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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3 key Cowboys defensive matchups vs Panthers

Micah Parsons vs Ikem Ekwonu

The Giants held Micah Parsons in check last week, but this week, he has the opportunity to be the defensive wrecking ball we've all seen since he entered the NFL. It's not going to matter which offensive tackle he lines up against, but if you're looking for the weakest link, then left tackle Ikem Ekwonu is the better matchup; he has surrendered 21 pressures and five sacks this season. The former first-rounder has had problems with speed off the edge, and Parsons will bring just that.

Parsons' ability to get into offensive linemen quickly is going to cause problems for Ekwonu, with the potential to create penalties to go along with sacks and pressures off the edge this weekend. If he can do that, then you can expect to see the Cowboys defense start feasting on quarterback Bryce Young in this game and putting him in situations to create turnovers.

Jourdan Lewis vs DJ Chark Jr.

The Panthers' game plan in this contest has to involve getting the football out of Young's hands quickly in order to avoid the Cowboys pass rush. With DaRon Bland and Stephon Gilmore on the outside, look for them to target the weaker link in the Cowboys' secondary in Jourdan Lewis this week. DJ Chark Jr. has been their primary slot receiver, and will be one of Young's quick reads. Lewis has struggled at times since returning from a season-ending injury last season, and Chark Jr. is going to challenge him early in the game with his speed in and out of his breaks.

If the Cowboys want to make sure that they are able to get this Panthers offense off the field, they are going to need a strong game from Lewis. If he can start to return to form and slow down Chark Jr., he gives the Cowboys defensive front a better chance of getting sacks and forcing turnovers.

Markquese Bell vs Hayden Hurst

Much like Chark Jr., Hayden Hurst is another player that Young is going to rely on in order to get the football out quickly. To counter that, the Cowboys will match him up against the physical and athletic Markquese Bell to try and take Hurst out of the picture. Bell has done a nice job for the Cowboys playing the hybrid safety/linebacker position since the injury to Leighton Vander Esch.

Bell's ability to cover tight ends could work in the Cowboys' favor in this matchup and, much like Lewis, if he can take Hurst away from Young, that creates another opportunity for the Cowboys defensive line to get to the first overall pick and get him off his game early.