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DEFENSIVE LINE Dallas came out and attempted to establish the run early vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Cowboys were effective in that regard, rushing for 82 yards on 14 carries (5.9 avg.) in the first half. But the Cowboys finished the game with 118 yards rushing on 24 carries (4.9 avg.) and one touchdown. While the Bucs, who were without backup defensive lineman Kyle Moore (groin), settled down in the second half, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo also exploded in the passing game, and his success had a lot to do with the lack of pass rush from Tampa Bay's front four.
In fact, the Buccaneers defensive line failed to record a sack on Romo Sunday. To make matters worse, Cowboys running backs Marion Barber and Felix Jones broke off big runs of 23 and 19 yards, respectively. Barber finished the game with 79 yards rushing on 14 carries (5.6 avg.) and one touchdown, which came off a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay's front four had low tackle totals vs. Dallas. Defensive tackles Chris Hovan and rookie Roy Miller led the way with two apiece. Starting DT Ryan Sims and defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson had one tackle each. Third-year defensive end Gaines Adams saw a significant amount of action at left end while Wilkerson played inside and Stylez G. White took reps at right end. Adams, a former first-round pick, had no tackles and just one quarterback hurry vs. Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams, who allowed Adams to notch two sacks last year. Gaines Adams was also penalized for jumping offside on a second-and-1 play in the second quarter, which gave the Cowboys an automatic first down. Adams' production, or lack thereof, hindered the Bucs defense today, especially on passing downs.
LINEBACKERS The Buccaneers had a bit of a shakeup in their linebacker rotation Sunday. Bucs head coach Raheem Morris decided last-minute to start veteran Matt McCoy at weakside linebacker in place of second-year player Geno Hayes. The decision came after Hayes was late arriving to Raymond James Stadium for Sunday's contest.
While he didn't start, Hayes saw a significant amount of action vs. the Cowboys. He notched six tackles, one tackle for a loss and led the team with three quarterback hurries after defensive coordinator Jim Bates used his athletic ability and speed to try and create pressure on Romo. Hayes was far from perfect, getting caught out of position on Barber's 23-yard run down the left sideline in the second quarter. But he also showed some playmaking ability towards the end of the first half, sniffing out a screen pass to RB Tanard Choice on a third-and-20 play, which went for no gain.
Bucs second-year LB Quincy Black contributed five tackles and veteran MLB Barrett Ruud chipped in four of his own takedowns. This group has to take responsibility in some of Dallas' early success running the football. It also had trouble containing tight end Jason Witten, who hauled in a team-leading five passes for 71 yards, including a 20-yarder on a third-and-8 play in the second quarter.
SECONDARY With the exception of Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib, this unit had a horrific outing vs. the Cowboys, who were just 3-of-10 (30 percent) on third downs, but produced 462 yards of total offense vs. the Buccaneers.
Barber got the defense off to a fast start, breaking into the offensive backfield and tackling RB Marion Barber for a 1-yard loss on the first play of the game. On the same drive with Dallas at Tampa Bay's 27-yard line on first down, Barber blitzed off the edge and sacked QB Tony Romo for a 9-yard loss. The Cowboys had to eventually settle for a 51-yard field goal to go up 3-0. On the second drive of the game, Barber defended a third-and-4 pass to Cowboys TE Marcellus Bennett in the corner of the end zone. That forced the Cowboys to settle for another field goal, which put Dallas up 6-0. Barber had another pass breakup on another third down play later in the game. He finished the game with two tackles, one sack and two passes defensed.
On the second drive of the game, Talib was flagged for illegal use of hands to the face, but the penalty was declined after Witten's 18-yard catch down the sideline vs. LB Quincy Black. In the third quarter, Talib showed great athleticism and instincts by jumping a pass near the sideline on a third-and-10 play. He nearly intercepted the ball, but couldn't hold onto it. Still, it forced a punt. Talib had four tackles and two passes defensed vs. Dallas.
Romo completed 16-of-27 passes for 353 yards and tossed three touchdowns and no interceptions. While the lack of pass rush from Tampa Bay's front four certainly didn't help, a significant amount of Romo's success came vs. Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli, who was picked on repeatedly, especially in the second half.
On the first drive of the third quarter, Romo fired a pass down the right seam to WR Roy Williams, who beat Piscitelli and linebacker-turned safety Jermaine Phillips on the play. Williams gained 66 yards en route to the end zone, which capped off a 79-yard, three-play drive and put the Cowboys up 20-7. Late in the third quarter with the Cowboys facing a third-an-2 play, Piscitelli looked confused on the field before heading over to the right sideline to go one-on-one with a receiver. That matchup allowed Romo to hit Witten on a route underneath the coverage. Witten gained 18 yards on the play. Early in the fourth quarter with the Bucs trailing the Cowboys 20-14, Romo dropped back to throw and pump-faked, which caused second-year CB Elbert Mack and Piscitelli to bite. That allowed WR Patrick Crayton to get wide open. Romo hit Crayton for an 80-yard touchdown pass, which put Dallas up 27-14. Late in the fourth quarter, Romo completed another pass to Crayton, who once again beat Piscitelli deep, this time for a 44-yard gain. A few plays later Dallas scored a touchdown, which put the Cowboys up 34-14.
Piscitelli led the Bucs in tackles with eight. Dallas absolutely lit up Tampa Bay's secondary from a big-play standpoint. Crayton hauled in four passes for 135 yards (33.8 avg.) and one touchdown. Cowboys WR Roy Williams contributed three catches for 86 yards (28.7 avg.) and one touchdown vs. the Bucs.
Phillips didn't have as many blown coverages, but he took poor angles on several plays, which led to some big yards for the Cowboys, including a 19-yard run by Jones on the second drive of the game. With less than one minute remaining in the first half, Romo threw a nice pass to WR Miles Austin near the sideline. Mack missed the tackle and Phillips took a bad angle, which allowed Austin to stroll into the end zone for a 42-yard score. That put the Cowboys up 13-7 and capped off a two-play, 56-yard drive in just 16 seconds. Phillips finished the game with six tackles and one quarterback hurry.
SPECIAL TEAMS This unit had a poor showing vs. Dallas. Several gaffes during Sunday's contest came courtesy of the Bucs' special teams unit, which was supposed to be a strength of the team heading into 2009.
Bucs kicker Mike Nugent had a 38-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter blocked by safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who came in unblocked around Bucs guard Marcus Johnson. The loose ball was recovered by cornerback Mike Jenkins at the Bucs' 48-yard line. It led to a seven-play, 44-yard drive that ended with a Cowboys field goal, which put Dallas up 6-0. With seven seconds remaining in the first half, Nugent took the field for a 46-yard field goal try. The kick missed again, this time sailing wide right.
Cowboys return specialist Felix Jones averaged 23.3 yards per attempt. Punt returner Patrick Crayton averaged just 3.0 yards per punt return.
In addition to his coverage woes, Piscitelli was called for running into the kicker on a fourth-and-2 punt in the second quarter. That infraction gave the Cowboys an automatic first down. Wide receiver Maurice Stovall was also penalized Sunday. He was called for being offside on the team's onside kickoff attempt, which was recovered by Dallas late in the fourth quarter.
Even Bucs Pro Bowl return specialist Clifton Smith had a shaky outing for the special teams unit. He unwisely fielded a punt at Tampa Bay's own 1-yard line and was tackled at the 14-yard line late in the second quarter. The Bucs eventually punted and the Cowboys went on to score on the ensuing drive thanks to great starting field position. Late in the third quarter, Smith muffed a punt at Tampa Bay's own 16-yard line, but he managed to recover the loose ball. Smith averaged 25.3 yards per kickoff return and 9.0 yards per punt return vs. Dallas.
Bucs punter Dirk Johnson averaged 41 yards per punt. He pinned two of his five attempts inside Dallas' 20-yard line, and had a net of 40.2.
COACHING Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson was aggressive in his play calling, which led to 450 yards of offense for Tampa Bay, including 174 yards and two touchdowns by the running backs. Unfortunately, that led to just 21 points for the Bucs. One could knock the play calling for abandoning Cadillac Williams, who had 77 yards rushing less than six minutes into the second quarter, but finished the game with just 99 yards on 13 carries. Derrick Ward got a lot of work in the second half, and the Bucs offense was forced to pass too often when it fell behind Dallas by more than one score early in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Jim Bates dialed up some effective blitzes, but the front four's pass rush was non-existent, and his secondary was torched by WRs Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams, and QB Tony Romo, who threw for over 350 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bucs demonstrated poor time management towards the end of the first half when the team had to take a timeout before Nugent's 46-yard field goal attempt. Had the Bucs not taken that timeout, the play clock would have expired, resulting in a 5-yard penalty. In essence, the Bucs iced their own kicker, and paid a price for it when Nugent's 46-yard field goal attempts sailed wide right.
For all the extra work Tampa Bay dedicated to special teams during training camp, Sunday's sloppy outing was disappointing to say the least.