On Sunday September 23rd, the Dallas Cowboys will play in their home stadium for the first time this season. After a beatdown delivered by the Seattle Seahawks in week 2, the Cowboys hope to redeem themselves and regain their season opener focus as they host the Buccaneers led by Josh Freeman. There were not ma y good performances to speak of in last weeks game by the Cowboys, save for a couple on defense. This week, the Cowboys look to change that and show the world that they are still the first team to beat a Super Bowl winner in a season opener.
To start things off, I want to settle everyone's mind. The loss delivered by the Seahawks last week is definitely not a season killer. Remember, we have only played on the road so far. Playing on the road against the Giants and then the Seahawks and still coming home with a 1-1 record is a good showing. Remember that the Cowboys were supposed to lose the season opener, and then win against the Seahawks. Either way, they were supposed to come home 1-1. We are still in great shape. Going 1-1 on the road against tough teams with tough home crowds is still something to be proud of. Considering the Giants are 1-1 at home.
So now that we (hopefully) have regained our faith as part of True Blue, lets take a look at key matchups that will impact this game. I really think this will be about how the defense can keep the Bucs out of scoring range. The Cowboys have a prolific offense (don't mind last week) and should be able to put up between 27-34 points against Tampa defense. The real job will be making sure our defense keeps the lead. If we can score and not allow Tampa to counter every time, the Cowboys will be in a good position. I am very confident the defense can do it, as they have only allowed 34 points in the first 2 weeks of the season. Without further ado, here's a look at my impactful matchups:
Brandon Carr vs Vincent Jackson
Vincent Jackson signing with the Bucs was a HUGE deal for Tampa. He added another dimension to their offense. Instead of having to rely on LaGarrete Blount to win every game for Tampa, Josh Freeman had a deep threat target that could put them in position to score much more often. He had a good game against NY last week, but then again, NY secondary. Nuff said. The truth is that while Jackson may be good, he hasn't faced a cornerback duo as good as Carr/Claiborne yet. Can you even name the Panthers two starting corners? And you can only name the Giants because you were laughing at them all night on September 5th. Carr will face a tough challenge, but he has proven he deserves the contract he received and more. After all, he basically shut down Victor Cruz on that opening night. And the excuse the Cruz was dropping passes is not tangible in my mind. He had a great game against Tampa the next week, with no jitters. The fact is, Cruz was afraid of Carr(Ok not really, but I like to believe that he was nervous of facing Carr). Carr will be a demon to Jackson as well. I see Carr limiting Jackson and Freeman having a tough time trying to spread to ball to his 2nd and 3rd reads.
Doug Martin vs Cowboys Front Seven
Doug Martin is an explosive rookie having an explosive year. He has speed. He has power. He has burst. He does not have what it will take to outdo the Cowboys run defense. The Cowboys have a strong run defense. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are fast enough to get to the line in time to meet Martin next to his guard. On the outside, Anthony Spencer is learning to get into the pocket and bring down outside handoffs down behind the line or after only a short gain. On the other side, Ware...is simply Ware. You can't stop him. Doug Martin has had 2 good games in his rookie season, but that streak is about to end. Martin is a rookie and will have a lackluster day against a tough Dallas rush defense.
Demarcus Ware vs Donald Penn
Donald Penn is a serviceable lineman that can provide decent to good protection for his QB. But when facing Demarcus, you need an absolute ELITE tackle to keep Ware minimized. And even then, it's rare that Ware gets shut out. Donald Penn will have his hands full with Ware, but he is lucky he has possibly the best guard in the league right next to him. Nicks will have to frequently slide over and help out Penn. Still, Demarcus is a monster. While they may be able to limit him, Ware will still play like the best pass rusher in the league and manage to still apply a bit of pressure on Freeman and get his greedy hands on a sack for the first time since Sept 5th.
Tony Romo/Miles Austin/Dez Bryant/Jason Witten vs Buccaneers Secondary
Tony Romo has had lots of success against a consistently weak pass defense. Tampa Bay hoped to fix part of that problem by bringing in top safety Mark Barron. Barron is having a great year, but against players like Witten, Austin, and Bryant, he can only hope to do enough. Tony Romo has the weapons to burn this defense like never before. But, the Tampa Defense is starting to make a name for themselves. The corner duo isn't as weak as it once was. I see Romo getting 300 yards as he is slightly limited, but doing enough to get it done.
Cowboys O-Line vs Tampa D-Line
This is a matchup that I just can't see the Cowboys winning. Between Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn and Michael Bennett (The brother of thankfully departed Martellus Bennett) the Bucs compose a highly underrated pass rush. I see Romo under pressure often and also getting sacked 2 times. Tyron Smith should be able to hold off Clayborn, but the rest of our line is pretty weak. I don't think they hold up, but then again, Romo is Romo. Those defenders may live in the pocket sometimes, but boy will they have one hell of a hard time getting there hands on Romo.
Cowboys Game Plan: Romo and Co. need to establish the pass game early in this game. Austin is having a decent season which he needs to continue. Bryant and Witten are both out to prove that they have a different game face than the one shy showed last week against Tampa (ie the dropped passes. By WITTEN. You read that right. WITTEN dropped a pass.) They need to really take advantage of what will be a building pass defense. The Bucs have a strong front seven, so I don't want to see Murray get more than 20 carries. I would love to see Romo airing it out more and give Bryant the deep ball playmaker opportunities.
Bucs Game Plan: The Cowboys have a tough defense this year, and the Bucs would be smart to keep the game defensive. The Bucs front four need to get pressure on Romo. They have a suspect pass defense, so the pass rush needs to get their extra-quick, or else Romo will consistently find opening for big gains. The Bucs know that once the Cowboys offense gets hot, there is no way they can keep up on the scoreboard. There secondary is unreliable. They have a good run defense, but given Romo's success passing the ball against Tampa, the Bucs should expect to see just a small bit of Murray. The pass rush has to do it's job of keeping Romo from having clear shots downfield.
Quarter by Quarter
Those of you who have been keeping up with my previews know that I like to put in a QBQ prediction. This is basically where I play out the entire game the way I see it.
Q1 Dallas is at home and will score first. The first possession for both teams will turn out flat, but then Romo leads the team downfield for a TD. The defense keeps Tampa out of scoring range during the first quarter. 7-0
Q2 Both team will struggle in the first half of the second quarter. The Cowboys will be desperate to take a stronger lead than just 7, but it will be spoiled when the Bucs manage to get it in and tie it at 7. The Cowboys are finding it tough to score against this defense, but a big play in the final minutes will set the Cowboys up to score once again. With time for just a couple plays left, Romo will find Bryant deep for a TD and send it into half time 14-7
Q3 The Bucs will fall apart in the third, contrary to the Cowboys putting it together. I see Freeman throwing a pick, and Romo leading two scoring drives, a field goal followed by a TD. Tampa will finally find something near the end of the third and get a field goal. The game goes into the fourth 24-10. The Cowboys are unable to capitalize on starting with the ball in the fourth, and give up the ball on a punt. The Bucs will get close to another score, but will commit another turnover. The Cowboys will once again be unable to capitalize, and give the ball back again. With just a few minutes left, the Bucs will start to get desperate and finally see the endzone again to make the score 24-17. The Cowboys will try to run out the clock and use Murray. They will run into a couple 3rd down situations, which will be converted by RomotoWitten passes. Eventually, Murray will take us to the 2min warning. He will have a couple good runs to get us into field goal range, and then break free on a big play to take it into the endzone for the first time this season. The Bucs will barley have any time to make any sort of a comeback. They will air it out deep and be unable to come up with anything.
Final Score: Cowboys 31, Buccaneers 17
Key Player Stats:
Romo: 26/40 310 yards 3 TD 0INT
Murray: 22 rush, 110 yards, 1TD 4 rec 40 yards
Bryant: 6 rec, 100 yards, 1TD
Witten: 6 rec, 90 yards, 1TD
Austin: 5 rec 80 yards 1TD
Ware: 6 tackles, 1 sack
Lee: 12 tackles, 1 pass defended
Carr: 3 tackles, 1 pass defended, 1 INT
Freeman: 17/29 190 yards, 1TD 1INT
Martin: 20 rush, 60 yards, 1TD
Jackson: 4 rec, 60 yards
Williams: 5 rec, 60 yards
Clark: 5 rec, 50 yards, 1TD
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