All teams are works in progress in week one, but I can proclaim Joe DeCamillis' guys first game a success. His overhaul of last year's decidedly unspecial teams had to begin with kickoff and punt coverage, where the Cowboys ranked among the league's worst.
The Cowboys drafted several players for their coverage prowess and added kickoff specialist David Buehler. Many of the draftees were sidelined by injury -- Jason Williams, Stephen Hodge, Michael Hamlin foremost on the list -- but Buehler earned his money today.
Three of his seven kickoffs were touchbacks. His very first kick landed on the backline of the end zone, meaning that roughly six minutes into the season, Buehler had more touchbacks than Nick Folk had all last year. Two others were returned to the 22 and only one made it past the Cowboys' 30. Compare this to last year's group, which had an average starting position of the opponent's 29 and a half. We only have one week, but it's a promising start.
Buehler's kicking buddies also did their parts. Nick Folk put a forgettable preseason behind him by nailing a 51 yarder just minutes into the game. It was dead center and far up the net behind the goalpost. Mat McBriar was again booming punts, averaging 54.8 yards on four punts. He kicked a 63 yarder that was fielded on the goal line in the third quarter.
The return games were nothing to brag about, but Gerald Sensabaugh made the special team's first big play of the season by blocking the Bucs attempt to tie the score at three. Dallas overloaded the Bucs left perimeter with three rushers on the Bucs two edge blockers. When the end man blocked the outside man, Sensabaugh, the middle man in Dallas rush trio, knifed inside for the block.
After a season in which a big return to three were the norm, a quiet return sheet by the Bucs was perfect.
Numbers Good and Bad
4-for-41 -- the Cowboys penalty totals. It's just one game, but lines like this will put the team in the top third in fewest penalties if it continues. Sometimes you win when you don't beat yourself.
174 -- the Bucs rushing yards. This is objective one with the Giants looming on the horizon. The Bucs Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams had huge runs running away from Dallas overload blitzes. Some credit to Bucs OC Greg Olson, who had a good feel for Wade Phillips' blitz patterns.
1 -- the number of sacks allowed. Ronde Barber bagged Romo on a corner blitz off the slot on the game's first series.
0 -- the number of sacks recorded. Demarcus Ware was not himself after suffering a neck stringer three plays into Tampa Bay's first series. Anthony Spencer came close to a couple of sacks early and the linemen got some belts on him late, but Leftwich made his share of big throws just ahead of Dallas' rush. The Cowboys need to improve here but I think they're the first team to learn that Tampa Bay has a good young offensive line.