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Saturday, October 20, 2012
Cowboys could have edge in tight game

By Jason York / ESPN Stats & Information

The Dallas Cowboys have won eight straight regular-season games against the Carolina Panthers, and for the streak to reach nine the Cowboys should hope that it's a close game. Three of the Panthers’ four losses this season have been by eight points or less. Over the last two seasons, the Panthers are just 1-9 in games decided by a single possession, the worst mark in the NFL.

Here are four other statistical areas to watch Sunday:

* Panthers quarterback Cam Newton might be experiencing a sophomore slump in 2012. All four of Newton’s touchdown passes this season have come on passes completed outside of the end zone. Newton is 0-for-5 on throws into the end zone this season and is one of two quarterbacks in the league (the Titans’ Jake Locker is the other) without a completion on such throws. Wide receiver Steve Smith does not have a touchdown catch. It is the most games Smith has gone without a touchdown to start a season since 2009, when he did not have one in his first six games.

* The dual threat of Newton was evident in the Panthers’ Week 2 win against the Saints. The Panthers used a form of the option on 23 rushes for 145 yards against the Saints. In their four losses, the Panthers have used the option a combined 37 times. Carolina has averaged 5.4 yards per rush on such plays this season, compared to a 3.6 rate on non-option plays. The Cowboys have yet to face any option play this season. Most of the Panthers’ rushing success this season on option plays has come outside the tackles. The Panthers are averaging 8.3 yards on 24 rushing attempts outside the tackles on option plays this season. The Cowboys have allowed 3.0 yards per attempt (22 rushes, 66 yards) on such runs this season, which is fourth best in the NFL.

* Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is just 4-of-18 (22.2 percent) on throws more than 20 yards downfield this season and is just 2-of-10 when he targets Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Romo posted the third-highest completion percentage (53.2) on such throws since the start of the 2008 season. Romo might be able to improve upon his deep-passing numbers against the Panthers, who have allowed the league’s second-highest completion percentage (54.5) on throws more than 20 yards downfield this season.

* Romo has thrown an interception in six straight games, the second-longest streak of his career, and if he throws an interception in Week 7, it would be the seventh straight game with an interception dating back to last season. Where are Romo’s interceptions coming? This season it has been on shorter passes, as six of Romo’s nine interceptions have been on passes 14 or fewer yards downfield.