When the Cowboys travel to Tampa Bay on Sunday, they’ll be looking to end their long, drawn-out, six-game losing streak. Here are five players to keep an eye on.
1. Lavonte David
Every time I hear his name, I can't help thinking back to the 2012 draft when the Cowboys traded away their second round pick to get Morris Claiborne at pick number six. David was one of the guys I had in my second-round window and he would have been available when the Cowboys picked on day two as he wasn't selected until pick 58 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now it was revealed later that Bobby Wagner would have likely been the Cowboys selection had they kept their pick so David was never in the mix. Nonetheless, he's a player that caught my eye and he's had a good start to his NFL career.
But David is not having a very good season. The things he's done well in the past aren't happening so far this season. He's not reacting to the play as well as he's capable of. He's become more of a liability in pass coverage with inconsistent zone drops. On Sunday, David is going to have to be sharp as he tries to keep Darren McFadden in check, both in the run game and catching passes out of the backfield. The Cowboys running game is starting to roll in recent games and David will need to play well to get the Cowboys offense off the field.
2. Jason Witten
While Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley had great games last week, Tampa Bay's defense will be looking for ways to keep them contained. That could mean a big game for the Cowboys tight end, who is always a reliable option for whomever is at quarterback for Dallas. In recent games, the Bucs have been torched by tight ends as Jordan Reed and Jacob Tamme have both put together good games against them.
Tampa Bay's defense is in the top ten in creating turnovers, which I hear people talk about as being a very important part of a defenses success. Matt Cassel and company will need to be careful in taking care of the ball so as to not let another seemingly winnable game be taken from them due to one horrible, game-changing play. And what better way to limit risks than checking down to number 82? Jason Witten is the Cowboys leader in receptions and receiving yards this season. With the Bucs banged up at the safety position, look for Witten to add some more numbers to his yearly statistics.
3. Gerald McCoy
The Bucs All-Pro defensive tackle isn't having his best year. After getting a sack in four of his first five games of the season, McCoy now has gone his last three games without one. Part of the reason for his dip in production could be related to a shoulder injury, but even with McCoy struggling a bit this season - he's still going to be a force. And there is nothing like a rookie guard to get yourself going again. La'el Collins has looked more comfortable at left guard since taking over the starting job three weeks ago, but he will have his hands full on Sunday. Tampa Bay hasn't been getting good play from their edge rushers so McCoy is likely to see a good share of double teams. If the Buccaneers defense aren't able to get enough pressure, the Cowboys offense should be able to keep the chains moving. Don't be surprised if Matt Cassel has his best game of the season so if you're looking for a bargain price FanDuel quarterback start, Cassel could be that guy.
4. Rolando McClain
Without Sean Lee in the mix at linebacker, the Cowboys will be without not only the talent that Lee brings, but their best field general as well. The defense has been struggling getting themselves lined up correctly and are often times out of position when the play begins. It's not surprising that some of the biggest defensive breakdowns have occurred in the games where Sean Lee has been knocked out of the game. The play of the linebackers is going to be critical for the Cowboys defense in countering the Bucs running game. While Anthony Hitchens should be the linebacker barking the most orders, the defense needs a big performance by Rolando McClain.
McClain hasn't played well since essentially his very first series of his debut against the New England Patriots when he sacked Tom Brady. McClain has just looked all out of sorts, often times late to the party and unable to finish his tackles without giving up some ground. If McClain can't make plays on Sunday, then this Buccaneers running game is going to help keep Jameis Winston out of trouble.
5. Charles Sims
Doug Martin is the Buccaneers starting running back, but I am very concerned about the ten touches that Charles Sims will see throughout the game. Sims is a very hard runner who is tough to bring down and makes his touches count. Between the targets in the passing game and the change-of-pace carries he'll get, the Cowboys better not lose sight of Sims. The Bucs second-year running back has some big-play ability, which the Cowboys defense has become more vulnerable to as of late. Last week, the Cowboys struggled handling the tandem of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. If the defense can't hold their spots and make open field tackles, it could be a long day for Dallas.