CAR-DAL grades: Panthers' defense dominant versus Romo, Cowboys
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Panthers’ 33-14 win over the Cowboys.
–Luke Kuechly (+5.4 game grade, +32.2 for the season) is playing a different game than all the other linebackers in the NFL. His interceptions on back-to-back plays at the end of the first half were master classes in coverage. The first interception was probably the best play I’ve seen from a linebacker all season. Kuechly was playing the middle linebacker position dropping deep in the Panthers’ Tampa-2 coverage on the play. The Cowboys were running the deep dig underneath a post route, and usually you’ll see the linebacker continue on the post route in the middle of the field since it’s occupying his area. But on this play Kuechly broke on the deep in-route without ever looking back at Tony Romo and made the pick-six. Truly a joy to watch.
–This Panthers secondary is starting to develop into one of the league’s best. Not many could have predicted that before the season. Josh Norman (+2.0) gave up 16 yards on 2-of-6 targets and is truly as good as it gets in the NFL right now. The safeties, though, have been the real surprise. Kurt Coleman (+3.1) has been a revelation this year and added a pick-six in this game, and Roman Harper (+1.5) has been far from the liability he has been in previous years.
–Another game, another positive grade for Cam Newton (+0.4). He may not be single-handedly winning the Panthers games, but his value has come in his consistency. Newton made some big throws early in the game, highlighted by some ridiculous ball placement on a seam route to Greg Olsen (-0.5) at the end of the first quarter. The game plan became much more conservative in the second half with a big lead, where Newton did some good work with his legs.
LB Luke Kuechly (+5.4)
LG Andrew Norwell (+4.5)
S Kurt Coleman (+3.1)
WR Jerricho Cotchery (+2.3)
CB Josh Norman (+2.0)
–This game truly could not have gone any worse for the Cowboys. In their biggest matchup of the season, Tony Romo (-6.7) put forth one of the worst performances of his career before he reinjured his collarbone, ending his season. On passes targeted over 10 yards down the field, Romo completed more passes to Panthers (3) than to the Cowboys (1). It wasn’t anything other than awful decision-making, either, and I don’t even know what he could have been thinking on two of the throws. As a team they actually played fairly well outside of the quarterback position, it’s just nearly impossible to win any game in the NFL after spotting the opposition 14 points.
–While the pass blocking for the Cowboys was its usual superb self, they weren’t able to get holes going in the running game to take pressure off of Romo. Center Travis Frederick (+2.9) was the only player with a run-blocking grade above +1, while La’el Collins (-3.0) and Jason Witten (-3.0) were both beaten repeatedly.
–In a matchup between two of the league’s top linebacking corps, the Cowboys’ duo of Sean Lee (+2.3) and Rolando McClain (+3.3) didn’t disappoint. They showed top-notch play recognition and combined for 11 stops on the day, and only Lee missed a tackle. The Cowboys defense more than held their own, limiting the Panthers running backs to 3.4 yards per carry on hand-offs.
LT Tyron Smith (+3.4)
MLB Rolando McClain (+3.3)
C Travis Frederick (+2.9)
OLB Sean Lee (+2.3)
DT Tyrone Crawford (+2.2)