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NFL Preview - Carolina (0-2) at Dallas (1-1)



By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - A couple of quarterbacks seeking redemption will be in the spotlight at Cowboys Stadium on Monday night, when Dallas and Tony Romo play host to Jake Delhomme's Carolina Panthers to put an exclamation point on the Week 3 schedule.

Romo is coming off one of the weakest outings of his three-plus years as the Cowboys' starter, completing just 13-of-29 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions thrown in Dallas' 33-31 loss to the New York Giants last Sunday night. The outing helped ruin the first meaningful game in the history of the Cowboys new $1.1 billion home facility, and took away the steam of Dallas' season-opening victory over the Buccaneers (34-21).

Delhomme knows a lot about ruining home openers, as the veteran is only two weeks removed from a meltdown of epic proportions against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The three-time playoff quarterback completed just 7-of-17 passes for 73 yards with five turnovers (four interceptions, one fumble) and three sacks absorbed in less than three quarters of action in what would become a 38-10 loss for the reigning NFC South champions.

Delhomme bounced back a bit last week when Carolina traveled to Atlanta, but the result on the scoreboard did not offer a renaissance for the gritty Cajun.

The Panthers were 28-20 losers at the Georgia Dome, overshadowing an acceptable 25-of-41, 308-yard, one-interception performance for Delhomme.

Both Dallas and Carolina enter Week 3 trying not to get swarmed under in very good divisions.

The Cowboys cannot afford to be 1-2 prior to a road swing that will take them away from Big D for just under a month following the contest against the Panthers. Dallas will travel to Denver (10/4) and Kansas City (10/11) prior to a Week 6 bye.

The Panthers, already behind the Falcons and Saints in the NFC South, are in danger of dropping to 0-3 one season after finishing 12-4 and, as mentioned, winning the division.

Carolina last started a season 0-3 way back in 1998, when they opened the year with seven straight losses en route to a dismal 4-12 finish.

SERIES HISTORY

Dallas leads the all-time regular season series with Carolina, 7-1, winning seven straight since the Panthers notched their only such win against the Cowboys at Texas Stadium in 1997. Dallas was a 20-13 road winner at Bank of America Stadium in the last such meeting, during the 2007 season. Carolina is 0-3 in Dallas since the '97 triumph.

In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met twice in the postseason, with the Panthers winning both. Carolina was a 26-17 home victor in a 1997 NFC Divisional Playoff, and took a 29-10 decision in a 2003 NFC First-Round Playoff.

Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips is 2-0 in his career against the Panthers, including a win for his Buffalo Bills team in 1998. The Panthers' John Fox is 2-4 in his career against Dallas, and is 0-1 against Phillips as a head coach.

WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL

Though it came in a losing effort, Delhomme's (381 passing yards, 1 TD, 5 INT) performance against the Falcons had to be heartening to both Fox and the Panthers' worried supporters. Top targets for the quarterback on his 300-yard passing day were Steve Smith (11 receptions), who had eight catches for 131 yards in the loss, and fellow mainstay Muhsin Muhammad (8 receptions), who hauled in four balls for 47 yards in the loss. Tight end Dante Rosario (3 receptions, 1 TD) caught Delhomme's first touchdown pass of the year in the contest. The team's running game, which remains its favored mode of travel, was also a credit to the cause. DeAngelo Williams (116 rushing yards, 2 TD, 7 receptions) finished with 111 yards of offense (79 rushing, 32 receiving) on 19 touches (16 rushing, 3 receiving), while Jonathan Stewart (100 rushing yards, 5 receptions) put some distance between himself and past injury problems with nine totes for 65 yards. On the negative side, Williams lost a fumble in the defeat, and the offensive line allowed its sixth sack of the year.

As much as the focus on the Cowboys has been related to the struggles of Romo, there is no underestimating the weakness of a defense that is giving up 27 points and just under 440 yards per game. The team has been particularly awful against the pass, not notching a sack or an interception to this point, and the absence from the stat book of Pro Bowl pass rusher DeMarcus Ware (10 tackles), who had 20 sacks last season, has been most conspicuous. On the back end, Phillips is waiting for a veteran secondary featuring cornerback Terence Newman (14 tackles) and safeties Ken Hamlin (15 tackles) and Gerald Sensabaugh (14 tackles) to make a noticeable impact. Neither has Dallas been terrific against the run, having surrendered 271 ground yards through the first two games. The three-man line of Jay Ratliff (5 tackles) in the middle and Igor Olshansky (2 tackles) and Marcus Spears (2 tackles) on the ends needs to make an impact and keep the pressure off of inside linebackers Bradie James (13 tackles) and Keith Brooking (12 tackles).

WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL

Romo's below-average play was the bad news coming out of last week's Giants loss, and the quadriceps injury to running back Marion Barber (203 rushing yards, 2 TD) was the worse news. Barber pulled up lame on a long fourth- quarter run that followed a strong rushing performance, and though the Cowboys haven't completely ruled him out for Monday, his presence seems like a long shot at the moment. With Barber out, Felix Jones (118 rushing yards, 1 TD) and Tashard Choice (18 rushing yards, 3 receptions) would have to carry the rushing load for the team. But the bigger story will be Romo's (480 passing yards, 4 TD, 3 INT) attempt to rebound, and to regain the form that saw him put up a career-high passing total at the Buccaneers in Week 1. Romo's favorite target remains tight end Jason Witten (10 receptions, 1 TD), who caught a team-high five balls for 33 yards and a touchdown against the G-Men, and the quarterback needs to continue developing chemistry with the likes of Roy Williams (4 receptions, 1 TD) and Patrick Crayton (5 receptions, 1 TD), who were limited to one catch each against the Giants. The Dallas o-line has allowed just one sack through two weeks, but has been particularly subject to untimely penalties.

The inability of the Panthers defense to generate a sack in last week's loss at Atlanta has caused renewed criticism of $17 million pass rusher Julius Peppers (7 tackles, 1 sack) in Carolina. Peppers did have one of the team's two sacks in the opening week blowout at the hands of the Eagles, but will need to get in Romo's face on Monday in order to regain his standing around the league and in his own city. Peppers' presence will be all the more important because of injury problems in the secondary. Starting strong safety Chris Harris is unlikely to play on Monday due to a lingering knee problem, a situation which will also put additional pressure on cornerbacks Richard Marshall (6 tackles, 1 INT) and Chris Gamble (8 tackles). Marshall notched the secondary's first pick of the year off of Matt Ryan last week. The Panthers have largely struggled against the run through two weeks, allowing 336 ground yards in two games. Linebackers Jon Beason (10 tackles, 1 INT) and Thomas Davis (28 tackles) will have primary responsibility in reversing that trend on Monday night, and the team could also use better play from interior d-lineman Damione Lewis (4 tackles).

FANTASY FOCUS

Fantasy owners are rightfully wary of using Delhomme due to his recent, well- publicized meltdowns, but he is well worth considering against a Cowboys team that has yet to cause a single turnover and is giving up 27 points per game. For the same reason, Smith and DeAngelo Williams are decent plays, as is kicker John Kasay.

On the Dallas side, Romo was not great last week but is still capable of putting up yards in bunches. Witten and Roy Williams should continue to get a bulk of the targets, and are must-starts. The injury to Barber makes both Felix Jones and Choice - both of whom could be in the neighborhood of 15+ touches, worthwhile options. Kicker Nick Folk is a good play, but the Dallas defense is not.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It is a testament to the Cowboys' offensive strength that they scored 31 points and nearly won a game - against a good team, too - in which they made so many offensive mistakes. This team will continue to score a lot of points, despite regular miscues, and the offense should always give Dallas a chance to win. The ability of the defense to evolve is a different matter altogether, and the Cowboys look like a team that is going to have trouble stopping opponents for much of the year. In that regard, it is handy that Delhomme has shown a tendency to stop his own offense, and it will be his one major mistake or two that ultimately sinks the Panthers in the fourth quarter.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 35, Panthers 27

09/24 17:27:02 ET

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