Undefeated Carolina Panthers Toughest Remaining Test Against Cowboys

While it was a nice to make the point suggesting that NFL villain Greg Hardy had worn down his teams’ locker room to the point where the Cowboys were 0-5 since his return from suspension, it just wasn’t the full story. Before the addition of Hardy, the Cowboys were already set to make this spiral towards the bottom of the league, when in week two it was announced Tony Romo would be out for an extended period with a broken clavicle. Call me crazy, but the subtraction of a star quarterback, only to be replaced by a guy who should not have an NFL job will cost a team more wins than a defensive lineman in which some of the guys don’t like.

Undefeated Carolina Panthers Toughest Remaining Test Against Dallas Cowboys

Tony Romo is back, and now so are the Cowboys as they are 3-0 in games in which he was the starting quarterback, including two key division wins and two road wins. The Cowboys sit at 3-7, but with Dez Bryant now making start number five in a row, combined with Romo in start number two since missing seven weeks, this is going to be the most complete Cowboy team that we have seen since the 12-4 season last year.

While Hardy is a menace, and many people, players and media members do not like him, the reason he is still on the team is because he is above average at what he does. Hardy, as well as Rolando McClain missed the first four games and last week was their first game playing with Romo. McClain has recorded 22 tackles in six games and Hardy has 4.5 sacks and the two have combined to make Dallas a much more formidable defense than the 2014 unit that only gave them four losses.

When looking at this matchup with the Panthers, not only is Hardy facing the team which released him (for good reason), he is facing a Panthers offensive line that is the teams’ weakness. According to Football Outsiders efficiency rankings, the only part of the Panthers team that is currently not playing above average is the offensive line. Now there is not only motivation, there is a physical advantage for Hardy to be the one getting after MVP candidate Cam Newton in this game.

While Newton is the league MVP candidate, Romo may be the MVP of this particular game. He had some rust on Sunday, understandably so after missing seven weeks, but he also looked much better than any combination of Matt Cassell and Brandon Weeden. The Panthers have been winning games with defense, but the Cowboys seem to have a good mix to counter any defensive attack. The star that was born in Carolina this year, Josh Norman, will have undoubtedly his biggest test of the season in Dez Bryant. Bryant, as mentioned, is now five games back from a foot injury, and while he shook off rust in his first game back against Seattle, the very next game he looked like the All-Pro wide out he is in a highlight reel 18-yard touchdown catch the next week. Romo, now in his second game back, should be able to build on the four catches Bryant caught last week in a rainy Miami.

In that rainy game Dallas was able to establish Darren McFadden for 29 carries at 4.4 yards per carry. Even without Romo, the offense has been able to run the ball behind a strong offensive line, and was still a top ten unit in rushing. The Panthers are a top five defense in any way you look at it, but the run defense has been the weaker of the two and this could be where Dallas has their biggest advantage.

The Cowboys rank first in the league in time of possession. They know their defense isn’t stellar, and they know keeping the big threat Newton off the field will win this game and the Cowboys should be milking the clock on every run from start to finish. If they are able to set up the ground attack, Romo will be in game manager mode, a mode he thrives in, where third and short are his toughest passes, and not turning it over is the name of the game.

When looking down the Panthers schedule you must remember nothing in the NFL is given. Four of their last six games are within the division, and four of their last six are on the road, including two division road games. However, as the Falcons slide to mediocrity and the Saints look to find a defense this looks to be the most formidable team on the schedule. The Cowboys sit two games back in the division, and can look ahead and see the Giants in a home game against the undefeated Panthers in three weeks. To get one here, and possibly put the Panthers back in position to win late season games in a home field race could have them pick up one of the two games in the loss column. The Panthers, coming off a big win, look to this short week on the road and see four division games left, and the trip to New York sandwiched between the final four games. If there was ever a game to brush off, get the “will they rest their starters or go for 16-0” monkey off the back before it even climbed on, and not have it be to a division rival this would be it. Whether or not the Cowboys seize the moment, and turn it into momentum for a late season push will be the bigger question.

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