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OPPONENT: Dallas Cowboys
WHERE: Texas Stadium WHERE THE COWBOYS STAND: The Cowboys are 6-4 and tied with the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East division. COWBOYS HEAD COACH: Bill Parcells COWBOYS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bill Parcells
COWBOYS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Zimmer
COWBOYS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Bruce DeHaven
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 29th (258.5 ypg) RUSHING: 28th (91.2 ypg) PASSING: 28th (167.3 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 21st (331.2 ypg) RUSHING: 20th (121.3 ypg) PASSING: 18th (209.9 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Dallas is 3-1 at home this season?
SCOUTING THE COWBOYS
Quarterbacks With the exception of their last-second loss to the Washington Redskins, the Dallas Cowboys have been on a roll with Tony Romo at quarterback. Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe in the starting lineup in Week 7, and the Cowboys have lost only one game since. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Romo’s mobility and playmaking ability have given the Dallas offense, which ranks 6th overall in the NFL, a young but reliable signal caller. Romo has completed an impressive 68.2 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,350 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. While he has mobility, Romo typically uses it to buy himself time to throw the ball as opposed to pulling it down and running with it.
Running Backs Tampa Bay’s defense ranks 20th against the run, but this unit has played well as of late. In fact, the Bucs haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in three straight contests. They’ll need to hit the right gaps and tackle well Thursday as Dallas’ ground game is one of the league’s most potent. The Cowboys’ running game features a two-back attack in Julius Jones and Marion Barber Jones. Jones is well on his way to a 1,000-yard season. He’s rushed for 813 yards (4.0) and three touchdowns thus far. Barber, who is more of a power back, has carried the ball 82 times for 509 yards (5.0 avg.) and nine touchdowns. Although Jones is considered the feature back, Dallas could be tempted to use the 220-pound Barber to wear down Tampa Bay’s undersized defense, which is missing some key starters (defensive tackle Ellis Wyms and defensive end Simeon Rice) and depth along the defensive line.
Wide Receivers One of the reasons why Romo has been successful and accurate is because of his receiving corps. Romo’s favorite target has been controversial WR Terrell Owens, who has hauled in a team-leading 53 passes for 724 yards and seven touchdowns. Owens, who usually attempts to steal the spotlight on big stages like the one this nationally televised game will provide, will be matched up with Bucs three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber. Barber has had mixed outings in the past against Owens, who is a former San Francisco 49er. It will be critical for Tampa Bay’s front seven to stop Dallas’ ground attack so Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin can leave safeties Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen back in coverage to help Barber. If Barber can shutdown Owens early, the veteran receiver could get frustrated and become disruptive on the sideline. Even though Barber (5-10) has the taller order against the 6-foot-3 Owens, Bucs CB Torrie Cox could be the player the Cowboys pick on the most. With Brian Kelly on injured reserve and Juran Bolden unlikely to play due to an ankle injury, Torrie Cox will probably start and be matched up against WR Terry Glenn. Glenn has hauled in 42 passes for 534 yards and four touchdowns. He often times reaps the benefits of the double coverage Owens faces, and he appears to have an advantage over Cox, who has had mixed outings as the team’s nickel corner this season. Dallas WR Patrick Crayton is the team’s No. 3 guy. He has done a nice job filling that role, catching 24 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns. However, Dallas has featured less three-receiver sets as of late due to pass protection issues. Plus, the Cowboys have one heck of a duo at tight end in Jason Witten and Anthony Fasano. Witten is an excellent blocker and reliable receiving threat. He’s hauled in 39 passes for 450 yards and one touchdown. Fasano has been performing well in the run-blocking department while being used more as a fullback. The Cowboys are converting 48.2 percent of their third down attempts on offense, and the reliable and dangerous targets they have in the passing game are a big reason why.
Offensive Line This unit has been a force in the running game, opening up huge holes for Jones and Barber while blowing defenders off of the line of scrimmage. However, the pass protection provided by left tackle Flozell Adams, left guard Kyle Kosier, center Andre Gurode, right guard Marco Rivera and right tackle Marc Colombo, has been sub-par at best. In fact, the Cowboys have surrendered 23 sacks through 10 games. However, 16 of those quarterback takedowns were on Bledsoe, who was a statue compared to the mobile Romo. Tampa Bay’s defensive line has had problems getting after the quarterback and enters this game banged up. Under tackle Ellis Wyms and defensive end Simeon Rice have missed Tampa Bay’s last two games due to injuries. Rice appears to be headed for shoulder surgery and is out for the year, which means Dewayne White likely will line up against Adams. While White has four sacks on the season, the 340-pound Adams could prove to be difficult to get around. If Wyms, who is battling an ankle injury, can’t go again, Jon Bradley and rookie Julian Jenkins likely will rotate at that position while taking on Rivera, who is arguably Dallas’ best offensive lineman. Like most teams, Dallas favors running off the right side of the line, which will make it critical for Tampa Bay’s under tackle and left end Greg Spires to perform well in this contest. Rivera is capable of blocking on his own, which means Gurode and Kosier likely will double-team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan quite often.
Defensive Line If Tampa Bay is going to move the ball on offense in this game, it likely will have to do it throwing the football. Dallas’ run defense, which features an aggressive 3-4 scheme, is aggressive. Although the Bucs rushed for nearly 200 yards last week vs. the Redskins, the Cowboys are surrendering just 86 yards per game in that department. Defensive ends Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, and nose tackle Jason Ferguson do a great job of engaging blockers to free up blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. They’ve combined for just two sacks but are sound against the run. This could prove to be the toughest challenge yet in the young careers of Bucs rookie guard Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood. Both players will rely heavily on center John Wade to recognize blitzes and make the proper calls at the line of scrimmage. If the Bucs are going to attempt to run the football with Cadillac Williams, they might be able to do it off the left side behind guard Dan Buenning and left tackle Anthony Davis, who could find success vs. Canty.
Linebackers Tampa Bay could receive a much-needed break here as Dallas left outside linebacker Greg Ellis, who had notched 4.5 sacks, is injured and probably will be replaced by former Bucs LB Al Singleton. Although Singleton is fast and talented, that’s good news for the Bucs since Ellis is regarded as a dangerous blitzer and would have given Trueblood and Joseph some problems. However, right outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is healthy and ready to go. The Cowboys love to blitz Ware because he’s so good against the run and getting after the quarterback. Ware has notched a team-leading six sacks this season, which means Wade, Buenning and Davis will have to be on their game, especially in pass protection, where Ware will be attacking rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski’s blindside. The Cowboys rely on inside linebackers Bradie James and Akin Ayodele more to stop the run than they do to get after the quarterback. When Dallas, which has the 6th-ranked defense in the NFL, does bring the blitz, Gradkowski must be quick to find his open receivers and/or use his mobility to elude Dallas’ defenders.
Secondary Dallas’ secondary features what is arguably the best cornerback trio in the NFL in Terence Newman, Anthony Henry and Aaron Glenn. Newman, who has notched one pick and nine passes defensed, will be matched up against Bucs WR Michael Clayton, who has struggled catching the football as of late. On the opposite side of the field, Henry, who also has one interception but has defensed 14 passes, will go up against former Cowboys WR Joey Galloway. This marks the first time Galloway has played Dallas since being traded to Tampa Bay during the 2004 offseason. Henry is a good cover corner, but Galloway has the speed to beat him deep. It will be critical for Galloway and Clayton to be physical off of the line of scrimmage in order to get clean releases. If Clayton and Galloway struggle to get off the line of scrimmage and Dallas finds success blitzing, it will be a long day for Gradkowski. If the Bucs do decide to deploy some three-receiver sets, Ike Hilliard will take the field and will go up against Glenn. Tampa Bay likely will be without tight end Alex Smith, who injured his ankle last Sunday. That’s not good news for the Bucs offense, which will now rely on tight ends Anthony Becht, Doug Jolley and Dave Moore to run block. Jolley likely will attempt to replace Smith in the passing game, but Gradkowski will have to be careful when attempting to get him the ball as Cowboys strong safety Roy Williams will be roaming the field. Williams is a ferocious hitter and leads the team with four interceptions. The one weakness Tampa Bay could attempt to exploit in Dallas’ secondary is the free safety position, where Pat Williams, a rookie fifth-round pick out of Florida State, could be vulnerable if left alone in the secondary with Galloway.
Special Teams Dallas has had mixed results in this area. The Cowboys signed former Colt Mike Vanderjagt to sure up the team’s kicking game, but that hasn’t happened. Vanderjagt, who was one of the league’s most accurate kickers in Indianapolis, has made just 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) of his field goal attempts. However, punter Mat McBriar has a cannon for a leg and is averaging 49.5 yards per attempt. He’s pinned 13 of his 40 attempts inside the 20-yard line. But sometimes McBriar oukicks his coverage, which is allowing opposing returners to average 10 yards per attempt. That should be good news for Ike Hilliard and Phillips Buchanon, who have been sharing punt return duties for the Bucs and need to help the offense establish good field position. Speaking of coverage, Tampa Bay will need to have it against Dallas kickoff returner Tyson Thompson, who has played an integral role in establishing great starting field position for the Cowboys offense by averaging 26 yards per return. And although Dallas punt returner Terence Newman is averaging just 7.4 yards per return, he has the speed to take one back to the house at anytime. FLYNN’S FORECAST: Cowboys 24 Buccaneers 10
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