After a loss in Seattle that caused more bandwagon jumps than a collapsed bridge, the Dallas Cowboys return for their home opener to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, these aren't your 4-12 Bucs of 2011.
Gone is head coach Raheem Morris, whom the team seemingly quit on down the stretch last season. In is new head hauncho Greg Schiano, fresh from Rutgers University. The Cowboys had such a good time playing in Tampa at the end of last season that I actually trended on Twitter while manning the @BloggingTheBoys account. We were partying, in a socially responsible media kind of way.
What happened in the fourth? Well, we had to bring in an expert to figure that out. JCDeLaTorre of Bucs Nation was kind enough to lend us his insights into the 2012 Buccaneers. Gather round, kiddies ... we've got some nuggets for everyone.
What the hell happened in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the Giants? The Cowboys have been "Eli'd" before, on more than one occasion. Was that the extent of it or did the defensive philosophy shift and allow some things that they were containing earlier?
JC De La Torre: The Bucs are still asking themselves that question. I think it was a depth issue for Tampa Bay. The Giants ran 72 plays on offense and controlled the time of possession. The Bucs offense didn't help with some short possessions and a turnover in the third quarter. When both Eric Wright and Aqib Talib got banged up the fourth, the Giants dynamic duo of Cruz and Nicks took advantage. That's not to say Nicks didn't abuse Aqib Talib the entire ball game, which he did. Tampa Bay has razor thin depth in all facets of the defense and when they sustained a few injuries they just seemed to wilt in the fourth quarter.
The Giants also caught the Bucs in a couple of blitzes that were picked up as perfectly as you can - leaving the secondary exposed and then Eli delivered the ball in stride to wide open receivers. Bingo, bango suddenly he's humming and the Bucs are scrambling for answers.
I like that the Bucs offense came back down the field and tied the game after blowing the lead. Then after the Giants took it back, the offense was moving back down again before a questionable call on a catch by Mike Williams at the Giants 15 yard line (official review reversed the catch to an incompletion) derailed the drive and Josh tried to force a pass with only 10 seconds left.
From the outside, this looks to be a completely different Bucs team than what we saw on that late season Saturday night in 2011. Can you talk to the culture change of the organization with Schiano in charge?
JC: Its been a huge change. The Bucs have talent on their football team, it's just raw and it needs to be molded. Schiano has given the guys structure that was missing under the previous regime. He drills in discipline, details and technique. Most games, the Bucs will not beat themselves - you'll have to outplay them.
One other thing that's vastly different about this team that it was when the Cowboys faced them in 2011 - there's no quit in this ballclub. When the Cowboys destroyed the Bucs in front of a National television audience last season, the Bucs players had already begun mailing it in. Even Deion called them out at halftime.
This Bucs team won't give up until the final ticks are off the clock - just ask Tom Coughlin and Eli.
Was the initial success under Raheem Morris fool's gold, or was there a noticeable change that led to the rapid decline?
JC: Its a tough question to answer. Where the Bucs as good as 10-6 in 2010? No, probably not. They had a couple lucky bounces go their way and some fantastic finishes by Freeman that allowed them to steal a few victories from the jaws of defeat. Were they as bad as 4-12 last year? I don't believe so.
This team started out 4-2 with victories over both NFC South powers Atlanta and New Orleans. They went to London, sustained some injuries in that game and never recovered. The second half of the season got ugly - with many of the players simply quitting on Morris. Morris is a good guy and a bright young coach, but he wasn't ready for the big chair. He was still in the age range of the players and wanted to be "boys" with them. You can't do that and command their respect on Sundays.
KD: What are we going to see, schematically, out of the Bucs defense on Sunday? Tried and true Tampa 2 or are there some new wrinkles that are being unleashed with the new regime?
JC: Tampa Two, as we know it, is dead in Tampa Bay. This defense features a lot more blitzing and aggressiveness. It worked perfectly against Cam Newton and the Panthers ... not so great against the Giants. It will be interesting to see how they play Dallas. There was some zone coverages employed against the Giants because I think they feared the deep passing game with Cruz and Nicks and that may have contributed to Eli racking up the yardage (that and Hakeem Nicks was unstoppable - I'd hate to see him when he's healthy - sheesh). I'd expect you'll see a lot more man and variety of blitzes from the Bucs this week.
Give me a surprise superstar for the Cowboys to be concerned with. We are aware of the big name free agents signed (Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson) and the rookie runner (Doug Martin), who is under the radar that will make his presence known to Dallas fans near and far?
JC: He got banged up a bit against the Giants but linebacker Lavonte David has been all over the field for Tampa Bay. A second round pick this year out of Nebraska, he's made a huge impact in the Bucs run defense and despite playing outside linebacker, he makes all the defensive calls instead of MLB Mason Foster. He's lightning quick and has been used in some blitzing situations as well. Don't be surprised if you hear his name called a few times.