Two weeks into the NFL season, we thought we'd have a finger on the pulse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by now. Instead, we're still not sure of the football team we have on Florida's beautiful Gulf coast.
We know they have a coach that won't take any b.s., has angered the bastions of the New York media and allegedly is disliked throughout the league for being a "bully". Yeah, okay. I also thought that article by Yahoo! Sports Mike Silver certainly had agenda written all over it. I mean, plenty of anonymous quotes from terrified opposing team scouts would were bullied by big bad Schiano. Not one quote from Mark Dominik or any of Schiano's former players on the makeup of the man.
I wonder how much Eric LeGrand thinks Greg Schiano is an a-hole. I guess that would have fit the picture of old Mr. Coughlin standing up the snot nosed rookie bully. By the way, apparently Mr. Silver doesn't like anyone questioning why he didn't include those things in his article, but I digress.
Okay, enough about last week - let's look toward Sunday's big match up with the Cowboys.
Series: Dallas leads 10-3 (Regular Season only)
Last Meeting: December 17, 2011 - Dallas 31, Tampa Bay 15
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing attack vs. Dallas Cowboys Pass Defense
It's been an interesting week for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the national media got in a tizzy regarding "kneelgate", Greg Schiano re-made the back end of his receiving core. Releasing Preston Parker, putting Sammie Stroughter (foot) on injured reserve and cutting guard Dark Hardman to make room for three speedy wideouts in Jordan Shipley, Tiquan Underwood and Chris Owusu (Andrew Luck's favorite target at Stanford). The intention is obvious, the Bucs plan on stretching the field not only with Vincent Jackson - but Regus Benn and the aforementioned trio of speedsters.
Dallas, like the Bucs, worked significantly on their secondary in the off-season, signing big time free agent corner Brandon Carr and drafting a player many Buc fans believed Tampa Bay would take with the fifth overall pick - Morris Claiborne. So far so good for Big D, as the Cowboys have the 3rd best defense against the pass in the league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Game vs. Dallas Cowboys Run Defense
Tampa Bay hasn't gotten the big play from the running game yet, but Doug Martin has shown little flashes of brilliance while being the workhorse for a rushing attack ranked 16th in the NFL.
The Cowboys are significantly banged up along the center of their defensively line, which could allow Tampa Bay an opportunity for a big day on the ground.
Dallas wore down against the power running attack of the Seattle Seahawks last week and are ranked 23rd overall against the run.
Dallas Cowboys Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense
The Cowboys beleagured Tony Romo still mans a talented Dallas aerial assault that ranks 6th in the NFL. While everyone knows about diva wide out Dez Bryant and fantasy football superstar Miles Austin, few came into the season aware of Kevin Olgetree - who burst onto the scene against the Giants with an 8 catch, 114 yd and 1 TD.
Last week however, it was a different story for Olgetree, who made one catch. Romo has lapses of questionable decision making but is at his dangerous when he's out of the pocket making plays.
Tampa Bay died by the blitz last week against the New York Giants, who embarrassed the Bucs with 510 yds through the air.
The Bucs have been opportunistic in the secondary, tied for 2nd in the NFL with 5 interceptions.
Dallas Cowboys Rushing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense
Dallas running back DeMarco Murray is averaging 5.5 yards a carry for the Cowboys - but is only averaging about 16 carries a game. That's not enough for Dallas to crack to top 20 in rushing.
Tampa Bay has been solid against the run through their first two games, ranking 3rd in the league against the run. The Bucs did give up a few big runs to burly Giants running back Andre Brown but the Cowboys don't really have anyone in that mold.
Tampa Bay's team speed on defense is what has helped them significantly improve in this area.
For Dallas, Felix Jones hasn't been as effective with kickoff returns as he has been in the past while Dez Bryant hasn't had many opportunities in the punt return game. Dallas has 2nd year kicker Dan Bailey handling the kicking duties. Making his only field goal of the season, Bailey made 86% of his kicks last season with a career high of 51 yds. Dallas has youngster Chris Jones doing the punting.
Tampa Bay introduced Arrelious Benn as their new kick returner against the Giants and he immediately paid dividends (after a slow start that included fumbling during his first return). Benn averaged 25.7 yds a return including a 55 yder. Jordan Shipley will take over the punt return duties formerly handled by Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter.
Tampa Bay probably has the highest paid kicker/punter combo in the NFL but both Connor Barth (kicker) and Michael Koenen (punter) are worth it. Barth has nailed a team record 21 consecutive field goals. Koenen is averaging 43.8 yds a punt, pinning opponents inside the twenty 5 times.
By the Numbers
- Dallas has won four straight in the series.
- In franchise history, the Bucs have only won once in Dallas.
- The last time the Cowboys hosted the Bucs for their home opener - Tampa Bay won 10-6 (2000).
- The Cowboys are just 13-11 at Cowboys Stadium aka JerryWorld, and are currently on a two game home losing streak.
- Tony Romo has destroyed the Buccaneers in his three starts against them, going 3-0, completing 70.9 percent of his passes for 908 yds, 11 touchdowns and 0 ints.
The Buccaneers head to JerryWorld to take on the Dallas Cowboys. When many looked at the schedule, this game was almost immediately marked in the L column. However, the Bucs have proven to be worthy opponents for just about any opponent in the NFL.
The Giants dismantling of the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night made the Bucs' performance last Sunday all more impressive. If anything, this battling bunch of pirates won't back down from anyone - and that's a start contrast from the football team that quit before half-time in their last meeting with Dallas.
Even though they catch Dallas coming from a long road trip and banged up, it's going to be a tall order for Tampa Bay to come out with a victory. Tony Romo has a history of torching Buccaneer secondaries and with receivers like Miles Austin and (if properly motivated) Dez Bryant, it could be another long day for the Bucs' pass defense if they fail to get to the Dallas quarterback.
The key to the game for Tampa Bay is to be able to run the football with Doug Martin and DJ Ware (and LeGarrette Blount if he can escape Schiano's Chateau De Bow Wow).
The Bucs will give Dallas all they can handle, but in the end I'm going with a Cowboys win.
Prediction: Dallas 27, Tampa Bay 21