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Five things to watch against Cowboys: Looking for numbers


CHARLOTTE – The Panthers are trying to tighten things up on offense against one of the best in the league at it.

The 1-8 Panthers are hosting a hot 6-3 Cowboys team that just dropped 49 points on the Giants last week.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium. Fans can check out more information on how to watch here.

Here are five things to watch for during the game:

Offensive shakeup

So much attention was given to head coach Frank Reich resuming play-calling this week, three weeks after he had handed it off to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.

And that's absolutely a big deal.

But the Panthers are also mixing up the personnel this week.

After releasing starting left guard Calvin Throckmorton early in the week, they're putting rookie Chandler Zavala back in that spot, where he started four weeks earlier this year before a neck injury in Detroit. 

But that's not the extent of it. They're likely to get hybrid wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. back this week after he's missed the last three games since he was injured in Miami. He's still listed as questionable, but practiced this week.

Having him back on the field gives them a run-pass threat who can be used in a number of ways. He also has the kinds of yards after the catch ability that they might otherwise lack. 

"If he's ready to go, he's a versatile piece," Reich said. "So, if he's up for the game, we'll try to look to use him in different ways, gradually work back in there. Because he's been out for a little bit, so if he handles the workload this week, that's how I would see it. I would see it just kind of gradually working him back in."

Reich said that since Shenault was easing back in, they expected to continue to use Raheem Blackshear as the kick returner. He's averaged 35.2 yards per return in Shenault's absence, so it makes sense anyway.

They could also continue the Mike Strachan experiment. He caught a 45-yard pass in Chicago last week and adds a size-speed element that can be dangerous. He's made plays in practice, and that one big one in the game, so he could add a wrinkle to things.

All eyes on Bryce

Quarterback Bryce Young was rather animated after last week's loss to the Bears, as his teammates talked about how raw and emotional he was after that game.

That's not a side of his personality everyone sees, but those in the locker room with him say it's not unheard of.

The rookie has shown some signs of fire beyond the measured to the point of stoic press conference answers he gives, and that caught some people's attention.

"Just obviously, we've got to change, we've got to be better and just have an urgency about it," Young said this week. "And it's not just talking or pointing fingers. Again, all the stuff that you talk about in the locker room applies to me. And again, I'm grateful to be a part of a team where we all can look in the mirror, and all want to be better.

"But just urgency of changing things, urgency of making sure that we're staying in the building and keeping our expectations, and what we do, making sure that we lean on each other for that stuff. And then we say that we work towards regardless of whatever external factors may be, whatever people may think, just making sure that we're holding ourselves accountable to that. And again, that's me talking to myself."

Donte Jackson

Action Jackson in the spotlight

With Jaycee Horn not ready to be activated from injured reserve yet (he practiced this week for the first time since a Week 1 hamstring injury), and CJ Henderson remaining in the concussion protocol and out this week, the Panthers will again be short in the defensive backfield.

They started Dicaprio Bootle last week, but Donte Jackson has been the steadying presence in the secondary heading into a game with a lot of explosive weapons. Jackson has always been a speedy run-and-cover guy but has been more active in the run game in recent weeks. While it took him time to recover from last year's torn Achilles, he's playing at a high level now.

"The one thing I'll say about Donte is that since Day 1 he's just been very bought into what we're doing," defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said. "He's worked extremely hard. What we've been asking him to do and the secondary to do is a lot different than what they did last year. I think there was some time taken to get acclimated to that. Missing time in the spring and in our training camp and not being able to practice consistently probably attributed to that.

"But what you've seen, like a lot of our players, is he continues to grow and get better and better. And I think now that he's comfortable, he's healthy. You can see that he's playing up to his capability, and so it's been really good."

With CeeDee Lamb (68 catches for 975 yards and four touchdowns) on tap, they'll need Jackson to be at the top of his game Sunday.

Prescott is rolling

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is coming in on a bit of a streak. 

He's thrown for 1,082 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions the last three games, with a pair of 40-plus point showings sandwiched around a 28-23 loss to the Eagles.

Reich said this week that when he was with the Eagles in 2016, he had higher grades than some of his co-workers on Prescott when he was coming out of the draft from Mississippi State. Prescott was taken in the fourth round (135th overall), after the Eagles traded up to the second overall spot to take Carson Wentz.

"I had a real high grade on Dak when he was coming out," Reich said. "I was on a team that was looking for a quarterback that year when Dak came out; I had a very high grade on Dak Prescott, higher than a lot of other people.

"And so I've always followed his career closely, and I have a lot of respect for him and, and I think he's playing really good football right now."

Tommy Tremble, Ian Thomas

Still short at tight end

The Panthers have had a bit of a revolving door at tight end.

Hayden Hurst remains in the concussion protocol and is out this week, and Stephen Sullivan has battled a shoulder issue that's left him questionable this week (he didn't practice at all Thursday).

They're expected to get Ian Thomas back on the roster this week after he missed a month with a calf strain, so they'll rely on him and Tommy Tremble against the Cowboys.

Those two are the best blockers of the lot, so that could be of benefit to a team that's still looking for a way to run the ball consistently.

View the top picks from photos of Panthers vs. Cowboys by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

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