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The main story for the Carolina Panthers is injury-related, with RB Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) and rookie CB Jaycee Horn (foot) both out on Sunday, so it will be up to rejuvenated quarterback Sam Darnold to continue reinventing himself away from the NY spotlight as he and HC Matt Rhule take their 3-0 show west to California.
After their decisive Week 3 win over the confused Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys look like the best squad in the NFC East (for now), mostly thanks to their healthy quarterback Dak Prescott and revitalized running back Ezekiel Elliott leading a team whose defense under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn seems well-equipped to take on almost anything.
These two NFC rivals have met each other 14 previous times (including 2 postseason games), with the Dallas Cowboys winning 9 of those games and the Carolina Panthers winning 5 of the games.
Two huge injury-related losses for the Carolina Panthers with dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey pulling up lame with a non-contact hamstring strain in Week 3 plus an injured foot to rookie starting cornerback Jaycee Horn will challenge this ever-evolving Panthers’ offense.
Quarterback Sam Darnold is in the midst of a personal revolution after having his NFL confidence torn to shreds in New York with the Jets, now with his Carolina head coach taking over the burden of leadership as the former USC superstar simply shows up on the field and plays.
It’s worked out so far, with no losses in 2021 as yet, while Darnold completes over 68 percent of his passes (compared with last season’s 59.6), and now Sam’s offense is down McCaffrey, so backups like running backs Chuba Hubbard and Royce Freeman (below) must step up.
This was apparently Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ plan all along – to follow the Cleveland Browns’ recipe of using dual running backs instead of one so both are fresh in the fourth quarter, something that’s working to near perfection with Zeke Elliot and Tony Pollard.
In the past, Elliott typically got the most carries for Dallas, the dual-threat playmaker scary from out of the backfield and in the flat, so far this year with 51 total touches for 252 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns, a production that comes from being better-rested thanks to sharing his rushing duties nowadays.
Zeke’s partner is running back Tony Pollard, now in his third NFL season (all with Dallas), the young back so far with 27 carries in 2021 (Zeke’s had 17) for 183 yards and a touchdown all while giving his ‘aging’ 26-year-old counterpart a few seconds now and then to rest.
Without an injured Christian McCaffrey on the field, the Panthers must scramble to fill his huge shoes, so that duty goes to backup running backs Chuba Hubbard and Royce Freeman as well as whichever receiver best lines up in the slot.
Hubbard is an NFL rookie who played college ball at Oklahoma State where he was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, and now as a pro, he has 19 carries for 62 yards plus 5 catches for 31 yards for Carolina with no end-zone visits so far.
Also needing to pitch in is Royce Freeman, a back that Carolina picked up off waivers in early September, a fourth-year player who started his career in Denver where he played in all but two games and scored 8 times.
The Cowboys got lucky in the draft this offseason when they selected Micah Parsons in the first round (12th overall), the 6’ 3 1/8” 246 pound Penn State linebacker who is already making quite a name for himself in the NFL.
All eyes are on him in 2021, expectations high and so far met by this young playmaker, with 1.5 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, 2 passes defended and 13 total tackles already, his closing speed causing fans and opposing offenses to shake their heads.
Parsons is all part of the upgraded defense made possible in part by the leadership of new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the former Atlanta Falcons head coach and Super Bowl Champion who was brought in by Cowboys owner Jones to improve their shaky D.
|Panthers vs Cowboys Information
|Carolina Panthers vs Dallas Cowboys
|AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
|Sunday, October 3, 2021; 1:00 PM ET
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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