FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys will take a trip out east to take on No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young and the Carolina Panthers on Sunday as the Cowboys look to build a winning streak going deeper into the month of November.
While the Panthers enter Sunday with the worst record in the NFL (1-8), challenges still exist for the Cowboys in opponent territory with talents like Young, Adam Thielen, Brian Burns and more.
Here are the key matchups to watch when the Cowboys and Panthers square off on Sunday afternoon.
Jourdan Lewis vs. Adam Thielen
It seems as though a stiff challenge has been awaiting for starting nickel cornerback Jourdan Lewis quite a bit as of late, and that streak won't get a break this week against Carolina with 10-year veteran Adam Thielen experiencing a bit of a career resurgence in his new threads.
Bryce Young identified a favorite target in Thielen early on in his time as a Panther and has continued to feed him as the season has gone on. Of Thielen's 85 targets, he has only dropped one pass while hauling in 68 receptions for 652 yards and four touchdowns.
Thielen's release is what separates him from defenders so quickly off the line, and it'll take another physical effort from Jourdan Lewis to throw him off course from the snap and to remain locked in throughout his route. If Lewis can halt Thielen, Carolina's passing game becomes significantly less threatening.
Tyron Smith/Terence Steele vs. Brian Burns
While Carolina's defense doesn't necessarily have a ton of All-Pro type talents, they do have a game wrecker and elite talent in fifth-year pass rusher Brian Burns. The two-time Pro Bowler creates a lot of problems off the edge for opposing tackles, and his exact alignment is typically different from week-to-week which can best be pinned as a matchup-based strategy.
In eight games, Burns has lined up off the left side three times and the right side three times for the majority of the snaps while the other two games featured him splitting reps between rushing off both edges. As a result, the challenge of limiting Burns will be something both Terence Steele and Tyron Smith will have to prepare for going into Sunday.
Steele had a bounceback effort against the Giants after allowing 12 pressures against the Eagles and will look to keep it going if he is to line up against Burns who has accounted for 43 sacks since entering the league in 2018. For Smith, his last two games have stacked up with some of his best two-game stretches of his career as he will look to remain a reliable piece up front for Dak Prescott.
CeeDee Lamb vs. Donte Jackson
It won't be an easy task for CeeDee Lamb to continue his run of three straight games with 10-plus receptions and 150-plus receiving yards as Carolina's defense is allowing just 176.4 passing yards per game in 2023 (6th in NFL), and that challenge extends to his matchup when he's lined up opposite of Donte Jackson.
Now, Carolina runs the second-most zone coverage in the entire NFL (83.3-percent of defensive snaps), so a "matchup" will be more focused on Lamb finding holes around Jackson's zones, but it will be up to Jackson and his group of secondary mates to limit the hottest receiver in the league as of late.
Assisting Dak Prescott will be big for Lamb on Sunday, as Lamb finding the right holes in the zone coverage will be big towards offensive success. Can Lamb keep his streak going? It'll be a tall task, but the opportunity is always there for 88 to have a big game.