After what was one of their worst games of the season, the Cowboys will travel to Tampa Bay on Monday night to face the 8-9 Buccaneers, the worst division winner across the NFL according to record. They are the only team with a losing record that will be hosting a playoff game during Wild Card weekend. As much as Tom Brady is a formidable matchup come January or February, the Cowboys got a pretty good draw, so to speak. It begs the (obvious) question; will they win?
The Cowboys and the Chargers are the only two away teams that are favored this weekend. If the current lines hold, Dallas will be the biggest favored away team of the opening round. There are a few points of emphasis for this team if they are to win on Monday, which will be detailed here.
Run the ball!
The Cowboys will have to run the ball on offense to win, something they have not done effectively the last month of the season. In the last four games of the regular season, they did not have a running back average more than four yards per carry in any game. That is a problem, especially when your quarterback turns the ball over in what seems to be every game.
Tampa Bay’s run defense has not been too strong as of late. In three of the last five games, they have allowed the opposing running back to average five or more yards per carry. They allow 120.7 running yards per game, which sits right at the league average. Between Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott, the running backs need to get going and be able to break off chunk plays. Elliott had one of his better games of the season in terms of yards per carry in week one against the Buccaneers with 5.2, so hopefully that success is duplicated.
Don’t turn the ball over
This very well may be atop the list because if they don’t turn the ball over, they should win. Dak Prescott has thrown in an interception in each of the last seven games, the longest streak of his career and the longest of any Cowboys quarterback this decade. In the last four games, the Buccaneers defense has forced at least one turnover in each game and have forced eight total in those games. They will stay in this game if given the opportunity, and Prescott needs to do everything he can to make sure that doesn't happen.
Limit Chris Godwin
The Cowboys' run defense has been a problem all season and looked really poor against the Commanders, but the Buccaneers have the worst running offense in the NFL, averaging 76.9 rushing yards per game. It’s not a point of emphasis because it goes without saying, it truly should be a given. However, limiting Chris Godwin is not a given.
Godwin is Brady’s favorite target since he returned from injury, contrary to popular belief. Other than Evans’ career game against Carolina two weeks ago, it was October the last time that Evans had more receptions than Godwin. Although he doesn’t score much, he stretches the field as well as any WR2 in the league. If the Cowboys put Trevon Diggs on Evans for the majority of the game, that will leave Godwin on the other side, which has been a gaping hole in the pass defense since Anthony Brown went down. If Diggs does his job, Godwin becomes the biggest threat on the Buccaneers offense.
Tom Brady on Chris Godwin coming back from a torn ACL/MCL to reach 1,000 yards and 100 catches: “He’s a one-of-a-kind type player.”— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) January 9, 2023
So, will the Cowboys win? All things considered, they really, really should win. They are the better team. It just comes down to playing a clean, complete game on Monday night. If they don’t win, it’ll be another devastating first-round playoff loss. If they win, they would be 60 minutes away from a game they haven’t reached in over two decades.