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Sunday, October 21, 2012
W2W4: Cowboys at Panthers

By Calvin Watkins

CHARLOTTE -- The Cowboys (2-3) look to snap their two-game losing streak Sunday at Carolina. The Panthers (1-4) have lost three straight.

We preview:

The series: The Cowboys lead the all-time series 8-3 and have won the last four games overall. Of the 11 games, eight have been decided by 10 points or less. Dallas has outscored Carolina, 194-143, including outrushing the Panthers 1,334 to 785. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has the single-game high in the series with 287 passing yards, set Oct. 11, 1998. The Cowboys won that game, 27-20.

The return of Anthony Spencer: The Cowboys outside linebacker missed the last two games with a strained pectoral muscle. The Cowboys have missed Spencer's run stopping and pass rush ability. He's tied for the team lead with nine quarterback pressures and he's tied for second with two tackles for loss. Spencer is needed to take some pressure off fellow outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Ware might have had his worst game of the season at Baltimore last week. He had one tackle, and for the first time this season, zero quarterback pressures.

Will Dez Bryant play?: The talented wideout who leads the team in catches (34) and yards (364) suffered a groin injury in practice this week. He's listed as questionable but the Cowboys need Bryant. He's the team leader in first downs with 18, five coming on third or fourth down, and has 200 receiving yards the last two weeks. If Bryant can't play, expect Kevin Ogletree to take over his spot.

Brandon Carr's rebound: Carr has struggled the last two weeks and it can be attributed to him changing his style of play. Carr likes to play press coverage, but the Cowboys have changed their scheme in the secondary, asking him to play off wide receivers. Carr isn't fast enough to make up the distance when he gives a receiver space and that's why he likes to jam receivers. Bryant has credited Carr with his improvement against press coverage during practices at Valley Ranch.

Run game surges: The Cowboys running game returned last week. As a team, the Cowboys rushed for 227 yards, the most ever against a Baltimore Ravens defense. But the Ravens were near the bottom of the league against the run. This week it's Carolina, ranked 23rd against the run, allowing 127.4 yards per game. The Cowboys won't have running back DeMarco Murray (sprained foot) and will insert Felix Jones into the starting lineup. Jones started in Week 3 against Tampa Bay, but he was in the backfield with Murray. Jones only got one carry for one yard that day. Last week against the Ravens, Jones rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown.

Stopping Cam Newton: The Cowboys will take on a college-style offense must stop Newton, who runs out of the shotgun and uses the zone read made famous by several major college programs. The Cowboys might put a spy on Newton, inside linebacker Bruce Carter is a likely candidate, but Newton likes to throw out of the shotgun as well. Newton is a big man, 6-5, 245 pounds, so he's going to be hard to bring down if he gets into the open field.

Turnovers or takeovers: The Cowboys have just one interception (Sean Lee) and are minus-8 in turnover ratio. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is no longer saying his team needs turnovers, instead he told reporters this week the Cowboys need takeovers. Carolina has turned the ball over 11 times this season.