Panthers @ Cowboys
8:30 PM ET, ESPN
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, TX
Can you smell it? That's the sickly stench of desperation from two teams that know they can't afford to lose on Monday Night Football. The Carolina Panthers and the Dallas Cowboys both know what this game means and have been surprisingly honest about it with the media.
"It's desperation time." That's what Panthers linebacker Jon Beason told me this week when we were talking about Carolina's road game tonight against Dallas on "Monday Night Football."
On the other side, Dave Campo, the Cowboys secondary coach says:
"I hear everybody talking about how Carolina is a ‘desperate team' and all this, because they are 0-2. But we're desperate. We're desperate to not be 1-2. We're desperate to be the good team we think we are. We're desperate to not start 1-2. We're desperate to get that first win at the new place.''
Okay, sounds like we've got two teams who feel like they're fighting for survival early in the season.
After a horrendous opening game, Jake Delhomme settled down last week but the Panthers still couldn't pull out a win on the road in Atlanta. But they were not the same team that was stinking up the field in week one, or more precisely Delhomme wasn't the same QB. The Panthers don't want to rely on Delhomme for their offense, they want the combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to dominate a game on the ground. Both are very capable backs and the Cowboys have struggled at times to contain the run this season. Carolina wants to run the ball and run it some more, but Steve Smith is the guy they want for the quick strike. The Dallas secondary had problems tackling last week, and Smith is as good a "yards after catch guy" as there is in the league. If he gets loose in the Cowboys secondary and they don't tackle, you're looking at a shoot-out on Monday night.
The Panthers defense has quality in the secondary but is very thin up front. They've lost two defensive tackles for the season due to injury. Teams have had success running at that weakened unit and they can expect the Cowboys to try it again. Julius Peppers is having a down year through two weeks with only one sack and a virtual disappearing act against the Falcons last week. The Dallas offense is potent, the Panthers need a super-human effort from their front four to keep it in check.
The storyline seems to start and stop with Tony Romo in Dallas. Romo threw for his most yards ever in a game against Tampa in week one, along with 3 TDs. But that was the Bucs. Against the Giants he tossed up three picks that were the difference between winning and losing. The Jekyl and Hyde performance of Romo so far has the Cowboys faithful on edge. The Cowboys offense is a potent force, putting up over 30 points in each game, even with four turnovers from their offense last week. Romo has plenty of targets in the passing game and the Cowboys running game is staitstically one of the best in the NFL. Even if they have to go without Martion Barber this week, Tashard Choice is a quality replacement and Felix Jones provides the quick-strike capabilities. As long as Romo keeps control of the football, Dallas should have no problem scoring.
The Cowboys defense is having issues, some in familiar spots and others that have just cropped up this year. For the familiar, the Cowboys secondary is vulnerable and that hasn't changed from the last few years. Even after a overhaul in the offseason, the Giants receivers torched the unit last week. One of their major failings was the inability to wrap-up after the catch leading to big yards. Normally, Terence Newman is the guy to cover Steve Smith, but after last week, Newman's ability has come under fire, too. The Cowboys defense also has failed to get a turnover so far this year, meaning the offense is having to work for every point the Cowboys get. For a new problem? The Cowboys led the league in sacks last year, this year they have zero sacks. DeMarcus Ware led the league last year with 20. He needs to lead a re-charged Cowboys pass rush for this defense to improve.