Panthers' D showing little improvement

Scouts Inc. breaks down the five key storylines in the NFC showdown between the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys on "Monday Night Football" (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET):

  • Make some key plays on defense, Carolina: New defensive coordinator Ron Meeks was supposed to bring discipline and fundamentals to a unit that fell apart a year ago, but it hasn't happened yet. The Panthers are terrible on third down, allowing opponents to convert 11 of 25 attempts. It looks like a defense that is easy to game plan against, and Tony Romo should have fairly easy reads in this game.

  • Find another passing target not named Steve Smith: It is well-documented that Jake Delhomme looks for Smith whenever he needs a play, but his habit of locking in on Smith and not even looking at his other options must concern the coaches, even though Smith still produces. Delhomme has targeted Smith 28 times in two games, and 11 of those have been completed passes. Dallas will likely counter with a corner with safety help over the top, knowing that if it neutralizes Smith it basically shuts down the Carolina passing game. The Panthers will likely keep Smith on the move before the snap to avoid those double coverages and press techniques, and it will be an interesting chess match.