The Monday night game against Carolina may not be billed as a must win for the Dallas Cowboys but it is about as close to a must win as you can get this early in the season. After going toe to toe with the New York Giants it would seem that the Cowboys have at least proven that they can play with anyone. The problem is that the Cowboys are only 1-1 even if they have the talent to be a good team. The next three games are games that you would expect the Cowboys to win. They are not a good enough to lose games that they should win and expect to stay in the playoff hunt. Here is what I think they need to do to make sure they get things going in the right direction again.
1. Contain Steve Smith. Terence Newman has a pretty good history against Steve Smith so I won't be surprised if Newman shadows Smith all over the field tomorrow. The last thing the Cowboys need to see is Steve Smith running free in the secondary. That first two weeks make me very nervous about the defense's ability to stop any player, let alone Steve Smith.
2. Put Pressure on the Quarterback. Last week Eli Manning had all day to throw the ball. The pass rush has to improve or quarterbacks are going to light up the Cowboys all year long. I'm sure Wade Phillips is going to go for the jugular with his blitz packages this week. That is fine as long as they get to the quarterback. But if the pass rush gets nullified on a blitz then we might see the Panthers break off some big plays. The only way the defense is going to start forcing turnovers is if they force opposing quarterbacks to rush their decisions.
3. Limit Turnovers. Tony Romo has to play better and protect the ball and I believe he will. This is one of those games where the Cowboys have the superior talent so they need to play clean football to force the Panthers to beat them. I don't think the Panthers can beat the Cowboys without help from turnovers. The Cowboys lost a game they could have won last week in large part due to horrible turnovers. We don't need to see a repeat performance.
4. Run a Balanced Offense. It was great to see the running game dominate last week. But I am still waiting for the Cowboys to show that they can run a balanced attack to keep the defense guessing from play to play. Week 1 was all passing and week 2 was all running. I want to see a mixture of both. I understand that you have to take what the defense gives you but it doesn't have to be all or nothing.
5. Stop the Run. Last week was much better for the run defense. Carolina can really get rolling by running the ball so they need to continue to focus on containing the run. They don't have to shut down the Panther running game but they need to keep it under control.
There is no reason for me to believe that the Cowboys won't bounce back from last week's tough loss. Jake Delhomme is the type of quarterback this defense has been waiting for. They need to get the ball rolling on the turnover front and Delhomme gives them over in bunches. If they can't force a turnover this week then we can probably conclude that the defense has a major problem. I predict the pass rush to unleash the beast this week and the Cowboys to dominate. My prediction is a 31-13 victory for the Cowboys.