The blueprint which distinguishes the Dallas Cowboys from the New England Patriots is remarkably similar aside from personnel.

And it’s no coincidence they are the only two NFL teams ranked among the top 10 on both sides of the ball.

Their 3-4 defenses are ranked No.6 (Cowboys) and No. 4 (Patriots) while their balanced offenses are No. 6 and 7, respectively.  

Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and the Bucs offense will face the NFC’s fourth-best scoring defense on Sunday in Dallas, which is allowing 18.8 points per game. In overall defense, the Cowboys are second only to Chicago in the NFC, allowing an average of 285 yards per game.

“I don’t know too much about the 3-4, I know last year against the New England Patriots, I didn’t have too much success against those guys,” Bucs running back Cadillac Williams said. “Just from looking at Dallas, man, it’s going to be a great challenge for the offense to come out and establish the run against those guys. “

If history is an indicator, the Bucs could have trouble rushing against Dallas’ 3-4 scheme.  In their last two outings against that style defense, New England (Dec. ’05) and Baltimore (Sept. ’06), the Bucs rushed for 56 yards combined.

Williams averaged 1.6 yards per carry against the Patriots in December of 2005 and then for 2.8 yards per carry against the Ravens in the season opener.

Against Washington last Sunday, Cadillac ran for a season-high 122 yards as the team produced its second-highest rushing total of the year with 181 yards. The three-pronged attack of Williams, fullback Mike Alstott and running back Michael Pittman appeared to keep the Redskins off guard.

“That’s fine with me , throughout my career, college, I’m definitely used to sharing the ball, so when Alstott and Pittman are getting their touches that’s fine with me.

Williams called Alstott’s pancake run over Washington’s Shawn Springs a “big boost” to the offense because they had been struggling to run the ball.

“You know its just one of those situations, where I’m always going to try to hit you before you hit me, that's the mentality I bring on the field. I want to run physical. I know I’m a small guy, but I like a little contact.”

The Bucs began work on the game plan for Dallas and starting quarterback Tony Romo on Monday. Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe midway through the Cowboys game against the New York Giants on Oct. 23 and has gone 3-1 in four starts since, putting Bill Parcell’s team over .500 for the first time all season.

He was 19-of-23 for 226 yards and an interception in last week’s unseating of previously undefeated Indianapolis. Although he did not throw a touchdown pass, he did engineer two fourth quarter scoring drives of 68 and 80 yards, rallying his team from a seven-point deficit for the win.

“He’s a little more diverse than Bledsoe,” Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. “He can run with the ball and he’s really hitting his check down routes.”

Hovan, who was a part of a 27-15 win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day 2000 as a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings, says the game will be a great moment for each and every one of the players.

“I think it’s a privilege to play in front of a nationwide global audience and show your skills.”
You have to go back to 1977 to find the last Thanksgiving that did not include the blue-starred helmets. That season, Turkey Day included a Bears win over Detroit and a Miami victory against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cowboys have played every year since.

Although he already denied it shortly after Tampa Bay’s win over Washington, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was asked again about the “feelers” rumor/report that appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Tuesday.

The Tribune’s report suggested Gruden was putting out feelers around the league for possible head-coaching vacancies should he be fired or traded during the offseason.

Just as he did Sunday, Gruden denied the report on Tuesday after the Bucs concluded practice at One Buc Place.

“No, not really, when you’re dealing with stupidity,” Gruden said when asked if it was disruptive to see his name associated with a rumor. “False things like that I try not to worry about. That’s the way it is. I’m not going to keep addressing a rumor that has no validity at all, so that’s that.”

Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber was a special guest in the Monday Night Football booth this past week, commenting along with hosts Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser about twin brother Tiki, whose Giants lost to Jacksonville 26-10.

As if it wouldn’t be cold enough in Pittsburgh for the Bucs’ 1:00 p.m. start on Dec. 3, the league decided to bump the game back to a 4:15 p.m. kickoff.

The last time Tampa Bay played a regular season game in Pittsburgh, Jack Lambert was playing middle linebacker for the Steelers. The Bucs lost that game 17-12 at Three Rivers Stadium on Oct. 30,, 1983.

The game will mark the first time Tampa Bay will play at Heinz Field. The team’s last regular season meeting was at Raymond James in 2002, a 17-7 Steeler victory. They also played in Canton, Ohio in the 1998 Hall Of Fame Game.

Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice has missed two straight games due to a shoulder injury, and he’s listed as doubtful for Thursday contest in Dallas.

According to Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, Rice might need surgery to repair the injury, which likely would end his season.

“That’s certainly an option right now,” Gruden said when asked if Rice needed surgery. “I think the longer this goes on it’s inevitable that we’ve got to take a look at what the final analysis is. It’s been very frustrating for him. He’s tried to go, he’s wanted to go, he wanted to play last week. Medically, we chose not to let him play, and we miss him. We miss him, certainly.”

In other injury news, seven Bucs players – CB Juran Bolden (shin), T Anthony Davis (ankle), TE/LS Dave Moore (illness), RB Michael Pittman (shoulder), LB Shelton Quarles (knee/ankle), TE Alex Smith (ankle) and DT/DE Ellis Wyms (ankle) – are listed as questionable for Thursday’s contest.

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