Fact: The Carolina Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 2015.
Also Fact: Despite their upset of the Saints in week 2, The Panthers still have more to prove to justify their record.
Despite the latter, there is no disputing the former. The Panthers are undefeated heading into week four. However, they will get their chance to disprove the latter in their game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.
Carolina suffered immensely in their Thursday Night Football game against Houston a week ago. Injuries sidelined rookie DB Jaycee Horn indefinitely with two broken bones in his foot and Christian McCaffrey will be out a few weeks with his hamstring. If Carolina wins Sunday, it will be due to these keys to the game.
Taking Care of the Ball
Those stats are admirable and they are also a result of McCaffrey being Darnold’s safety valve when Moore, Anderson, et al are covered downfield. Dallas’ defense will pose a challenge for Darnold and the Panthers’ offense, because it’s tempting to throw downfield against this secondary, but they still pose a threat.
Dallas allows an average of 331 yards passing per game and is ranked number 31 defense in the league. However, they lead the league in interceptions. Cowboys’ DB Trevon Diggs has been ballhawking – recording three of the league-leading six interceptions, so it would be wise to avoid him. McCaffrey is second on the team in receptions, and without him it would be tempting for Darnold to throw deep regularly. Look for Sam to mix it up with short passes and go routes to Robby Anderson and DJ Moore.
Regardless of what Darnold decides to do, the Panthers’ offense must take care of the ball.
The Panthers’ secondary has been phenomenal thus far. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging just 146 yards passing and and they’ve recorded 14 sacks through week 3. However, Dak Prescott is a more difficult challenge compared to the quarterbacks that they’ve faced. Prescott can use CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper to pick apart a Carolina secondary down two starters. For additional secondary help, the Panthers traded TE Dan Arnold to Jacksonville for CJ Henderson. It remains to be seen whether or not the addition would be enough to help. Carolina can’t depend on this iteration of the secondary to win this game. So expect the Panthers’ front seven to pressure Prescott and make him uncomfortable all game long. Plus, look for them to contain Ezekiel Elliott. Carolina is first in the NFL in rush defense. Establishing the blitz and pressure for this game is a no-brainer.
Rookie running back Chuba Hubbard will get his first start in the place of McCaffrey on Sunday. In limited action, Hubbard played well. Against Houston, Hubbard had 46 of his 52 yards in the second half and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Hubbard doesn’t have to imitate McCaffrey to be successful, he only has to make smart reads in the gaps and run his way. However, it won’t be easy against a Cowboys’ defense that’s allowed the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game and hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season