IRVING, Texas – It feels so early to be factoring the keys to this matchup, but with kickoff just a day away, here's my latest look at the biggest factors in this Dallas-Carolina matchup.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
It's rare to face a quarterback that has the physical makeup of Cam Newton. His movement and strength in the pocket are the best in the league. There are few quarterbacks in the league that can shake off tacklers the way Newton does.
What also makes him difficult to deal with is his athletic ability. When you get a quarterback with his size that can escape the way he does, it can make for a very frustrating day. In the games I was able to study, I didn't feel like Newton was running the ball nearly enough on those read options. Maybe this was by design, but I believe that changes this week. The Cowboys like to get defenders up the field and chase the ball, especially at defensive end. Opponents have been able to take advantage of that this season, especially to Greg Hardy's side.
For the Cowboys to win this game, it will come down to how well they are able to defend Newton. That plan will likely be similar to how they have played against Russell Wilson the last two seasons. It will require discipline and patience in order to execute. Newton is an outstanding ball handler and defenders need to stay at home and not chase ghosts. Build a fence around Newton and make him win this game by completing passes and not scrambling.
Panthers Win If:
Make no mistake about it – the Panthers are a very good defense. They can choke off the run, put pressure on the quarterback and generate turnovers. Defensively they are what a lot of teams wish they could be.
For the Panthers to win this game, they are going to need to hold up in the secondary -- and I am not just talking about Josh Norman. There is a good chance that they will be able to control this Dallas running game. From there, they'll have to keep Tony Romo from attacking through the air. Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott knows that with Romo back in the lineup, he is going to have to defend the entire field. This is where Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley along with Jason Witten play such a big role in the Dallas offense.
Norman will likely travel with Dez Bryant, but Charles Tillman and nickel back Bene Benwikere are going to have to step up and not allow Williams and Beasley to make plays like they did in Miami. McDermott has to be confident that Norman will be able to take Bryant out, but how well Tillman and Benwikere play will be a major part of whether his defense can get off the field.
This Panthers defense has done an exceptional job of playing pass defense. Their secondary was outstanding in handling Aaron Rodgers and those Packers receivers and limited their opportunities. If they are able to get a similar type of game from their secondary – the Panthers will walk off the field with a victory.