Carolina Panthers vs Dallas Cowboys Week 4: Know thy enemy
By Tyrone Starr
Welcome to Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season. Your Dallas Cowboys have won back-to-back games for the first time since Christmas last year and are leading the NFC East with a 2-1 record. They are just one field goal from being undefeated and arguably the best team in the NFL.
This week the Cowboys face one of the few unbeaten teams left in the Carolina Panthers. Carolina is making their second trip in as many weeks to the state of Texas while the Cowboys are playing their second game at home in a row.
All of the media attention will center around Foxborough, MA this week, however, aside from the Cardinals and Rams, this matchup is low-key the best of the week. This is a classic matchup between a loaded offense going against an underrated but outstanding defense.
The Carolina Panthers will be a true test to the Dallas Cowboys
Will the Panthers remain undefeated or will the Cowboys win their third straight game? Let’s get to know thy enemy a little better as we break down the matchup between Carolina and Dallas.
The Panthers are by far the most interesting opponent of the Cowboys so far in this young season. On one hand, Carolina is an undefeated team with the best defense in the NFL. On the other hand, the Panthers have faced the Jets and Texans, along with the Saints in a week where their entire coaching staff was decimated by COVID.
The biggest hurdle the Cowboys will face in Week 4 is taking this Panthers team lightly. Despite their questionable resume and without their star running back Christian McCaffery, this is still a dangerous opponent.
Carolina has the best rush defense, the best pass defense, and the second-best scoring defense in the NFL. The Panthers lead the league in sacks while allowing the fewest first downs and owning the best third-down stop percentage after three games this season. Regardless of their opponents, this defense seems to be for real.
The Cowboys have not faced a defense of this caliber since mid-season 2020 when they were dominated by the Washington Football Team. Of course, in that game, the Cowboys’ offense was completely hamstrung, missing key components like quarterback Dak Prescott and left tackle Tyron Smith.
Those two players might be the biggest factors in whether or not the Cowboys and Panthers end Sunday afternoon with the same 3-1 record or the Carolina remains undefeated. The Panthers’ defense has put pressure on the opposing quarterback on almost half of the pass attempts they have faced. This defense loves to bring the blitz. Their blitzes are exotic and often, especially on third down.
If the Cowboys’ offense can figure out where the pressure is coming from, they have the weaponry to do some major damage. For all the deserved attention Prescott is getting for his complete mastery of this offense if he cannot solve the puzzle that is the Carolina blitz schemes, the initial glory will turn to rumblings and questions of whether this team is truly for real.
Carolina’s defense is not the only one turning heads in 2021, however. The Cowboys’ defense leads the NFL in interceptions and total takeaways. That sentence is one I never thought I would ever write, no matter where we would be in any season.
This could be an under-the-radar aspect of this game as Carolina could struggle offensively minus McCaffery. Panthers’ quarterback Sam Darnold is having the best season of his career and yet and still, he only has three touchdown passes in three games.
Meanwhile, the Dallas defense has already faced highly potent offenses against Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Chargers. After stifling the Eagles’ offense on a national stage, Carolina should not present any more of a challenge.
Besides their defense, the only other noticeable advantage for Carolina may be time itself. The Cowboys are coming off a Monday night game meaning they only will have a six-day turnaround with two practices total under their belt for this game.
The Panthers, however, have not played since last Thursday. With ten days to rest, recover, and study up on Dallas, this is a decided advantage. Prior to the season, I predicted that the Cowboys would win this game 30-27 in an offensive shootout. I am going to stick with that in some respect as I do believe Dallas can still prevail, but now I am more inclined to see this as a defensive game.
Give me the Cowboys over Carolina, 23-13. While I’m sure that this will be a struggle early on, I honestly believe the Dallas offense will figure out a very challenging Panthers’ defense which should earn them a third straight victory.