Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Know Thy Enemy”, in this series we will be taking a look at the numbers surrounding the Cowboys’ opponents week in and week out during the 2022 season. With the game a week away it’s time we buckle in and take a deep dive into understanding the tendencies and weaknesses of our first matchup of the season.
In 2021 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the most prolific passing team in the entire NFL. The Buccaneers’ offense passed the ball a league leading 731 times, fully utilizing the star pass catchers they had in Evans, Brown, Godwin, and Gronkowski. They also led the league in completions (492), passing yards (5,383), and passing touchdowns (43); cementing themselves as the deadliest air assault in the league. While Gronkowski has called it a career and Brown’s public melt down led to the team parting ways with him, the Buccaneers still have one of the most talented receiving cores the Cowboys will face all year. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are both expected to be healthy and ready to play in the season opener. While Evans was held to only 3 catches for 26 yards in last years season opener its hard to expect a similar result. Evans has been one of the most consistent and dangerous receivers in league history posting 8 consecutive 1000 yard seasons to start his career, the ONLY receiver in league history to do so. With Evans expected to receive even more targets this season the Cowboys will have their hands full containing the future hall of famer. Chris Godwin is the other star receiver returning from last year’s matchup. Godwin left his mark on last year’s battle in Tampa, finishing the night with 9 receptions, 105 yards, and a receiving touchdown. With how productive and dynamic the duo of Evans and Godwin are I would be remiss to not mention the Buccaneers’ acquisitions of Julio Jones, Russell Gage, and Kyle Rudolph. With the number of play makers they have at their disposal it is easy to see a scenario where the Cowboys’ secondary gets overwhelmed by the sheer fire power that Tampa has on the offensive end, but the Cowboys do have a chance if they limit the number of offensive possessions Tampa is allowed and if they are able to pressure Brady. The Buccaneers’ offensive line is currently in flux. Starting guard Ali Marpet retired suddenly during the offseason and starting center Ryan Jensen was lost for the season after suffering a severe knee injury. Due to these injuries the middle of Tampa’s line will be manned by Robert Hainsey, a 3rd round tackle from Norte Dame who is transitioning to center, and Nick Leverett an undrafted free agent from their 2020 draft who has never started a game in the NFL. The Cowboys defensive line should be able to win up the middle on a consistent basis. Osa Odighizuwa and Neville Gallimore both excel at pushing the pocket from the interior of the defensive line and their size and experience will be a lot for a pair of inexperienced offensive linemen to handle. Also Micah Parson was very productive pressuring the quarterback in instances where he lined up over the center. So while it is true the Bucs have the weapons to torch the Dallas secondary, or any secondary for that matter, Dallas has the personnel upfront to prevent Brady from getting them ball down the field. The Buccaneers will rely heavily on their quick passing game to offset the mismatch of their depleted offensive line against Dallas front 7. If the Cowboys are able to win this match up it will go a long way in slanting the odds of victory in their favor. The defense is also going to have to ensure that Tampa does not reach 30 points. The Buccaneers were 10-0 during the regular season in games where they scored 30 points or more.
Also the Cowboys offense has lost to much talent to hope to keep pace with Tampa Bay in a shootout. Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson, and Malik Turner accounted for 1616 yards and 17 touchdowns of the Cowboy’s offense in 2021. With them no longer on the team and Michael Gallup not expected to play week 1 they will lack the adequate fire power to win a shoot out. With that said their may still be an offensive path to victory that can be utilized. While the Buccaneers allowed the third fewest rushing yards in the league last season, only 1573, they were the team with the least rushing attempts defended 366. More importantly the Bucs still allowed 4.3 yards per carry. While a daunting task, it will be important for Dallas to play a ball control offense and cash in on their scoring opportunities if they want to have a puncher’s chance against the Buccaneers. Washington was able to utilize this strategy in their 29-19 win over the Buccaneers last year. While they only managed 94 rushing yards on 34 carries they were able to shorten the game and maintain possession of the ball once they took a lead. Also in the 4 loses they suffered during the 2021 season the Bucs only averaged 17.5 points.
In conclusion, in order to win the Cowboys will have to hold the Buccaneers to under 30 points, in order to accomplish this the defensive front of the Cowboys will have to take advantage of the over matched offensive line of Tampa Bay and the Cowboy’s offense will also have to assist by shortening the game with the run game and a highly efficient ball control offense. With the limitations the Cowboys have on offense and the over abundance of play makers at the Bucs disposal this is the only way I can foresee the Cowboys beating a more talented team on opening night.