With three of the next four games on the road, the Cowboys are in no position to drop to 2-4. As much as an October game can be a “must win,” the Cowboys’ Week 7 matchup with the Carolina Panthers is it. Here are a few things to watch for the ‘Boys. . .
Will the Cowboys double-team defensive end Charles Johnson?
Johnson is one of the more underrated pass-rushers in the NFL and perhaps the Panthers’ top defensive player. Unlike many other elite pass-rushers, Johnson generally lines up on the left side of the defense (88.4 percent of snaps, actually). That means he’ll be matched up with struggling right tackle Doug Free, and that’s a battle that doesn’t favor Dallas.
Will the Cowboys open up the passing game?
Yesterday, I told you why the Cowboys need to throw more deep passes. Jason Garrett continually puts the offense in a position that necessitates beating the defense over and over. We saw that against the Ravens when Tony Romo threw only one pass over 20 yards. On the season, 10.2 percent of Romo’s passes have traveled that far in the air—about half the rate of the league-leaders.
Even if it means an incomplete pass, why not try a deep playaction look on 1st and 10? Of course, an incompletion might be less likely with playaction than on a straight dropback, as Romo is 13-for-16 for 212 yards and a touchdown on playaction passes this year. So tell me, why have we seen just over three over them per game?
Will Rob Ryan blitz Cam Newton often?
We’ve seen Rob Ryan tone down a lot of the blitzes in 2012, and in terms of defensive efficiency, it has worked. The problem is that the Cowboys aren’t generating turnovers to help their offense, so I have a feeling Ryan will send the heat after Newton this week. Newton, who owns a 40.6 percent completion rate and 5.3 yards-per-attempt when pressured, is susceptible to making mistakes when he becomes flustered. He takes a lot of sacks and throws some bad balls in the face of pressure, so look for the Cowboys to come after him early and often on Sunday.
Will the Cowboys continue to let the play clock tick down?
As soon as it looks like Garrett gets his play clock issues sorted out, we witness a game in which the clock ticks down inside of three seconds on over one-third of the offensive snaps. Not only does it rush the offense and lead to pre-snap penalties, but the waning clock also allows the defense to get a jump on the snap. It’s fine if the Cowboys want to call two plays in the huddle and use a “Kill” audible system, but then Garrett can’t also have Romo manually checking out of plays and wonder why there’s no time left on the play clock.