Panthers vs Cowboys
The Panthers and Cowboys enter their matchup a combined 5-1, but they have won through very different means.
The Panthers currently have the number one ranked defense by Total Points Saved. This includes the top-ranked pass rush, sixth-ranked run defense, and sixth-ranked coverage unit. On the other sideline, the Cowboys have the league’s third-ranked offense in the Total Points Earned.
The Cowboys offense is led by Dak Prescott, who ranks third in Passing Points Earned and leads the league in Completion%. Even so, he has left some plays on the field when pushing the ball vertically. His On-Target% of only 44% on throws at least 15 yards down the field ranks 27th.
The Cowboys backfield duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard have each performed well this season, ranking 12th and ninth respectively in Rushing Points Earned. Pollard has been the more explosive back, averaging over two more yards per carry. One of the reasons behind Pollard’s success is that he is being hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on only 15% of his carries, compared to 46% for Elliott.
This phenomenon could be the result of many factors and is not directly attributable to each running back, but there is a pattern that is consistent regardless of where the run is designed to go. Pollard has been hit behind the line much less often than Elliott on outside runs (20% to 80%), off-tackle runs (21% to 38%), inside runs (0% to 33%), and runs against 7+ defender boxes (8% to 54%).
The Panthers rushing attack took a big hit with Christian McCaffrey’s hamstring injury. His replacement, rookie Chuba Hubbard, has had a poor showing through three weeks. Hubbard’s -6 Rushing Total Points on 19 carries ranks 188th out of the 189 players who have carried the ball this season.
Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold has benefited from the change of scenery this season, as he ranks 10th in Passing Points Earned. He has also improved on throws at 15 yards downfield, raising his On-Target% by around eight percentage points from last season to 62.5% this season.
As mentioned above, the Panthers’ defense has been the driving force behind their 3-0 start. They will be without standout rookie corner Jaycee Horn, who was allowing only 2 yards per target, had one interception, and dropped another.
They still will have Shaq Thompson, who has been stellar in coverage so far this season. He is allowing only 3.7 yards per target, a 45.5% Completion%, and has made a play on the ball on three of his 11 targets.
Up front, the Panthers are led by bookend pass rushers, Brian Burns and Haason Reddick. They both rank in the top 10 in Pressure%, both pressuring the quarterback on 16.2% of their pass rushes.