Cowboys Countdown to Thanksgiving: Storylines For Panthers Game

The Cowboys are hosting the Panthers for Thanksgiving. Here are some news and notes to get you ready as you down some turkey and stuffing. ... as we Countdown to Kickoff!

10: The number of losses Carolina has when opposing QB's have 2-0 TD/INT ratio -- Since 2011, when Ron Rivera installed Sean McDermott as defensive coordinator, the Panthers have gone 0-10 when an opposing quarterback throws for two touchdowns and zero interceptions. 5/10 of those performances were by playoff-winning quarterbacks, a classification that includes Tony Romo. The 35-year-old signal caller will have to protect the football if Dallas is to derail Carolina's perfection train.

                              Mike Fisher's photo.

Today's visit from Carolina on this Thanksgiving afternoon is largely about ... "Romo Magic,'' including the cake, the speech, the win and the cigar, as our Mike Fisher details from last week's win at Miami


9: The Cowboys offense's rank for yards per carry -- Despite a full-on blizzard of issues hitting the Cowboys running-back-by-committee mid-season, Dallas somehow has managed 4.3 yards per carry, good enough for ninth-best in the NFL. Since Darren McFadden assumed the lead back role in Week Seven, Dallas is tied with Washington for the 14th-best in the league with 4.0, which is average. However, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has been committed to the run. Over the same span, the Cowboys have rushed the ball 118 times. The commitment to balance is necessary, even though the Panthers defense is the 12th-best in yards per carry with 4.1.

There will be no help from Joe Randle, of course, as the ex-Cowboys runner is now buried in problems with the law, as we detail here.


8: The Dallas offense's rank for yards per drive -- The Cowboys offense produces 32.7 yards per drive, and even the points department is in the top-10 as they score on 34.3 percent of their drives, good for ninth-best in the NFL. However, Dallas is the 12th-worst when it comes to red-zone scoring attempts per game with just 2.8. Even with kicker Dan Bailey going an astouning 19/20 on field goals this season, the Cowboys need touchdowns, not more field-goal attempts from Bailey, if they are to improve to 4-7 and sweep the Thanksgiving week.


7: Jonathan Stewart's rushing yards per game rank -- The eight-year veteran rushes for 76.4 yards per game, tied with Atlanta's Devonta Freeman for the seventh-best overall. In his career, the Panthers have tallied a 21-6 mark when Stewart has 75 yards or more. When teams have held Stewart to fewer than 75 yards, the Panthers have compiled a staggering 11-62 record in his career. This season, Dallas has only allowed a 75-yard rusher 3/10 times. Some of the league's premier rushers such as DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch, and Lamar Miller are on that X-list. The Cowboys can and must prevent Stewart from being the fourth such rusher this season.


6: Number of unnecessary-roughness penalties Carolina's defense has -- The Panthers have committed the fifth-most unnecessary roughness penalties with six this season, indicating that the Panthers' heads can be gotten into. Only Denver, Cincinnati, and Carolina are the 3/10 teams in the top-10 in this category to have winning records. Dallas will need all of the free yards and automatic first downs they can get against a stout defense that won't surrender many yards from whistle to whistle.

A lot of this is up to the ref crew today. How do they call Dallas games? How do they call Carolina games? Our "Cowboys 100'' has the unique details here.


5: Number of Thursday games Carolina has ever played -- The Panthers are debuting in their first ever Thanksgiving game against the Cowboys, and the Thursday game experience is still relatively new for them. Since 2006, the club has only appeared in five games and gone 1-4 in that span. Rivera has the only win, but has two losses. The Cowboys, who have played on Thanksgiving virtually every year since 1966, may have the preparation advantage, which is only half the battle against this undefeated NFC South juggernaut.


4: Number of interceptions LB Kurt Coleman and CB Josh Norman have -- The two Carolina defenders each have four picks this season, which together ties them with five other players for the fourth-most in the NFL. The duo accounted for 3/4 of Jameis Winston's interceptions in their meeting with Tampa Bay this October. Among the seven quarterbacks Coleman and Norman have picked off, only 1/7 of them have been playoff-winning quarterbacks, and that lone victim was Andrew Luck. It is another reminder that Romo, who has committed a turnover in every one of his three starts, has to place extra care on the football to give Dallas a chance to hand Carolina their first defeat.


Norman vs. Dez Bryant is likely the central matchup here. That's where "Explosive Plays'' and "Toxic Events'' come into play. Serious Cowboys fans get smarter on those subjects here.

Dez, by the way, tells Fish that he is having some issues with his knee, ankle and foot ... which brings us to today's Inactive List:

· WR Brice Butler
· CB Mo Claiborne
· OL Ronald Leary
· LB Mark Nzeocha
· DE Ryan Russell 
· TE Geoff Swaim 
· RB Trey Williams 


3: The Cowboys defense's rank in takeaway points -- Dallas has only managed 16 points off seven turnovers all season, the third-worst ranking in the league. Given that the Panthers sit atop the NFL with 25 takeaways, naturally they would also hold the top spot with 88 points off takeaways. Not only does Carolina know how to get turnovers, but they also know how to capitalize on the extra possessions. Only twice this season have the Panthers lost the turnover battle: Oct. 18 at Seattle and Oct. 25 against Philadelphia, games which they won by four and 11 points respectively. An essential component to a close game with the 10-0 Panthers is for Dallas to not only limit giveaways but score when they turn the Panthers over.

Who can push this envelope? Dallas' best candidate is Greg Hardy, the controversial former Panther who is trying to downplay the reunion.

"Every day we get better,'' Hardy said last Sunday, after making some jokes with us about his "Greg Tardiness.'' "Then we work on the next game. It sounds simple, it sounds redundant, it sounds like I'm joking, but it's really not. It's a process. ... (Today against his former Panthers team is) just a nameless, faceless, opponent."

Get the scoop directly from Hardy and Dez and others from our 1-on-1 visits here.


2: Number of times "Romo" has knocked off undefeated teams of 9-0 or greater -- According to Elias Sports Bureau, Romo is the only quarterback in NFL history to pull off such a feat. Of course, just as Romo shouldn't be credited entirely with the failures of the team since 2006, so too should he not get all the credit for its successes. Against the '06 Colts (9-0) and the '09 Saints (13-0), there were two very important ingredients to the wins: commitment to the run and takeaways. Against Indianapolis and New Orleans, Dallas averaged 3.7 and 3.9 yards per carry respectively along with 31 and 32 carries by running backs. The Cowboys also managed four and three turnovers against potent offenses that would win the Super Bowl that year. Getting 3.7 yards per carry against the Panthers seems easier than for the defense with the fewest takeaways in the NFL to get at least three against a Carolina offense that hasn't had three giveaways since a 29-26 overtime win against Indianpolis on Nov. 2.



1: Cam Newton's jersey number -- The fifth-year pro is playing MVP-caliber ball in 2015. Through 10 games, he already has the third-most touchdowns in a season with 20. And that's against nine interceptions. His 90.1 passer rating is the best of his career so far. Newton has grown up from being a scrambler to a surgeon, though he can still make plays with is feet. His six rushing touchdowns are tied for the third-most in the league, and his 4.4 yards per carry insures that he will get good yardage if defenses are blanketing his receivers. If Dallas can force Newton into two or more interceptions, they have a chance. The Panthers are 4-11 when Newton throws two-plus picks since 2011.

Cam will wear the No. 1. ... and Carolina's Color Rush uniform. Dallas will be clad in the white-on-white Color Rush unis ... and will hope to be the No. 1 and only team to beat the Panthers.

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