Quarterback Donovan McNabb #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles rushes for a touchdown in the second half of their NFL season opener against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on September 13, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina. McNabb did not return to the game.
The Opponent: The Carolina Panthers, aka the Cats (if you saw MNF during the Dennis Miller era), aka the Exploding Delhommes
The Line: Cowboys by 9.5
Last Game: A valiant 28-20 loss on the road to Atlanta that was notable for the fact that Jake Delhomme went THREE WHOLE QUARTERS without throwing an interception. In fact, Delhomme waited until there were less than three minutes left in the game to implode. Usually, he’s ready to collapse right from the get go.
The Coach: John Fox. I swear, five years ago, John Fox was an awesome coach. He has since been replaced by one of the evil lizardpod aliens from V, intent on destroying the world by underutilizing DeAngelo Williams and entrusting both $20 million and the fate of his job to a washed-up quarterback who can’t tie his shoes without turning the ball over first.
The Offense: The Panthers are in the middle of the pack in rushing the ball this year, but that’s only because they’ve been forced to play from behind in both of their games. They can still run the ball effectively with Williams and Jonathan Stewart (who is now healthy again).
The Cowboys showed last week that, for all their defensive flaws, they can still bottle up another team’s running game. They held the Giants (last year’s best running team) to under 4 yards a carry. Stuff the run, and you put the game in Jake’s hands. The Panthers have a league worst –5 turnover ratio. For a Cowboys defense starved for fumbles and picks, Carolina is just the remedy.
The Defense: The Panthers have one of the league’s worst run defenses. Both Philly and Atlanta happily gashed them for big chunks of yardage during their two-game skid.
Even with Marion Barber questionable with a quad injury, this bodes well for a Cowboys running game that piled up over 250 yards last week. Good God. Two hundred fifty yards and they STILL lost? Sweet Jesus. Let’s face it, this game is going to be all about which quarterback screws up least. Tony Romo’s performance last week was a baffling collage of suck. His third interception in particular, thrown up into the air in a downright Farvian maneuver, was both a stupid decision and a poor throw. Ideally, the Cowboys will ease pressure on him by going to Felix and Tashard early and often. But if they need to get the ball downfield to win, Romo remains frustratingly uneven in big spots despite his glaring talent.
Key Matchup: Mike Jenkins vs. Steve Smith. The OTHER Steve Smith got open often enough last week. Now here comes the REAL Steve Smith, with all his breakaway speed and baby-punching abilities. The Giants caught a ton of balls last week, including enough ricochets to please the average racquetball aficionado. If the Cowboys fail to get to the passer yet again this time around, Delhomme could make them pay. I can’t believe I just wrote that last sentence.