Game Plans: Cowboys at Panthers

Updated: January 2, 2004, 3:38 PM ET
By Sean Salisbury and Ron Jaworski |

Sean Salisbury and Ron Jaworski go inside Saturday's matchup between the Cowboys and Panthers (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

Jaworski on Cowboys

Five keys for Dallas
1. Start fast: When you're the visiting team, it's very important to get the crowd out of the game early. It's been a while since the Panthers' last playoff game, so you can bet they're going to be all lathered up for the national television audience. It's very important that the Cowboys start fast and take the wind out of their sails early.

2. Attack the edges: Against the Panthers defense, you're not going to get much yardage inside with Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner in your way -- they're really tough. The Cowboys must run at Julius Peppers, not away from him.

3. Play aggressive defense: Dallas' defensive unit must force turnovers and shorten the field. The Cowboys have difficulty sustaining offense, so they must work with the short field.

4. Utilize play-action passing: Play-action passing gives a quarterback simple, definitive, either-or reads -- either throw it here or throw it there -- which will be essential for an inexperienced quarterback like Quincy Carter in his first really big game.

5. Shorten the game:The Cowboys must run the football, let the play-clock run down, and make this a 60-minute game. They want to have this be a one-play game at the four-minute mark.

Salisbury on Panthers
Five keys for Carolina
1. Be more physical: In their regular-season meeting (a 24-20 Dallas win), the Cowboys whipped the Panthers physically. On Saturday, the Panthers must step it up and play tougher.

2. Run the ball: Running the ball is Carolina's recipe for success. In their earlier meeting, the Panthers rushed for only 75 yards (Stephen Davis had 59). An effective Davis makes life easier for quarterback Jake Delhomme so Carolina must run the ball successfully and often.

3. Make Dallas face long yardage: Dallas quarterback Quincy Carter has been prone to mistakes in long-yardage situations so Carolina's defense needs to assert itself on first and second down and force Dallas into looking for a big play. That's definitely not Carter's strength, and it could cause Cowboy turnovers.

4. Win the kicking game: I expect this contest to be low-scoring and Carolina kicker John Kasay has been consistent most of this season. You can't expect the Bill Parcells-coached Cowboys to beat themselves, so you must win at the kicking game.

5. Stay away from turnovers in your end: The Cowboys don't have an explosive offense, so the Panthers can't give Dallas a short field. While turning the ball over and creating a short-field situation helps any team, it especially helps Dallas. Carolina has to avoid that.

Ron Jaworski

NFL analyst / writer
Ron Jaworski is one of the most popular and knowledgeable analysts covering the NFL today. Since joining ESPN in 1990, the former standout NFL quarterback has covered the league from virtually every angle -- sideline reporter, game-site reporter, host and both studio and game analyst. From 2007-11, Jaworski occupied one of the most coveted positions in sports as a Monday Night Football analyst.