The Cowboys look to ride Ezekiel Elliott against Luke Kuechly and the Panthers D in this NFC matchup on Sunday. The Panthers hope for a big year from star Quarterback Cam Newton as he tries to regain his 2015 MVP form with a few new weapons.
The Cowboys will be without their All Pro Center Travis Frederick as he deals with an auto-immune disease. Meanwhile, the Panthers will be without two starting linemen for a while, as Tackle Matt Kalil and Guard Jeremiah Sirles have been placed on Injured Reserve.
The Cowboys All Pro Guard Zack Martin has been a full participant in practice, expecting to be back at 100% for Sunday’s matchup, and will be asked to step up big time in Frederick’s absence. Carolina is expected to start 2017 2nd round pick Taylor Moton and veteran journeyman Amini Silatolu in place of Kalil and Sirles, hoping they can protect Newton’s blindside aptly enough to employ new Offensive Coordinator Norv Turners vertical passing attack. BetOnline has the Panthers as 3-point favorites, with the over/under set at 42.5.
Dallas Cowboys Look to Bounce Back This Season
Jason Garrett leads the Cowboys into his 8th season as Head Coach. Garrett’s last 4 years have followed an extremely interesting trend. Following a 12-4 season in 2014, the ‘Boys disappointed in 2015, falling to 4-12.
Then, in 2016, with minimal expectations and rookies starting at Quarterback and Running Back, Garrett went 13-3. Last season, with expectations sky high, the Cowboys slipped to a 9-7 record, in what was considered a disappointing season for Dallas fans.
Garrett may be a dark horse hot seat candidate this season if the Cowboys do not perform up to Jerry Jones’ standards. Garrett will have to face this following the departures of polarizing Wide Receiver Dez Bryant and future Hall of Fame Tight End Jason Witten.
The Cowboys look to turn over a new leaf at their receiving positions, bringing in veteran Allen Hurns to man the X spot, and have high hopes for rookie Michael Gallup to exceed his draft value and outperform the underwhelming Terrance Williams. At Tight End, Dallas is expected to start Geoff Swaim, and plan to get raw talents Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers involved as well.
On defense, Dallas hopes for another huge year from Edge Rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, giving him the franchise tag this offseason after posting 15 sacks in a contract year last season. Middle
Linebacker Jaylon Smith looks to continue his upward trajectory, and Will Linebacker Sean Lee is an impact player when healthy. The Cowboys defense also features a young, but talented secondary, led by Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and converted Safety-to-Corner Byron Jones.
Cowboys Injuries and Inactive Watch
- OC Travis Frederick (illness)- will not play, expected to miss multiple weeks
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (back)- limited participant Wednesday, expected to play
- DT Datone Jones (knee)- will not play, expected to miss multiple weeks
Carolina Panthers New Coaches Set For 2018
The Panthers have a lot of turnover on their coaching staff, promoting Eric Washington to Defensive Coordinator after Steve Wilks moved on to coach the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers also moved on from Mike Shula, bringing in veteran playcaller Norv Turner to run the offense.
Turner has been tasked with revitalizing Cam Newton and the Panthers’ passing game after a year away from the NFL, bringing in his famed Air Coryell scheme. Turner’s offense will feature a lot of deep shots down the sideline as well as passes to the Running Back.
The Panthers hope that their shaky Offensive Line can hold up long enough for Newton to show off his cannon and take shots down the field. Holdover starters Daryl Williams, Trai Turner, and Ryan Kalil are average at best, and Taylor Moton will be a full time starter for the first time in his career.
Not only does Newton hope the line holds up, but 2nd year Running Back Christian McCaffrey concurs as he looks to build off a productive rookie year. McCaffrey will potentially be utilized a bit differently this season with Norv Turners arrival, as Turner showed success with receiving Backs in the past such as Darren Sproles.
The Panthers Defense has some question marks as well, as the secondary looks to find its niche. There is a lot of youth at Cornerback with James Bradberry, Corn Elder, and rookie Donte Jackson, who have a lot of talent, but are mostly unproven.
The front seven is obviously as strong as always, headlined by superstar Middle Linebacker Luke Kuechly, interior pass rusher Kawann Short, and future Hall of Fame Edge Rusher Julius Peppers.
Panthers Injuries and Inactive Watch
- WR/RB Curtis Samuel (chest)- Will not play
- OG Amini Silatolu (knee), OT Daryl Williams (knee)- full participants all week, likely to play
- OG, Jeremiah Sirles (hamstring), OT Matt Kalil (knee)- placed on IR
Matchups to Watch
- Dallas O Line vs Carolina D Line
- Dallas Wide Receivers vs Carolina Cornerbacks
- Carolina Running Backs vs Dallas Linebackers
- Carolina Offensive Tackles vs Dallas Edge Rushers
Cowboys vs. Panthers Predictions
- Oh boy. This one should be physical. The Cowboys definitely have an identity in trying to feed Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, and the Panthers front seven is among the strongest in the league. Zeke should get somewhere from 23-30 touches between Dallas’ creative run scheme and a few short screen passes, and will inevitably spring a long run or two.
- Quarterback Dak Prescott may take some adjusting to his new receiving corp, and I expect Dallas to lean heavily on Elliot in the meantime, while mixing in some zone reads and bootlegs for Dak to utilize his legs.
- Look for Cam Newton and the Panthers offense to come out firing, taking some deep shots early, and trying to get rookie Wide Receiver DJ Moore and Running Back Christian McCaffrey some opportunities in space to show off their run after the catch ability.
- Keep an eye out for Tight End Greg Olsen to have a big game as well, as the Cowboys don’t have anyone who matches up very well with his combination of size and speed. The Panthers will try to load the box and attack downhill early and often to force Dak into uncomfortable down and distances while he feels out his new skill position weapons.
- We expect a back and forth, hard fought game. This may not go on the highlight reel for either team, but I see the Panthers squeezing out a win, stopping Dallas on a potential game winning drive.
Final Pick: Carolina (-3)