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Week 1 Game Recap: Dallas Cowboys 8, Carolina Panthers 16

What you need to know

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys struggled mightily on offense in their 2018 season debut against Carolina. For much of the game, the rushing attack and Ezekiel Elliott struggled to generate any significant holes or gains. On the flip side, the passing game was by far Dallas’ weakest unit. The play-calling was conservative, the wide receivers struggled to separate outside of Cole Beasley, and the tight end presence was minimal. In their first eight drives of the game Dallas had six punts, a missed field goal, and the one drive ended by the first half.

Carolina Panthers

If this game is any indication, Cam Newton will take a lot of hits this season as the offensive line continues to unravel. Newton was often inaccurate due to the pressure, though he looked fantastic as a runner and gashed Dallas multiple times. The beneficiary of this offensive line problem appears to be Christian McCaffrey. The second-year back was the recipient of several dump-off passes and looked explosive and quick on every touch. A red zone fumble was the only blemish on his report card. The passing game lost Greg Olsen to a foot injury, forcing Newton to rely on McCaffrey and Devin Funchess, who suffered due to a lack of accuracy from his quarterback. The rest of the passing attack was toothless and the receivers struggled to gain separation. Right tackle Daryl Williams' new injury could spell disaster for this unit.

Dallas Cowboys

QB Dak Prescott, 64 offensive snaps, Pass: 19 - 29 - 170 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 5 - 19 - 0
Prescott got off to a sluggish start to the season against Carolina. Independent of Prescott being largely inaccurate on any throws but outlet targets near the line of scrimmage, the perimeter wide receivers offers Prescott little in terms of separation and winning one-on-one matchups to clarify Prescott’s throwing windows. Held scoreless until the fourth quarter, Prescott had a myriad of passing errors from overthrowing Allen Hurns on a deep route to Rod Smith when setting up a screen, which was well blocked, to underthrowing Blake Jarwin down the field on third down. While Dallas was within reach entire the game, the margin could have easily been in blowout zone. There was finally some momentum and rhythm to Dallas’ offense when they shifted to no-huddle in the fourth quarter. Prescott’s best moments came on a comeback route to Deonte Thompson and a red zone scramble for a critical third down conversion on their lone scoring drive of the game. On their last gasp effort, Prescott threw behind a wide open Michael Gallup on a crossing route and the offensive line struggled to protect Prescott.

RB Ezekiel Elliott, 59 offensive snaps, Rush: 15 - 69 - 1, Rec: 3 - 17 - 0 (4 targets)
It was a tale of two halves for Ezekiel Elliott against Carolina. Elliott saw few running lanes early in the game, consistently been held to minimal gains with an occasional yard or two created after contact. Elliott salvaged a decent performance with a series of successful runs on Dallas’ only scoring drive with two power runs of more than 10 yards into the red zone and scoring a touchdown on an option look with Dak Prescott. In general, Elliott looked lethargic from his typical power running self and benefitted primarily from good blocking on his most notable runs. In the passing game, Dak Prescott was inaccurate on a target to Elliott in the flat and Elliott did not beat a defender in a one-on-one open field situation on another occasion.

RB Rod Smith, 4 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 5 - 0 (1 targets)
Smith saw minimal playing time as Ezekiel Elliott dominated the snaps against Carolina. Smith saw time in the late first quarter only because Elliott needed a rest. Smith did post a solid gain by dragging a defender for additional yardage. Smith’s best opportunity in the passing game came on a well-blocked screen play, only to be overthrown by Dak Prescott.

WR Cole Beasley, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 73 - 0 (8 targets)
Beasley was arguably the lone strong performer among Dallas’ skill position players against Carolina. Beasley separated well from defenders within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and benefitted from some of Dak Prescott’s few accuracy deliveries in the game. While not a fast receiver, Beasley has quality short area quickness, especially with option routes from the slot. Beasley also added a contested slant reception this week in addition to his wide open looks.

WR Michael Gallup, 29 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (1 targets)
The second-round rookie receiver saw his regular season debut against the Panthers, but had minimal impact as Dallas’ passing game struggled to find any consistency. Gallup was gobbled up on deep routes by coverage, but did see some success as he came wide open on a crossing route, only to be thrown behind by Dak Prescott. Gallup made a quality low catch on a slant route and drew a defensive illegal contact penalty beyond the box score.

WR Allen Hurns, 38 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 20 - 0 (3 targets)
Hurns had the second-most snaps of Dallas wide receivers, but had only a single notable play against Carolina. Hurns showed quality ball skills high-pointing a pass over the middle in the third quarter. Hurns’ other opportunity of note came on a deep out route, only to be overthrown by Dak Prescott on the play. With the entire Dallas receiver group struggling outside of Cole Beasley in the slot, Hurns can emerge as a central figure for Dallas with better quarterback play.

TE Geoff Swaim, 58 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 18 - 0 (4 targets)
Swaim had a dominant snap count against the Panthers in Week 1. Swaim was the primary run-blocker of Dallas’ tight ends and added three catches. The most encouraging sign was Swaim being featured on a tight end screen, which was well blocked and Swaim showed some burst for more than 10 yards. Without prominent red zone wide receivers on the roster, Swaim is poised to have a role near the end zone in future weeks with more productive offensive showings.

Carolina Panthers

QB Cam Newton, 67 offensive snaps, Pass: 17 - 26 - 161 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 13 - 58 - 1
Cam Newton produced a solid, if unspectacular, effort against the Cowboys, as he found himself under duress constantly. The Panthers' offensive line was already a question mark entering the game, the return of Daryl Williams notwithstanding, but Williams didn't even finish the game and more shuffling ensued. Newton offset the pass rush early on with some quarterback runs on keepers and veer plays. Dallas defenders continued to play the inside handoff to the back, so Newton gashed them for their ill-discipline. Newton piled up the rushing yards early and got into a nice rhythm. It was in the passing game that the problems occurred, with receivers struggling to get open and Newton having to get rid of the ball in awkward situations. A clean pocket was a luxury, though even when afforded time Newton failed to connect with his receivers, throwing too high. Newton cashed in on a red zone opportunity with a rushing touchdown - again the Cowboys failed to stay with their assignments. The passing game started to build momentum, albeit on a small scale, in the second half, as Newton found Devin Funchess on some laser passes.

RB Christian McCaffrey, 57 offensive snaps, Rush: 10 - 50 - 0, Rec: 6 - 45 - 0 (9 targets)
The Norv Turner era began in Carolina with the grand unveiling of the Christian McCaffrey Show on offense. Offensive line inconsistently held back the passing attack, but this forced quicker releases and allowed McCaffrey to thrive on underneath routes. The Dallas defenders couldn't deal with him in space, with the quick-twitch back winning time and again. As a runner, McCaffrey's day started off in a rough way as he had a red zone fumble. The defender who knocked it out made a terrific play to weave through the blocks, but McCaffrey failed to secure the ball with two hands. McCaffrey showed burst and power on a 13-yard inside handoff later, lowering his shoulder into contact and dragging a tackler or two. Cam Newton was inaccurate on some simple passes to McCaffrey in the flat, or the second-year back could have had an even more productive game. McCaffrey proved a thorn in the side of the Cowboys and acted as the engine of the offense.

RB C.J. Anderson, 12 offensive snaps, Rush: 7 - 35 - 0
C.J. Anderson played second fiddle to Christian McCaffrey throughout, but gave the coaching staff plenty to ponder. The fleet of foot Anderson showed terrific patience, vision and burst to pick up small chunks of yardage that helped to wear the Cowboys down. Anderson spotted cutbacks and lapses by Dallas quickly and exploited them. His best carry was a beautiful red zone run; bending it left initially, Anderson spotted a crease between center and right guard, sidestepping into and then through the gap, weaving his way past would-be tacklers and unfortunately getting tackled at the one-yard line.

RB Alex Armah, 20 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 1 - 1
Alex Armah's only touch of the game was a one-yard touchdown as he piled over to finish a drive that proved decisive on the scoreboard.

WR Jarius Wright, 31 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 23 - 0 (5 targets)
Offseason acquisition Jarius Wright was solid in all aspects of the game as the Carolina offense struggled to protect Cam Newton, leading to a downstream negative effect on the receivers. Wright made his mark in the short passing game, with a beautiful adjustment on a low pass from his quarterback, rolling sideways as he hauled it in. Wright bamboozled defenders and broke a couple of tackles on a bubble screen, fumbled the ball after biting off more than he could chew, and subsequently recovering his lost fumble.

WR Devin Funchess, 57 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 41 - 0 (5 targets)
Devin Funchess played like the Panthers' ‘number one' receiver in the season opener, overcoming what was a forgettable performance from the passing game. Funchess had to bide his time initially. Cam Newton was under near-constant pressure on his dropbacks, exacerbating the usually erratic Newton's accuracy issues. Two early targets - one a deep pass, the other a corner route - were too high for Funchess. It wasn't long before Funchess made another grab for a chunk play, but it was called back by an offensive holding penalty. Funchess came to life in the second half despite some less-than-ideal Newton passes, the ball often arriving off target. Nevertheless, Funchess made the most of the opportunities and kickstarted the passing game with some tremendous catches in heavy traffic.

WR Torrey Smith, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 15 - 0 (2 targets)
The wide receivers struggled to get separation against a stubborn and disciplined coverage unit of the Cowboys, with Torrey Smith perhaps the most affected - and least targeted - of the bunch. Smith showed good quickness off the snap to get inside leverage on the cornerback and catch a slant pass from Cam Newton, but otherwise was a non-factor.

WR D.J. Moore, 17 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0
D.J. Moore had an inauspicious debut against the Cowboys as the Panthers failed to muster a consistent passing attack. Moore had only one reception - a flair pass into the left flat that was instantly snuffed out - and featured primarily as ëwindow dressing' pre-snap, motioning and acting as a satellite player in the backfield. Notably, he was often the lone receiver on the field in red zone opportunities.

TE Ian Thomas, 37 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 4 - 0 (2 targets)
Rookie Ian Thomas stepped into the breach and assumed a larger role - at least in terms of snap count - after Greg Olsen was forced to leave the game due to injury. Thomas had a nice catch and run in the red zone on a well-placed Cam Newton pass on a bootleg, but his only other involvement in the passing game came on a tight end screen which was unceremoniously blown up by the Dallas pursuit.

TE Greg Olsen, 16 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 33 - 0 (2 targets)
Greg Olsen lasted only a little over a quarter against the Cowboys. On a straightforward seam route, Olsen's foot was stood on by the defender in coverage. Olsen finished the play and ended up making a 19-yard reception after a slip from a defender but did not return to the game. He was spotted wearing a walking boot on the sideline. Olsen had been looking comfortable prior to the injury, reeling in a nice 14-yard catch on an intermediate dig route.