Did the Eagles blowout tell us what we need, or is the Panthers game what will tell us?
A dominating win over a division rival always gets the juices flowing. That is exactly what the Dallas Cowboys had in their crushing of the Philadelphia Eagles, which was not even as close as the 20-point margin of victory would indicate. The win has visions of deep playoff runs dancing in the heads of the fan base.
Did it really tell us enough, however? The Eagles appear to be a hot mess right now. Dallas now faces the 3-0 Carolina Panthers. That may be a much better test of just how much of a contender the Cowboys are. Or maybe not. Our Terence Watson and Tom Ryle take a deeper look.
Tom: Let me start with Carolina. They have not exactly run over a bunch of powerhouses to get to that record. They had a fairly close, low-scoring win over the New York Jets who continue to be the dismal Jets at 0-3. They got a win over the Houston Texans who may not be as good as their 1-2 record indicates. The best win they have is over the New Orleans Saints, who are still an uncertain quantity in the post Drew Brees era. There are a lot of observers who find that 3-0 mark somewhat deceptive. Now the Panthers come into Dallas without first-round draft pick Jaycee Horn, who went on injured reserve after the Texans game, and Christian McCaffrey, who is out for a few weeks. Those are pretty big blows to both sides of the ball. So I guess I am in the “weak schedule” camp on this, and don’t really think Carolina is going to be any better indicator than curb-stomping the Eagles. The huge caveat there is IF the Cowboys get a W on Sunday.
Terence: This is the NFL and things change from week to week, that uncertainty is what makes this sport so great. Just because a team isn’t a powerhouse doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to be a pushover. Take the week one game for the Cowboys. No one had the Cowboys sticking with the defending champion Buccaneers but it took a last-second field goal from them to beat the Cowboys. The same can be said for the Cowboys win over the Chargers who then turned around and beat the AFC Champion Chiefs last week. It does not that mean we are better than the Chiefs. It just shows that on any given Sunday a team can upset anyone. Now as for the Eagles, the Cowboys had a very good game but there were points where the Cowboys offensive line was getting bullied by the Eagles defensive front. They were able to sack Dak Prescott four times. The Panthers are similar in that respect. They have a very good defensive line that sets the tone for that defense, and with the injuries in the secondary, you can see them attacking the Cowboys offensive line the same way the Eagles did last week. So I believe that this Panthers game will be a good indicator, because if the Cowboys line struggles again then teams have a guide to slowing down this offense in the future.
Tom: Well, there’s one thing we disagree on. One thing we have clearly seen is that Kellen Moore can find a way to overcome whatever defenses throw at him. I do not believe there is a blueprint to beat Dallas as long as Dak stays healthy and there are not too many other injuries or people in the COVID protocol. They had some issues scoring against the Chargers, but not at all against the Buccaneers and Eagles. I have full faith in the offense. I think the real difference maker is the defense. They have had very good back-to-back games. Getting a win over Justin Herbert shows they can do well against a rising star quarterback. If the quarterback is not so great, they will harass and intercept him.
Oddly, the absolute failure of the Eagles to even try and run gives me pause. I would be really worried if McCaffrey was still available, but without him Dallas can probably keep things in check. It will unfortunately leave us wondering if a highly efficient ground game can be a challenge.
What I hope to see from the defense is that they are indeed able to get the ball back from the other team, whether by punts or turnovers. If they can continue to do that, I will feel a lot better about those playoff prospects.
Terence: The Cowboys do have a very good offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore but coaches call the plays and the players have to execute. He will put his players in the positions to make plays and I agree, I have faith in this offense especially once Michael Gallup returns. As for the Panthers they do bring a different set of issues for the Cowboys outside of just their defensive front on defense. For quarterback Sam Darnold his game play during his time with the New York Jets to now with the Panthers is like night and day. It is not perfect, no, but he’s elevated his game enough for teams to take notice. You add D.J. Moore who can line up anywhere using his quickness off the line to pick up yards. Then you have Darnold’s old friend in Robby Anderson who we last saw torching the Cowboys with five catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in the infamous Jets game. Darnold in his own right threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns in that victory over the Cowboys.
Let’s not overlook Chuba Hubbard either. Just because he’s a backup doesn’t mean he can’t run through this Cowboys defense. He’s a versatile running back that can run the ball and make plays in the passing game when given the chance. In college, he averaged 5.9 yards per carry with his best season being in 2019 when he rushed for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns. Just because the name on the back of his jersey doesn’t say McCaffery doesn’t mean he’s a slouch. If the Cowboys defenders take him lightly they will be in for a rude awakening.
I’m with you on the defense continuing to show this is the new normal for them, but the Panthers will bring a different style of offense that the Cowboys haven’t dealt with. They’ve faced speedy receivers in Antonio Brown, good route runners in DeVonta Smith, and a quick and versatile running back Austin Ekeler, but they haven’t gone against a team that has all three. The Panthers can give them that test.
Tom: Then I guess the real conclusion is that the Panthers look to be a much better measuring stick than the Eagles, who truly played a dreadful game and seemed to have a totally inept plan coming in. I can get on board with that. We should feel a lot more certain what the Cowboys have after Sunday.
Just between you and me, I think it will still be a win.