With Christian McCaffrey still out injured, Carolina Panthers will face an uphill task when they square off against the surging ground game of the Dallas Cowboys, powered by a running back with an All-Pro pedigree in Ezekiel Elliott.
McCaffrey won’t play because of a strained hamstring when Carolina (3-0) makes a second consecutive appearance in Texas on Sunday.
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The Cowboys (2-1) have been the fifth-best offense in the league, thanks to Dak Prescott, Elliot and company, who have been playing on a supreme level. The Dallas side are coming off their best back-to-back weeks in the run game since 2019, with Elliott getting a season-high 95 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-21 win over Philadelphia on Monday.
Meanwhile, although Panthers trumped a lowly Houston side last week, they’ll yet again have to prove that they aren’t solely dependent on McCaffrey to do the business.
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“We’re not called the Carolina Christian McCaffreys,” tackle Cameron Erving, who played for the Cowboys last year, said after the star back was injured in the first quarter of last week’s 24-9 victory at Houston, according to Associated Press inputs. “Everybody understands that we have to step up and make plays when he’s not in there. At receiver, at tight end, at quarterback.”
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Dallas is averaging 179 yards on the ground in two victories since Prescott threw for 403 yards and the Cowboys ran for just 60 in a 31-29 loss to defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in the opener.
The Cowboys didn’t even try to establish the run against last year’s top rushing defence. They’re likely to give it a shot against the defence leading the NFL in all three yardage categories — total, rushing and passing — but they probably won’t force it.
With the 2019 All-Pro McCaffrey out, rookie fourth-round pick Chuba Hubbard should make his first career start not far from his college home of Oklahoma State. Royce Freeman is likely to get some carries as well.
With inputs from the Associated Press