Much like the week prior, the Cowboys matchup with Carolina looks like an easy win on paper. The 1-8 Panthers rank at the bottom of the league in most major categories and are outclassed in nearly every major way this week against Dallas. But a few key matchups could go a long way in swinging the balance and ultimately deciding the game.
The Cowboys’ Week 3 matchup with Arizona serves as a painful reminder that things can snowball quickly, and easy wins can become embarrassing losses, in an instant. Dallas must remain mindful of this on Sunday and come out focused on the task. If the Cowboys offense can stay on their current tear, the defense should have no trouble keeping Carolina in check.
CB Jourdan Lewis vs WR Adam Thielen
Thielen is having a resurgent year in Carolina. The 33-year-old former Viking has been a safety blanket WR for rookie QB Bryce Young and has shown he can still move the chains and make plays if taken for granted.
With 392 of his 578 snaps coming in the slot, Thielen makes his living inside against nickel CBs. As such, the task will fall on the Cowboys nickel CB Jourdan Lewis to control the cagey veteran. At 6-foot-2, 195-pounds, Thielen isn’t the typical slot receiver. He’s bigger, longer and knows how to use his body and reach to his advantage.
Lewis has struggled this season in Dallas. Expected to be the CB4 for Dallas in 2023, Lewis was pushed into starter action when DaRon Bland had to replace Trevon Diggs outside.
The 5-foot-10 Lewis will be given a great opportunity to silence his critics on Sunday.
The smartest play for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be to mix coverage and make the rookie QB hesitate. By mixing in zone, Quinn can use his linebackers and safeties to make windows tight and things less transparent for the Carolina duo.
Screen pass vs the Panthers’ blitz
The Panthers love to blitz. They rank in the NFL’s top 10 in blitz rate and don’t feel compelled to wait until third down to do so. As many know, one of the best ways to beat a blitz is to run a screen play directly behind it.
With the Panthers blitzing so often on early downs, the Cowboys would be wise to keep a screen play ready in their back pocket. Even though Dallas isn’t known to be an elite screen team, the circumstances of the day may demand it.
Using RBs and TEs in some blitz-busting screens will gain yards by the chunk and make the Panthers think twice about their blitzing ways going forward.
Micheal Gallup vs single coverage
Gallup is going to get one-on-one matchups. Based on everything that’s happened this season, that’s something the Cowboys can probably bank on. CeeDee Lamb has been breaking records for his workload as of late and Brandin Cooks finally got going with a monster performance last week.
Both Cooks and Lamb have game-breaking ability defenses respect, and both players can be assured they will be handled with extra care from the Panthers. It’s up to Gallup to make them pay for that.
Michael Gallup, essentially the most single covered WR in the NFL, only has 24 receptions for 313 yards. He has to find a way to take advantage of these situations & it doesn’t have to be with speed. pic.twitter.com/uom7y356r9
— Reid D Hanson (@ReidDHanson) November 17, 2023
Gallup faces more single coverage than just about anyone in the NFL. Over half of his routes are in one-on-one situations. Yet his production has been poor. Aside from a few flashes of brilliance, Gallup has yet to fully regain his preinjury form.
Whether it’s smoother route-running or improved overall aggressiveness, Gallup needs to find a way to make opponents pay for neglecting him so often.
This is a great game for him to figure things out and get back on track because Dallas needs all the weapons they can get as they charge into the meat of their schedule next month.