If the Dallas Cowboys are going to pull off a win on the road in Carolina, the offense must regain its Week 1 firepower. Here are three players who need to help make that happen.
RB Felix Jones
Jones will be the Cowboys' starting running back for the first time since the latter part of 2011, when DeMarco Murray was lost for the season due to injury. Despite the loss in Baltimore, Dallas showed just how in sync and deadly its offense can be with a running game, partially thanks to the efforts of No. 28.
Since losing his starting job to Murray last year, Jones has shown a significant amount of burst in his step that just wasn't there beforehand.
The former Arkansas Razorback had two straight games with over 100 yards last season against Tampa Bay and New York after Murray's injury. When he was called upon to step up after Murray's most recent flare up, Jones delivered 92 yards and a touchdown on the ground for his team.
"Felix Jones is one of the most conscientious, hardest workers that I’ve been around as a football player...You have to almost shoot him to get him off the practice field," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told KRLD-FM (via The Dallas Morning News).
Given his recent success on the field, it's hard to argue with the Cowboys owner about Jones. The Panthers defense is just 23rd in the league against the run. If Jones can get the running game going for Dallas, this offense has a great chance of putting up some big numbers on the scoreboard.
WR Dez Bryant
Bryant has come under a considerable amount of heat in Big D thanks to his recent string of big-time drops. That doesn't mean quarterback Tony Romo is going to stop throwing to him.
Which of these players does Dallas need most to beat the Panthers?
Despite the well-documented chemistry between Romo and Miles Austin, Bryant has actually been the more productive of the two receivers so far this season.
For whatever the reason, Romo has almost fallen into his old routine he did when Terrell Owens was wearing the star on his helmet. During those days, the quarterback had a tendency to clearly force throws to No. 81 instead of scanning all of his options.
To Romo's credit, he's much more of an experienced player since those days, but Bryant's 48 targets trump Austin's 33 and fellow wideout Kevin Ogletree's 29. Romo is looking to No. 88 far more than the other receivers, which means Bryant must cure this sudden case of the drops.
Dallas learned with Owens that the offense can't succeed with a No. 1 receiver who may or may not catch the ball in clutch situations. Bryant must regain the trust of his teammates and have a big impact on this game for Big D.
TE Jason Witten
An obvious name to put on this list is Romo, but in order for the captain to succeed, he needs his right-hand man. The first few games of this season where Witten was pulling a Bryant in the drops department, Dallas' offense was clearly missing a vital element.
The future Hall of Famer has had two straight solid weeks, with 19 receptions and 200 yards receiving combined against the Ravens and Bears. Those two defensive units are known for being historically stingy and yet Witten has thrived against both in back-to-back weeks.
When Romo and Witten are connecting and in rhythm, the Cowboys offense just seems to run smoother than it does when the two aren't clicking.
Completing short and middle-range passes to Witten helps moves the chains along and gives Romo confidence. It also opens up plays in the deep passing game, which Witten has been a part of in the past as well.
Witten needs to continue his recent production output and continue to be Romo's most reliable receiving source on the gridiron. If Witten is getting the ball early and often with Bryant and Jones doing their respective parts, a great deal of pressure comes off Romo's shoulders.
The defense has not been Dallas' big issue this season. If the team's offense can play like they did against the Giants in Week 1 or slightly better than they did in Baltimore, the Cowboys can get back to a .500 record.