Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers: Preview and Prediction

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 20, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 14: Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys warms up before the start of the Cowboys game against the Baltimore Ravens at theat M&T Bank Stadium on October 14, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers might only be 1-4 this year, but the Dallas Cowboys haven't won in nearly a month and Carolina could be primed for a big home performance coming out of its bye week. Nothing's easy in this league.

Here's my final look at what the Cowboys should be thinking headed into Sunday's matchup, along with a prediction.

 

What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition

Even without DeMarco Murray, the key will be establishing balance on offense and running hard at Carolina's weak interior. 

 

What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition

The Cowboys can't let Cam Newton or Steve Smith beat them on big plays. 

 

How Dallas can lose

By making the same mistakes that have cost them all season long.

 

Five most important non-quarterbacks: Nate Livings, Phil Costa, Felix Jones, Brandon Carr, Miles Austin

Livings and Costa will have to keep the ball rolling after a great run-blocking effort in Week 6. They'll lead the way for Jones, who is slated to start for the injured DeMarco Murray. Those three will be relied upon to take the pressure off of Tony Romo, as will Austin, who will have to step up if Dez Bryant can't play.

 

Injury analysis, Cowboys edition

Out: Matt Johnson (hamstring), Sean Lissemore (ankle), DeMarco Murray (foot)

Questionable: Dez Bryant (groin), Ryan Cook (hamstring), Chris Jones (left knee), Anthony Spencer (shoulder)

Probable: Morris Claiborne (knee), Phil Costa (knee), Brian Moorman (right groin)

Not having Murray hurts a fair bit, but Jones looked good last week. The real killer would be Bryant, who has struggled with focus lately but also has 21 catches, 200 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games. The return of Spencer would give the pass rush a nice boost, though.

 

Injury analysis, Panthers edition

Out: Chris Gamble (shoulder)

Doubtful: Jon Beason (knee)

Probable: Antwan Applewhite (knee), C Geoff Hangartner (knee), S Colin Jones (shoulder)

Losing Beason hurts Carolina's front seven, with rookie Luke Kuechly forced to move inside. Not having Gamble is obviously not ideal, but Captain Munnerlyn will likely be assigned to Austin, so if Bryant can't go, rookie Josh Norman would have a much easier time against Kevin Ogletree.

 

B/R NFC East Blog prediction

Even with Murray and Bryant hurt, Dallas has a definitive edge here. And keep in mind that the Cowboys played very well in Baltimore before letting that one slip away. Carolina's defense is much worse and might not be able to force the Cowboys into making their typical mistakes. Dallas will follow the blueprint created by the Giants in Week 3 and come through with the victory.

Cowboys 23, Panthers 14