs. Browns:I don't typically like rookie tight ends, but Fleener should see plenty of targets as the Browns double-team Reggie Wayne.
QB: Matthew Stafford vs. Bears:Stafford might be an every-week starter for you, but his matchup against a Chicago defense that has allowed only 5.2 net YPA isn't a good one.
RB: Shonn Greene vs. Patriots:If you have other options, consider sitting Greene against New England's stout run defense. The Pats have allowed only 3.4 YPC and Greene could see a limited workload in a game in which the Jets are 10.5-point underdogs.
WR: Brandon Lloyd vs. New York Jets:Lloyd is going to see a whole lot of Antonio Cromartie this week. Look for the Pats to utilize Wes Welker and their now-healthy tight end duo to beat the Jets through the air.
TE: Jermichael Finley vs. Rams:Finley is a perpetual underachiever playing a defense that is shockingly the fifth-most efficient in the NFL against the pass.