The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel down to Texas to play the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, trying to get back on top of the division. The Bucs are currently in second place with a 1-1 record after losing a nailbiter to the New York Giants, while the Atlanta Falcons are on top of the NFC South. So what do the Bucs need to do to walk away with a win on Sunday? Find out here as we go through five things to watch.
Vincent Jackson vs Morris Claiborne
All throughout the pre-draft process, it looked like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would select cornerback Morris Claiborne. Then they traded back two spots to pick up Mark Barron, and the Dallas Cowboys quickly jumped up to select him instead. In addition, whereas the Bucs signed free agent Eric Wright, the Cowboys signed Brandon Carr. While Wright has been pretty decent so far, Carr is a much better player. The difference between the Bucs' cornerback group and the Cowboys' group is obvious from a single statline: Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks combined for 21 catches for 378 yards. Meanwhile, those two only managed 10 catches for 96 yards against the Cowboys. Quite a difference.
Well, this Sunday, the Bucs get to go up against those cornerbacks - and their receivers will have to deliver if they want to win. Although the Bucs have a solid group of receivers, Vincent Jackson's the only real star - and he'll have a tough time outrunning Claiborne. That is, after all, Jackson's biggest strength: catching deep passes. But this will be problematic against Claiborne, who's both extraordinarily fast and has outstanding ball skills. Jackson will have to create separation, win contested balls and make sure that Claiborne can't get an interception off any wayward passes.
So far this season the Bucs' offensive line has looked surprisingly solid against the pass. Inserting Dotson against the New York Giants certainly helped, as the Bucs barely gave up any pressure at all. That's good news, especially given the quality of players Dotson and the rest of the line were facing: Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora represent perhaps the strongest group of defensive linemen in the entire NFL.
This week, though, Dotson and Penn will be matched up against perhaps the single best pass-rusher in the NFL: DeMarcus Ware. Left tackle Donald Penn has done a good job on the pass-rusher in the past, however, as Ware has just one sack in three games against the Bucs. Of course, the flip side of that equation is that those three games represent three Dallas wins - so Ware certainly won't be unhappy with that result. Still, if the Bucs want to recreate their explosive pass plays of last Sunday they'll need to give Josh Freeman time in the pocket. That means holding off DeMarcus Ware - and that won't be easy.
Doug Martin is going to have to make a man miss in the hole, and that man is likely going to be Sean Lee. The middle linebacker has been explosive throughout his career with the
Giants(what?) Cowboys, and racks up tackles like nobody's business. He's quick to track the play, get in position and he's a very solid tackler. The Bucs want their offense to run through Martin, as evidenced by his 44 carries in two games and the complete lack of carries for anyone else, but Martin hasn't been overly productive so far. That could quickly change against the Cowboys, who have given up a whopping 264 yards on the ground on just 60 carries. Martin needs to take advantage of his opportunities to provide some continuity for the Bucs' offense, which has been sorely lacking the past two games.
Ronde Barber has been a problem the past two games. We haven't talked about it much, but he was responsible for at least one touchdown in each of his first two games, and likely messed up a few more times throughout the game. That's to be expected: Barber has always been a gambler, and that has even been one of his best assets. But when you're a safety the rules are a little different, and he can't keep biting on underneath routes when he's supposed to be the last line of defense.
That's not to say that he's a bad player, however, as Barber has the skills and instincts to regularly turn up with turnovers. Those turnovers could change the game against the Cowboys, and quarterback Tony Romo will give the Bucs the opportunity to take away some balls. While Romo is capable of spectacular players and is a very good quarterback overall, he's also prone to poor decisions when pressured - especially so if his scrambling lanes are taken away. Pressure Romo, and he'll throw up a few wobblers - and Ronde Barber needs to make sure he's there when that happens.