WHERE: Texas Stadium in Dallas, Texas
SPREAD: Bucs by 9
LAST SEASON:: 5-11 Record. Fourth Place in the NFC East.
HEAD COACH: Dave Campo (0-1 vs. Bucs' head coach Tony Dungy in the regular season).
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jack Reilly
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Zimmer
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Joe Avezzano and Bill Bates
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Buccaneers' RB Warrick Dunn vs. Dallas' Front-Four.. When the Bucs and Cowboys met last season, Dunn single handedly defeated Dallas by carrying the ball 22 times for a career-high 210 yards. In preseason, Dunn did not miss a beat. Dunn had 23 carries for 180 yards in four games. Dunn will also be a threat in the Bucs' passing attack. In preseason, Dunn caught six passes for 30 yards. To make things worse for Dallas, Dunn will be running behind an improved offensive line from last season.
Last season, Dallas became the first team in NFL history to allow three opposing running backs to rush for 200 yards in a season. The Cowboys did not do much to improve their defensive line this past offseason. Containing Dunn will be a necessity for Dallas' defense. If they don't, this game might get really ugly.
LEAF ALMOST LANDS ON A NEW TREE Former Bucs' QB Ryan Leaf didn't waste any time trying to find a new home. Two days after Tampa Bay released him, Leaf was going to sign a two-year contract with the Cowboys, but failed a team physical and Dallas opted not to sign Leaf.
CAUTION: SCRAMBLING QUARTERBACK AHEADDallas rookie QB Quincy Carter finished the preseason with a lot of momentum. Carter and the Cowboys won their final two games of the preseason with wins over the Raiders and Jaguars.
The Cowboys have implemented the option play, rollouts and quarterback draws into their offense, which goes along with their philosophy of adjusting their offense around their rookie quarterback.
Tampa Bay's defense is licking their chops at the opportunity of tackling an unprotected and inexperienced Carter. Although the plays the Cowboys put in for Carter are potentially dangerous, the Bucs should be well prepared for a scrambling Carter since they have faced the likes of QB Daunte Culpepper, QB Jay Fiedler and their own quarterback in Joe Hamilton. Tampa Bay's defenses is too fast and punishing for Dallas to use Carter as a rushing threat, but don't be surprised if they try it anyway.
BEWARE OF FORMER BUC Former Bucs' TE Jackie Harris has been with the Cowboys for two seasons now and has established himself as a very dangerous receiver. Last season, Harris caught 37 passes for 297 yards, and was at his best in the red zone where he caught five touchdowns.
COMPARING APPLES TO ORANGES: The Dallas Cowboys' defense recorded a dismal 25 sacks last season. They are going to have to put pressure on QB Brad Johnson if they are going to stand a chance of winning on Sunday. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay recorded a team-record 55 sacks last season and added pass-rushing guru DE Simeon Rice to their line.
BUCS SOUND OFF
DE Simeon Rice on his preparation for Dallas with the Bucs after facing Arizona twice a season for five years: "Regardless of film or no film, I know what they're going to do," said Rice. "My game plann has been prepped years back. I'm just going through the motions of knowing what they do normally and just getting abreast to them."
Rice on what kind of game he will have against Dallas: "Yeah, I'll have a big game," said Rice. "I know I will have a big game. This is what I've been playing for all year and this is what I've been doing. With that in mind, the dance has already started for me. I've been preparing all year, so I'll have a big game."
C Todd Washington on starting against the Dallas Cowboys on opening day: "It might be a littler harder for me because growing up, I was a Cowboy fan," said Washington. "Going to Texas Stadium is going to be fun for me and actually getting a chance to start against them is even a bigger plus for me. All we have to do is go out there and play our type of ball and we shouldn't have any problems."
MLB Jamie Duncan on the possibility of facing the option against Dallas: "We have played against a lot of quarterbacks that have been mobile," said Duncan. But I have not faced the option since college."
QB Brad Johnson on the Bucs' offense: "I think the biggest thing you can do in a game like this is stay away from the crazy turnover and give ourselves a chance to score some points," said Johnson. "I feel comfortable with our coordinator and very comfortable with the system."
DT Warren Sapp on preparing to face rookie QB Quincy Carter: "We're not facing a rookie quarterback," said Sapp. "We're facing a veteran offensive line with the greatest running game we'll ever know. That's what we're preparing for."
RB Warrick Dunn on facing the same defense he did last year when he rushed for over 200 yards: "Their defense is much better than last year," said Dunn. "Can I duplicate what I did last year? No. But I can go out and play a good football game."
FLYNN'S FINAL: The Buccaneers should easily walk away with a victory in Dallas, but that is the scariest part of Sunday's game. It would be easy for Tampa Bay to overlook Dallas and start focusing on their home opener in week 2 against the Eagles, but opening day is opening day. I would be shocked if the Pewter Pirates overlooked Dallas.
Although I selected Dunn vs. Cowboys' defense as the matchup to watch, there are a few others you should keep your eye on. Bucs DT Warren Sapp vs. RG Larry Allen: When they faced each other last season, neither player gave an inch. Sapp and Allen are both Pro Bowl players at their positions, but perhaps Sapp will find a way to get around Allen's power since he is about 40 lbs. lighter than when these two teams played last season. Bucs LT Kenyatta Walker vs. Cowboys DE Greg Ellis: Although Walker has been tested by the likes of defensive ends Jason Taylor and Courtney Brown this preseason, he will face his first true test against Dallas' 1998 first round pick, DE Greg Ellis. Although Ellis only recorded three sacks last season, he possesses power and athleticism and could give Walker problems.
Tampa Bay's offense must come out firing against Dallas. The longer the Bucs' offense goes without scoring, the better Dallas' chances become of pulling off the upset. Tampa Bay has been focused on this game since the schedule came out in April. Look for DT Anthony "Booger" McFarland and WR Keyshawn Johnson to have big games against Dallas. If the Bucs can jump out to a big lead early, DE Simeon Rice will join McFarland and Johnson's party. The Bucs must front-four must be careful to not overpursue Carter and be sure to tackle him when they get their hands on him. The Cowboys have nothing to lose and Tampa Bay has everything to lose on Sunday. That is the scariest part about this matchup. But the Bucs' will not fold under pressure and instead, they will rise to occasion come away from Dallas with a victory.
FLYNN'S PICK: Buccaneers 31 Cowboys 9
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