Random Thoughts after a review of the Cowboys' thrilling 19-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday:
1. We talk all the time about how fast quarterbacks get rid of the ball. There was a debate about this in Philadelphia, where quarterback Michael Vick seemingly was holding onto the ball too long, leading to sacks. Sunday at Carolina, Tony Romo got rid of the ball on an average of three seconds. If he held it longer than that, he moved up in the pocket or scrambled out of trouble. We're not saying the Panthers had a tremendous pass rush, but it's worth noting how fast Romo got rid of the ball and how the Cowboys' receivers helped him by getting open. On Romo's 26-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin, he held the ball for three seconds before throwing the fade to the end zone.
2. It seems Kevin Ogletree, the Cowboys No. 3 receiver, just can't elevate his game. He finished with four catches for 27 yards, but he should have had a bigger impact. He dropped an easy pass in the third quarter on a leaping attempt. Then he ran the wrong route when Romo threw a back shoulder fade pass. You have to question how long the Cowboys will stick with Ogletree as the No. 3 receiver when they have Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes and Cole Beasley waiting for playing time.
3. After the game, we gave Morris Claiborne our "Stock Up" designation for his interception and knockdown of a key fourth-down pass. But a closer look reveals Claiborne struggled a little bit. He gave up a few pass plays, including on a third-and-long near-completion where Louis Murphy dropped the ball near the sidelines in the third quarter. Claiborne also slowed down on Brandon LaFell's 5-yard touchdown reception. Claiborne followed him across the field and, when LaFell made the catch, Claiborne slowed up, thinking he might run into Brandon Carr, who was at the goal line. Claiborne perhaps should have dove into LaFell.
4. The Cowboys had 85 total rushing yards -- good for just 2.7 yards per carry -- but it was a hard and physical 85 yards. Phillip Tanner and Felix Jones (combined for 74 yards) made defenders miss and weren't afraid of contact. It's easy to second-guess running backs and whether or not they make the right decisions on the field. Such was the case with Tanner's run on that key third-down play with 3:30 to go. Should Tanner have cut back outside? The same could be made of Jones, who made a point of running inside on one off-tackle run for four yards instead of taking it outside. Sometimes we don't know what the runner sees or what he's told to do.
5. We can say this every week, but Miles Austin is the Cowboys' best receiver. The Cowboys just need to focus on getting him the ball more often. It was nice to see Carolina force feed the ball to Steve Smith -- he was targeted nine times, and caught seven passes for 83 yards. Austin was also targeted nine times, catching five, including one that resulted in a fumble. But Austin needs more touches. Get him loose on slants and then try to stretch the defense with deep throws. Maybe coach Jason Garrett is afraid to overuse Austin because of his seemingly fragile hamstrings. But if the Cowboys are going to excel in their passing attack, getting Austin open in various ways helps.
Notes: The defensive line had its best game of the season Sunday, considering they were playing an option quarterback. ... Inside linebacker Dan Connor took over for Sean Lee and played weak side linebacker in the 3-4. He hadn't played that spot before in the NFL. He's always been the middle linebacker in the 4-3. ... As the season has progressed, nose tackle Josh Brent has gotten better. Sunday he had one tackle, but he also had a quarterback hit and clogged the middle well in the second half to slow up Cam Newton.