Key matchup: Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Cowboys secondary

Posted Oct. 17, 2012 @ 4:42 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

In Wednesday’s Key Matchup, we look ahead to Sunday’s battle between Panthers WR Steve Smith and the Cowboys’ secondary:

Five games into the Panthers’ season, WR Steve Smith has more fumbles (one) than touchdowns (zero) — it’s a pretty good indicator of how Carolina’s 1-4 season has gone to this point.

Since opening the season with consecutive 100-yard games, Smith has gained 59.3 yards per game over the Panthers’ past three contests, and he had a season-low 40 yards vs. the Seahawks in Week Five. He had made at least one catch of 20 yards or more in each of the first four games of the season, but didn’t have a reception longer than 14 yards vs. Seattle, as big, aggressive Seahawks CB Richard Sherman seemed to frustrate Smith, who made only four grabs despite being targeted a season-high 13 times. Smith was the only Panthers player targeted more than four times in the game.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan knows that when a defense can keep Smith relatively quiet, it becomes incumbent upon Panthers players like WRs Brandon LaFell and Louis Murphy to make plays.

Find me a defensive coordinator who will not gladly make that trade-off — let LeFell or Murphy be the ones that have to make something happen.

While he does not have the size or arm length of Sherman, Brandon Carr, who likely will spend much of Sunday’s game defending Smith, is physical. Smith cannot allow Carr to stuff him at the line of scrimmage. If Smith, who's gaining a career-best 18.5 yards per catch on his 21 grabs this season, can beat the jam, he has the quickness to get a step on Carr in coverage.

The Cowboys likely will play a lot of 2-man — two deep safeties and man coverage underneath. If they are successful in keeping Smith from picking up yards in chunks, QB Cam Newton really does not have another consistent big-play threat at receiver he can turn to.