It’ll be a quick turnaround for the Cam Newton and the Panthers as they head into a Thanksgiving Day matchup versus the Dallas Cowboys.
Carolina is fresh off of their truly dominant performance against Washington and has now built a head of steam as they head towards the final stretch of games sitting nicely atop the NFC, still unbeaten at 10-0.
The defense has been the catalyst for many of the first ten games for Carolina but it appears the offense is ready to match the impressive defensive play as Newton and his group looks to be building a head of steam and is firing on all cylinders.
The Cowboys have had quite an interesting year. After starting the season with two straight wins, they proceeded to drop seven straight in the absence of Tony Romo. But with his return last week came a resurgent team that is still alive in their own division at 3-7 and could be a threat to knock off Carolina.
In this Thanksgiving matchup with more than just on-field performance to look at, here’s what to watch for.
“One Game at a Time”
The seven game skid that the Cowboys endured can essentially be chalked up to one thing: the absence of Romo. And with that looking ever more apparent after last week’s victory in his return, this Dallas team will be riding high with confidence and hungry to take the open NFC East.
It’s even given observers more confidence in the Cowboys as they opened up as favorites over the undefeated Panthers; something that many on the Carolina team weren’t too happy about.
The Panthers have since become the favorites but there are still plenty who think this will be their toughest remaining challenges and they’ll need to keep themselves in check and keep on keeping on.
There have been many times throughout this season where Carolina hasn’t been given its due respect and it seems to be a driving force for this team. The coaching staff and locker room have done an excellent job at keeping level headed and truly focusing on the common adage; “one game at a time.” This contest will be no different and under the primetime lights, their attitude and composure will be as essential as ever before.
Facing Greg Hardy
This is arguably the biggest storyline of this game as Greg Hardy will face off against his former team for the first time.
Hardy’s horrendous off the field acts and continued questionable behavior have gotten him into the limelight all season long. This game was clearly one to point to and Hardy has already made his feelings towards the Panthers organization clear when he called them a “nameless, faceless team” who he wants to show made a mistake by letting him go.
Setting aside his character, he is an extremely talented football player capable of disrupting Newton and the offense and that is one of the biggest battles that Carolina will need to control. Left tackle Michael Oher has been a relatively pleasant surprise for the team this year and will need to be on the top of his game in this one and not allow Hardy to consistently get pressure on Newton’s blindside.
Carolina’s offense will need to account for Hardy throughout this contest and keeping him in check will be one of the biggest things to watch as Carolina attempts to extend its hot streak on offense.
Consistency is KEY
Through much of the early part of the season, Newton and the offense did well at times and rather poor at others and were overall a consistently average performing bunch. But in their last three matchups the unit has stepped up its game has the looks of a legitimate, high scoring offensive juggernaut.
Over the last three games the offense is averaging 130-yards per game on the ground and Newton has experienced incredible success averaging 253-passing yards per game and a 63% completion percentage to go with nine touchdowns versus just one pick over that same three game stretch.
Jonathan Stewart has been tremendous all season providing a consistent ground attack but the real improvement has been with Newton’s receivers like Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. who have stepped up and are now looking like legitimate threats through the air.
With momentum and chemistry clearly building, the Panthers will need to continue to show that they can maintain this success and keep it rolling.