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Panthers Look to Set Tone Against Cowboys

Sharon Thorsland
September 06, 2018 - 4:47 pm

It's been five years since the Panthers got to open the regular season at home. They'll kick off the 2018 campaign in grand fashion, welcoming the Dallas Cowboys to Bank of America stadium for a nationally televised showdown on Sunday at 4:25. The Cowboys limped to a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs last season, thanks in part to a six-game Ezekiel Elliott suspension. But “Zeke” is back, the defense has been retooled, and optimism abounds once again in Texas.

The Cowboys are missing two of their longtime weapons – Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten retired and is now on Monday Night Football, and they sent their number one receiver packing - Pro Bowler Dez Bryant was released in the offseason and is still job shopping. But that's okay because the Cowboys want to run the ball first – they finished second in the NFL last season averaging over 136 yards per game. And they've got one of the best backs in the league in Elliott. The third year running back led the league in rushing as a rookie, and piled up 983 yards in 10 games last season. “Zeke's an elite running back,” said linebacker Luke Kuechly. “He's big, he's strong, he's powerful – he'll run through you.”

Elliott teams with third-year quarterback Dak Prescott to form one of the most dangerous combos in the league. Prescott threw for over 3300 yards and 22 touchdowns last season and also ran for six more scores. And even though his top targets might be gone, the cupboard is not bare. Veterans Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley combined for 89 catches last season, and the Cowboys added former Jaguar Allen Robinson in free agency and drafted 6'1 Michael Gallup. They also traded for former Rams receiver Tavon Austin, and plan to use the speedster as a running back as well.

The Cowboys finished last season ranked 8th in the league in total defense and rushing defense, and 11th in passing defense. The front line features star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. “Tank” had a coming out party last season, making his first Pro Bowl after racking up 14 and ½ sacks, that was tied for 2nd in the NFL. The Cowboys boast one of the best linebackers in the league in Sean Lee, and have a young but talented secondary that allowed just 216 passing yards per game last season. “The whole defense is fast, they're physical, said Panther receiver Devin Funchess. "They just come to play, and we've got to go in there and punch them in the mouth.” 

This game should be a great test for the Panthers. Funchess and company will give us our first real look at the new Norv Turner offense against a solid Cowboys defense. And the Panther defense will look to contain Elliott and extend its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher for 20 straight games. “We got to set the tone, you know,” said Panther defensive end Wes Horton. “It's a huge one, coming out with a team like the Dallas Cowboys, you know, America's team. I'd say it's a statement game for sure.”

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