Looks Can Be Deceiving

IRVING, Tex. - At first glance, the Dallas Cowboys should get their first home victory and improve to 2-1 on the young season with a victory Monday night over the Carolina Panthers … almost without breaking a sweat, right?

Listen to the national media wonks and the impression is that the Panthers have an over-the-hill quarterback in Jake Delhomme who should be put out to pasture, no receivers other than Steve Smith and no chance of doing much at all this season.

Ask Dallas safety Pat Watkins, however, and the picture painted of the Panthers is entirely different, especially in the case of Delhomme, who has completed 32-of-58 passes (55.2 percent) for 381 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions in his team's first two games.

"He looks pretty good," Watkins said Wednesday. "He's been going through his ups and downs, but we know he's a pretty good quarterback and he can get hot at any time in the season. We have to try not to buy into what he did and just know what we have to do against him.

"He's going to have to prove it, but we know this is a league where people go through hot and cold spells, so it's very possible for him to come out and have a good game. We know that, and we're not going to take it lightly."

The bread and butter of the Panthers' offense is the running game, featuring the two-headed monster of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The tandem has combined for a fairly pedestrian 108 combined rushing yards per game through the first two weeks, but those numbers are skewed by the fact that the Panthers have fallen behind in each game and have had to take to the air to catch up. Watkins said the duo is potent and dangerous.

"They have two really great running backs, so that's the first thing you want to do: (stop the run and) put the ball in Delhomme's hands and make him win the game," Watkins said. "They're not as big as (New York Giants running back Brandon) Jacobs, but they're a lot quicker, a lot faster, they move side to side pretty well, and they can switch them up, so we've still got a lot on our hands.

"(Stewart) is solid, and he really runs downhill. DeAngelo is a slasher, and he has the ability to break first tackles, so we have to try to get population to the ball, get as many people to him as possible. This is the NFL, so the majority of the backs you meet are going to have pretty good top-end speed. We're going to see great backs throughout the season, and this week, we see two of them."

The Cowboys' defensive gameplan should be similar to that employed against the Giants, when Dallas loaded up to stop the run and dared quarterback Eli Manning to beat them — which he did. But while the Panthers don't have a tandem of receivers as talented as New York's Mario Manningham and Steve Smith, each of whom caught 10 passes for more than 100 yards against the Cowboys, they do have one of the league's elite pass catchers in Steve Smith. His 11 receptions thus far are just three more than Mushin Muhammad's eight, but his 152 receiving yards dwarf Muhammad's 88 for the team lead.

"We try not to make an issue out of it, but of course, everybody knows Steve Smith," Watkins said. "He's a really great receiver, and we'll try to do our best to hold him to the minimum completions possible. I'm pretty sure the coaches are putting some things in the game plan right now for him, because he can be just as dominant as the running game."

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