Buccaneers - Cowboys: Three Key Matchups for Tampa Bay on Offense

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 11: Russell Allen #50 of the Jacksonville Jaguars tackles Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the game at EverBank Field on December 11, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Here are my three key matchups for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on offense against the Dallas Cowboys this week.

Josh Freeman vs Rob Ryan

There have been a lot of problems on offense this year: receivers fail to get open, the Bucs are refusing to stick to the run game, and a lack of speed at receiver means defenses can easily try to jump short routes. But all of those problems have been overshadowed by Josh Freeman's regression as a passer.

Josh Freeman really is the key to winning on offense in any game, and especially so in a high scoring game. That's likely what we'll see tomorrow, and Freeman needs to consistently throw an accurate ball and show the ability to read defenses. That last part is going to present a real problem for Freeman, as Rob Ryan coaches the Cowboys' defense.

Freeman has gone against Ryan defenses twice in his career: once against Rex Ryan's New York Jets in 2009, and once against Rob Ryan's Cleveland Browns defense in 2010. In those two games, he completed combined 31 of 61 passes for 275 yards, 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. The Bucs managed just twenty points in those two outings, although Freeman did lead a fourth-quarter comeback drive to win the game against the Browns.

Jeff Faine vs Jay Ratliff

Jay Ratliff is one of the best penetrating defensive tackles in the NFL, and he has the ability to take over a game. He isn't talked about as much as his linemate Demarcus Ware, but Ratliff is as key to the Cowboys' pass rush as Ware is. More importantly, moving Ratliff and stopping his penetration will be key to getting Legarrette Blount going. If Ware can flash his face in the backfield, Blount will be forced to stop his feet and change directions - and the big back loses any and all effectiveness when doing so.

Bucs center Jeff Faine has been adequate this year, but not much more than that and he'll have his work cut out for him.

Legarrette Blount vs Sean Lee

One of the players that just jumps off the screen when you watch the Dallas Cowboys is linebacker Sean Lee. While his fellow starters have been nothing more than average this year, Lee has been dominant. The second-year player is dynamic, speedy and hard-hitting - a true impact linebacker.

Legarrette Blount will have to find a way past him to get going in this game, and that's a lot easier said than done. If Blount (or the Bucs blocking scheme) can't do that, the Bucs will have a hard time establishing the running game. And if they can't do that, they'll have a rough day throwing the ball.

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