Despite being led by a 45-year-old quarterback who missed 11 days of practice this preseason, paired with a new head coach, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still hold the second-best odds of winning the Lombardi this year. This is still a good team that has done well retaining their Super Bowl roster from a couple of years ago.
But they are not perfect. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses, and on Sunday night, two teams with plenty of each will be squaring off against each other. Sometimes the strengths and weaknesses align well, and for the most part, that will be true in week one. However, there are a few lopsided matchups in the Dallas Cowboys' first game they need to be on the lookout for.
3 uneven matchups in the Buccaneers vs Cowboys game
The Buccaneers run defense vs Dallas’ offensive line
The Cowboys finished first in the league by their PFF run-blocking grade last season. But few expect this to continue heading into 2022. With Connor Williams and La’el Collins departing in free agency, Dallas’ starting offensive linemen not named Zack Martin have a combined seven years of experience.
While the rushing game was decent for the Cowboys over the first half of last season, it quickly declined until their ground attack was essentially a non-factor late in the year. Based on comments from Jerry Jones and Mike McCarthy, the team seems dedicated to reversing this trend in the upcoming season.
The only issue is that the Cowboys start week one against one of the most dominant defensive lines in the league. While the Buccaneers’ PFF run defense ranking of 10th last season might not seem daunting, it doesn't tell the entire story. Only the Titans saw fewer rushing attempts called against them than Tampa Bay last season. And by their EPA per play allowed, they boasted the fifth-best run defense in the league.
This was a solid defense against the ground game last season, and they are now going up against a young offensive line that is critically lacking in-game experience. With Vita Vea, Lavonte David, and Shaquil Barrett all returning, don't expect the Buccaneers' run defense to look much different from last season.
The Cowboys secondary vs the Buccaneers’ injured WR corps
The Cowboys at Buccaneers week one matchup last year was a competition between Prescott and Brady over who could hit 60 passing attempts first. Brady finished the night with 32 completions for 379 yards and four touchdowns. Some might expect the same result this upcoming Sunday.
But Brady is going to have a much more difficult time airing it out compared to last season’s game. In week one of 2022, the Buccaneers' top three receivers by yards were:
1.) Antonio Brown: 121 yards
2.) Chris Godwin: 105 yards
3.) Rob Gronkowski: 90 yards
Just one season later, Brady will likely be without all three of these names against the Cowboys. Granted, there is still a chance that Godwin plays, but he is recovering from the same injury as Michael Gallup, and it would be a surprise to see him out there. Additionally, Russell Gage, who the Bucs signed to replace Antonio Brown, should be available, but he is recovering from an injury as well.
This means that, per PFF and EPA per play allowed, one of the best secondaries last season, who lost practically no one, will be squaring off against a passing attack that has been riddled with injuries this offseason. It is still Tom Brady, so this will not be easy for the defensive backs, but without three of his top four weapons from last year, there is the hope of slowing him down.
Depth and Parsons vs Tampa Bay’s interior offensive line
We will operate under the assumption that Dan Quinn is game planning to exploit the Buccaneers’ weaknesses. Because their Achilles heel right now is the interior of their offensive line. After losing Alex Cappa (G) to the Bengals and Ali Marpet (G) announcing his retirement, starting center Ryan Jensen fell to a knee injury that will keep him out until November. Jensen’s replacement, offensive guard Aaron Stinne, was announced to have torn his ACL and MCL during a preseason matchup against the Titans. It is an unfortunate situation for a once-stacked offensive line, but Quinn must recognize this weakness now.
Outside of their two tackles, none of the Buccaneers’ starting offensive lineman saw meaningful minutes last season in Tampa Bay. Granted, they did trade for Shaq Mason to address the guard issue. But the interior is vulnerable.
While the Cowboys might not have the greatest rotation of defensive tackles, they do have incredible depth. Quinton Bohanna, Osa Odighizuwa, Trysten Hill, and Neville Gallimore all have experience playing in Dallas, each proving valuable at different points in their career. If Quinn uses them correctly, they can take advantage of an opportunistic situation.
The X factor in this equation is Micah Parsons. Quinn can leverage his All-Pro linebacker to shoot the A and B gaps to bounce the rushing attempts outside and use him in the pass pass rush against an inexperienced interior corps. Putting pressure on Brady is one of the only ways Dallas walks out of this matchup with a win.
This is what football revolves around. Which team can exploit the other’s weaknesses with their strengths? There are plenty of examples at work in this game, and week one will come down to a few of these matchups. If Quinn, McCarthy and Kellen Moore are strategic about it, Dallas might finally be able to bring down Tom Brady. Football is back.