Cowboys vs Panthers: Key matchups and X-factors to watch to avoid trap game

Dallas needs to make another statement Sunday. Here's how they can do it.
Carolina Panthers v Dallas Cowboys
Carolina Panthers v Dallas Cowboys / Cooper Neill/GettyImages
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The Dallas Cowboys head back down to Bank of America Stadium to take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and this time around, they'd better capture a win and avenge the home loss they suffered against this franchise back in 2021.

The Cowboys come in riding another high after beating division rival New York Giants in a rout, while the Panthers are looking to get their second win of the season with rookie quarterback Bryce Young at the helm. On paper, this looks like a game that the Cowboys have no business losing, and Las Vegas agrees; Dallas opens as an 11-point favorite this week.

Though the Panthers are just a one-win team, they do have players on both sides of the football that could cause problems for the Cowboys. It still remains to be seen if they will get their best pass-rusher Brian Burns back in the lineup, but they could be getting Jaycee Horn back, which will boost their secondary. Tight end Ian Thomas, the big-bodied tight end who is a red zone threat, should also return. The Cowboys need to remain focused on the business at hand and not come in overconfident like they did against the Arizona Cardinals, because we all know how that game ended up. A lot of that focus will need to be trained on these players if they want to avoid another trap game this weekend.

3 key Cowboys offensive matchups vs Panthers

Dak Prescott vs Vonn Bell

The leader of this Panthers secondary is Vonn Bell, and the chess game between him and Dak Prescott is going to be a good one. Prescott has done a much better job of reading defenses (mainly the safeties), which has allowed him to take advantage of what the defenses are giving him. His ability to diagnose coverages will be key against a Panthers secondary that doesn't have many interceptions (5). However, they are a physical group, and Carolina's safeties have been able to create different varieties of turnovers on defense.

If Prescott can continue to get good reads on these safeties like he has been the last four weeks, then the Cowboys offense has another opportunity to end this game quickly. But, to do that, he'll need to get the better of Vonn Bell and this group of safeties this weekend.

CeeDee Lamb vs Jaycee Horn

It remains to be seen if Jaycee Horn will make his return against the Cowboys this week, but assuming he does, this will be one of the best matchups of the day. CeeDee Lamb has been unstoppable since the San Fransisco 49ers game, and he will be looking to continue his streak of at least 10 receptions and 150 yards in games which currently stands at three games. Horn, for his part, is going to be one of the more physical cornerbacks Lamb will be facing this season, with the speed to stick with Lamb in coverage.

Horn isn't going to let Lamb get anything easy this week, but the Cowboys can take Horn out of the picture and allow Lamb to make plays by sliding him into the slot, where Horn doesn't normally travel. Either way, if Horn plays, I'll be looking forward to this matchup on Sunday for the caliber of play we can expect, but also from a key matchup standpoint.

If Horn doesn't play, this matchup (Lamb vs. Fill-In) will be just as crucial in an entirely different way.

Tyler Smith vs Derrick Brown

Outside of Brian Burns, Derrick Brown has been the Panthers' best defensive lineman with the ability to put pressure on the quarterback this season. Brown will be lining up against Tyler Smith, who has been the Cowboys' best offensive lineman this season. Smith has already gone up against a physical freak in Jalen Carter and played well against him, so he should be able to handle Brown's pass rush and give Prescott more time and a clean pocket to throw the football.

From a running game standpoint, the Cowboys must continue to work on jump-starting their 'backs, and they are going to need to make sure that Smith can handle Brown, who is also a very good run defender. Smith is going to have his hands full, but with his strength, he should be able to handle Brown. It will still be a matchup to keep an eye on Sunday.