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The Dallas Cowboys had one of their more complete games in recent memory in their domination of the Philadelphia Eagles. Fans of the Cowboys have been living it up since the game ended because, after all, it’s always fun to mock Eagles fans.
However, the 24-hour rule has long since expired and the attention has been focused on the next opponent, the Carolina Panthers. The NFC South leaders are 3-0, one of just five undefeated teams in the league. It’s another tough matchup for the Cowboys, who have already played the Super Bowl champions, an upstart Los Angeles Chargers squad and a division rival.
Here are six things to know about the upcoming contest against the Panthers in Week 4.
Brian Burns isn't a problem, he's the problem
Burns should be the biggest worry for the Dallas offense in Week 4. The Pro Bowl DE for the Panthers is one of the best young pass rushers in football and continues to get better. Burns has increased his sack total in his first two years in the league (7.5 to 9) and is on his way to double-digit sacks this season.
The third-year DE has three sacks and has picked up one in each game. Burns also has three tackles for a loss and has knocked down two passes on the year.
The Cowboys have dealt with some of the game’s best pass rushers early in the season without their top offensive line and Burns is next on the list. Burns has the ability to wreck the game for Dallas’ offense, they cannot allow that to happen.
The Cowboys will be coming off a Monday night tilt, which means they’ll be playing on short rest. To compound the lack of preparation for the Cowboys, the Panthers will be coming off a Thursday night game from Week 3.
That means the Panthers will have four extra days lead time of preparation. Those extra days could mean the difference between winning and losing, especially if Dallas is sluggish early in the game or run out of energy late.
Cowboys haven’t beaten Panthers since 2012
The last time the Cowboys were able to defeat Carolina was when Tony Romo was under center and kicker Dan Bailey made four field goals on the way to a 19-14 victory.
They two teams have only played two times since then, but both times the Panthers have soundly beaten the Cowboys. In 2015, the Panthers Super Bowl season, they embarrassed Dallas on Thanksgiving and knocked Romo out for the season with his second collarbone injury.
The Cowboys opened the 2018 season in Carolina and sputtered out of the game, scoring just eight points in the loss.
Despite the two recent losses, the Cowboys hold a 9-3 advantage in the series between the two teams, having won 9 of 10 before the recent two defeats.
The Cowboys have had some tough injury and COVID-19 news early in the season, but the Panthers have their own injury issues. Against the Houston Texans, the Panthers lost their best offensive player in star RB Christian McCaffrey to a hamstring injury. McCaffrey is a matchup nightmare for any defense and one of the best play makers in the league, so the Cowboys will catch a break not having to try and slow him down.
On defense, rookie standout CB Jaycee Horn will also be sidelined with multiple broken bones in his right foot. Horn was playing well in the early part of the season, so the Cowboys get lucky not having to face the cornerback they would’ve drafted if available in the 2021 draft.
Strength vs. strength, again
Just as it was last week against the Eagles, the Cowboys will face a top passing defense. The Panthers have the best defense against the pass (the Eagles were third) allowing just 146 yards through the air. The Cowboys dropped in the passing ranks after last week’s moderate passing numbers from Dak Prescott, but still rank 10th in the NFL.
However, the passing offense has been ridiculously efficient, and Prescott hasn’t been asked to throw as much in the last two weeks. Prescott does lead the league in completion percentage at 77.5%.
Highest Completion Percentage through Week 3
1. Dak Prescott: 77.5
2. Teddy Bridgewater: 76.8
3. Kyler Murray: 76.5
4. Kirk Cousins: 73.9
5. Baker Mayfield: 73.8 pic.twitter.com/7iWKWolxCm
— Doctor Strange (@domtock) September 28, 2021
The Panthers also lead the NFL in rushing defense, allowing just 45 yards on the ground, and total defense, giving up a measly 191 yards a game.
Dallas ranks fourth in rushing and fifth in total offense respectively.
The Panthers have yet to play against an offense inside the Top 20, so this will surely be their biggest test of the season.
Beware of Sam Darnold’s rushing ability
The Cowboys are coming off a game where they had to pay attention to an athletic, speedy quarterback who could win the game with his legs. Darnold might not be Jalen Hurts, but he’s plenty mobile and is a bigger body to slow down, especially near the goal line.
Darnold is tied for the league lead in rushing scores, with three, the same amount as Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. That’s also tied for the lead by a QB, with Arizona Cardinals signal caller Kyler Murray.
With the Panthers down their top running back, Darnold presents a challenge with his legs inside the red zone.