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Cowboys close game mettle should be tested vs Bucs, eyeing first win against Brady

For the Dallas Cowboys to start 1-0, they’ll have to do something they’ve never done before.

Dallas Cowboys v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The NFL has such a way with storylines, and fans won’t have to look far to find them when the Dallas Cowboys host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football in week one. In a rematch of last year’s primetime opener that saw the Bucs execute a two-minute drill to knock off the Cowboys, a hungry Dallas defense will get their chance at revenge against Tom Brady.

For a short time this offseason, it appeared this matchup wouldn’t have Brady going up against Dak Prescott, but the stars aligned for a fourth meeting between these quarterbacks. Though the narrative that the Cowboys haven’t done enough to help Dak going into this season will be put to the test, he’ll quickly have a chance to prove how much he can carry the offense with a career 79% completion against the Bucs.

This ranks as the highest completion percentage for any QB against one opponent in league history, as Prescott beat the Bucs by six as a rookie, and again by a touchdown in 2018.

The Cowboys rolling out CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, and whoever else as their top receivers will be contrasted by the Bucs having Mike Evans, Russell Gage and maybe Chris Godwin. If Quinn’s defense is truly going to carry the Cowboys this season, they’ll be put to the test early. Dallas did force four turnovers in last year’s loss to the Bucs, with Trevon Diggs and Jourdan Lewis recording interceptions.

The Cowboys will have familiar faces like Diggs, Lewis, and Anthony Brown in the secondary, as well as newcomers like Daron Bland, trying to replicate they’re league-high production in takeaways from a year ago. While the potential for this secondary is high, it’s the defensive line that stands out as the strength of the team, and a key to beating the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay was 12-1 in games where Brady was sacked two times or less in 2021, but 1-3 when allowing three or more sacks. MIcah Parsons looks to be a big factor in the Cowboys pass rush again this season, as Brady called him “one of the dynamic players in the NFL”. Dallas also has the bodies up front to let Parsons line up anywhere, with DeMarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore, Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and Osa Odighizuwa all ready to start the season.

With the way the Cowboys started last season on a 6-1 stretch before struggling later in the year into the playoffs, it will take some time for the 2022 team to sell any early success as a sign things have truly changed. The Cowboys haven’t opened at home in two seasons though, and an opening night win for the first time in franchise history against Brady would sure bring excitement to a young team.

The Cowboys also start this season eerily similarly to last year, with the Bucs in week one followed by a tough AFC opponent. The Cowboys escaped at the Chargers in week two of 2021 to avoid an 0-2 start, and opened NFC East play in week three with a win over the Eagles. This year, they draw the Bucs, Bengals, and Giants on Monday Night Football through the first three weeks.

Dallas Cowboys v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

New Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles will present a different look to the Cowboys offense compared to their past wins against the Bucs. The Cowboys ran for 185 yards and threw for 279 more against Mike Smith’s defense in 2016, but didn’t fare as well against DC Mike Duffner in their 2018 win. Bowles’ defense hit Prescott seven times in the season opener last year, and will present a unique challenge to new left tackle Tyler Smith, as well as Connor McGovern, Tyler Biadasz, and Terence Steele. The matchups should be there for the Cowboys on the perimeter to get the ball out of Prescott’s hands, but they’ll have to identify the heavy pressures that Bowles is known for.

With receiver and offensive line being the team’s biggest needs all offseason, the Cowboys can either come out of week one looking like the smartest front office in the league, or continue backpedaling as they face questions about their preparation level for the season. The difference between 0-1 and 1-0 in Dallas this year may be more about moral victories for a team looking to contend under Mike McCarthy, but this is a Cowboys team desperate to prove they can play with anyone in the NFC. Doing so last year in a two-point loss to the Bucs was supposed to be a forecast for how the Cowboys were set up for playoff success, and while the wait for playoff football is still a long ways away, having a meaningful game on the horizon is still all Cowboys Nation needs right now.

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