Cowboys Vs. Buccaneers: Keys To The Game

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 17: Running back LeGarrette Blount #27 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 17, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

After a disappointing loss in Seattle, Dallas returns home looking to get their season on track when they host Tampa Bay on Sunday.

The Dallas Cowboys started off the season with a great win on the road against the New York Giants. It was the type of win that makes a huge statement. With a performance like that, you would hope to see it carry over into the next game.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they didn't perform well against the Seattle Seahawks. For whatever reason, the team never got on track and were basically dominated by the Seahawks in every aspect of the game.

It's debatable, but it could be a must-win for the Cowboys this Sunday.

Dallas will play their home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is a team that is in the midst of a transition, but they are a young and talented team that shouldn't be overlooked.


Keys To The Game

Dallas needs to get back into a rhythm on offense. What I have noticed about Jason Garrett is that his best called games often come from him being more aggressive.

Garrett is no longer the offensive coordinator, but he is still responsible for making the play calls. The Cowboys would like to get running back DeMarco Murray involved early, but they may be better off using the passing game to set up the running game.

Tampa Bay allowed Eli Manning to throw for a career high 510 yards against them last Sunday. Tony Romo has been nearly perfect against the Buccaneers in three career games against them. Todd Archer of ESPNDallas wrote a very good article on the success Romo has had against the Bucs.

I wonder if Tony Romo will continue his personal success against the Buccaneers on Sunday. In three games against Tampa Bay, Romo has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. His passer ratings in the three wins have been 148.9, 140.6 and 133.9. In 2006, Romo tore up Monte Kiffin’s defense for five touchdown passes. In the 2009 season opener, he beat Raheem Morris’ defense for 353 yards. Last year he completed 77 percent of his passes against Keith Millard’s defense. This week he goes against Bill Sheridan’s defense. The Bucs have allowed Cam Newton to pass for 303 yards and Eli Manning to pass for 510 in the first two games. Sheridan was the New York Giants defensive coordinator in 2009 and in the two games Romo threw four touchdown passes and was intercepted three times in two Dallas losses.

Romo has shredded the Bucs before, so it may be time for the Cowboys to come out firing and test a suspect secondary.

On defense the Cowboys need to do a better job against the run. Marshawn Lynch was "beast mode" against the Dallas defense and took over the game in the second half. His 122-yard performance kept the Cowboys offense on the sideline, but it also wore down the entire Dallas defense down in the second half.

The Bucs have a similar workhorse runner in Doug Martin. Martin reminds me a lot of Ray Rice, a short and stockier type of runner who can hit the hole very quickly and bounce off of defenders on his way to big gains

If the Cowboys can limit what Martin can do on the ground, it makes Tampa Bay become more reliant on their passing game. The Bucs may have Vincent Jackson, but their bread and butter is their running game.

What To Watch For

On offense pay attention to Dez Bryant. He had a terrible game last week and he needs to bounce back strong against the Buccaneers. He has a tough matchup, going up against Aqib Talib or Eric Wright. Both cornerbacks like to challenge and get physical with the wide receiver, but Bryant can thrive against that type of coverage if he gets off the line quickly.

Bryant hasn't truly taken over a game for the entire four quarters since his rookie season. There have been flashes of brilliance, but he's just been too inconsistent. Bryant has the physical talent to become one of the best wide receivers in football, but he needs to start making strides and taking over games like some of the premier wide receivers do.

The Cowboys need Dez to have his breakout season this year. They put up with a lot of his off-the-field issues, but there must start to be better production from Bryant. If he has a strong game Sunday, it will go a long way in building his confidence towards a breakout campaign.

Tony Romo was asked about Dez Bryant, but Romo stood up and defended him in his comments.

"You’re going to see different guys have big games at different times and I've told you this before," Romo said after Thursday's practice at Valley Ranch. "A lot of it is dictated on defensive coverages (and) what they’re doing, and sometimes some games you’re going to go (to) different players."

"I just think Dez needs to come to work (hard) everyday like he’s doing and continue to get better as a wide receiver," Romo said. "I think he's doing that."

One player who is flying under the radar on offense is guard Nate Livings. Livings was a player the Cincinnati Bengals were glad to see go in free agency, but so far so good for the guard in Dallas. He actually has been our best offensive lineman. If he can open up some more holes for DeMarco Murray to run through, then Murray have have another big performance late in the game when the Cowboys need to run the clock out.

On defense be on the lookout for the Dallas secondary. Overlooked in last weeks performance was the play of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Carr and Claiborne have really be fantastic, but it's not being talked about much since the Cowboys were dominated by the Seahawks last Sunday.

Both have played tremendous defense in pass coverage. They have the potential to lock even the most talented receivers down. They get a tough wide receiver in Vincent Jackson, but the Bucs also have a talented young wide receiver in Mike Williams.

Carr told Todd Archer of ESPNDallas that Jackson will be a good test for him.

"He looks like he’s picking up where he left off in San Diego," Carr said. "Just from my first-hand experiences with Vincent Jackson, he’s a big, fast, physical receiver. I’ll have my work cut out for me the whole 60 minutes."

Rob Ryan hasn't been as blitz happy as I expected him to be this season, so it will be interesting to see if he decides to start bringing the heat more this Sunday.

He finally got the secondary he needed in order to run his type of scheme, but Ryan has not brought out the aggressive style many thought we would see from him now that he has cornerbacks who can cover on the backside of the field.

Prediction

Dallas needs to perform well this week. No offense to the Bucs, but this is a game the Cowboys should dominate. This team clearly has had trouble being consistent the past few seasons. A dominant performance may help get them back on track.

The Cowboys are fortunate to be playing this game at home. This time they get to have the crowd on their side, and that is a major advantage for Tony Romo and his ability to alter the play before the snap.

If Tony Romo has a good game, the running game gets going and the defense steps up and does their job, then the Cowboys should win easily, say 34-17. If the offense struggles and the defense doesn't generate any sacks, then this will become a close game.

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