IRVING, Texas – A look at the two matchups I'm most intrigued to see when the Cowboys and Panthers line up on Thanksgiving Day:
Cowboys OT Tyron Smith against Panthers DE Jared Allen:
These two have met before, while Allen was with the Vikings and then later the Bears. In those matchups, Smith was able to handle him.
Last week against the Dolphins, Smith was a much better run blocker than pass. I felt like, watching the tape, he was doing too much thinking and it threw his technique off. He was off balance, lunging and guessing. When Smith is at his best, no matter what move a rusher throws at him, his punch, feet and positioning are going to be on point.
Where Smith has the advantage over Allen is that when Allen has to face power, he is unable to match it. His calling card for years was his ability to get to the edge before a blocker had a chance to get his hands on him, and that was his best defense. Allen no longer has that edge rush speed and quickness. His game now deals more with effort and desire. There are still snaps where he can get around a blocker, but again, when those blockers get their hands on him – it is tougher.
Where Smith needs to be at his best when dealing with Allen is making sure he finishes him on the play. One of Allen's best traits is his ability to get in on the play. He is relentless in the way he chases. Smith will need to get his body on him and handle him until the whistle blows. Smith cannot allow Allen to be disruptive in this game.
Cowboys Linebackers and Secondary against Panthers TE Greg Olsen:
If Morris Claiborne was playing in this game, I believe we would be seeing Byron Jones travelling with Greg Olsen. With Claiborne out they are going to need Jones to line up on the left side of the field and play there. I asked Jason Garrett in his press conference about defending Olsen and his answer was not surprising – an all hands on deck approach is often necessary.
What makes Olsen so difficult to defend is that he lines up all over the formation and he is able to run routes from all those spots. His inline routes are just as deceptive and dangerous as the ones when he is flexed. His initial quickness and burst gets him up the field in a hurry. Even when he appears covered, you see him find ways to separate. Olsen plays with outstanding football intelligence. He knows how to work himself open -- no matter what the coverage is.
He has no problem taking his routes all over the field, and he makes plays on all levels. He is also able to finish plays and can make the contested catch or the wide open one. It's rare that you see him fight the ball.
Olsen will likely draw coverage initially from Barry Church and then play him from there. My gut tells me that everyone on defense is going to get a shot at him. The key will to be not to allow him that free access up the field. The defense needs to beat and bang on him, making him fight for that space.
Cam Newton will throw him the ball whether he is covered or not. He has had multiple games where he had double-digit targets and came up big. Presents the same problems that Rob Gronkowski did for this defense earlier in the season.