The Bucs come in with a very strong defense that is extremely aggressive, tough, and fundamentally sound. Every player on the field from DE Warren Sapp to SS John Lynch brings the heat for four quarters, and thus you can count on a game that features a lot bone-crushing hits.
Offensively, Head Coach Tony Dungy has added Brad Johnson at quarterback in hopes of him being the spark that sends the Bucs to Super bowl glory. But don't be fooled, Tampa Bay is still a ball control, win it with defense type of football team, and they'll be looking to run it right down the throat of the Cowboys defense Sunday afternoon.
Why would the Bucs do anything but run the football? The Cowboys were dead last against the run last year, giving up an unbelievable 2,636 rushing yards as three different running backs went for 200 yards or more. One of those backs was Warrick Dunn.
Dunn rushed for a career high 210 yards in a 27-7 thrashing of the Cowboys in week #9 and you can bet he's been waiting all summer for a repeat performance.
The question is, how will Dallas try to stop this from happening again this season?
For starters, they will play more eight-man fronts and try to blitz the linebackers more. This will help defend the run at first, but the concern is that it could also put the defense in a position to give up more big plays, which could spell trouble in the 3rd and 4th quarters. Look for George Teague and Darren Woodson to be instumental in making sure that doesn't happen.
With Woodson and Teague back in the line-up after missing the Tampa Bay game last year, Dallas should be much more competetive, at least defensively. Ebenezer Ekuban is starting to become a strong force and the rest of the defense is starting to become much more aggressive and confident. With a couple of question marks at the corners, the Cowboys have at the very least adjusted to allow themselves the best chance for improvement for the first game of the year.
This offseason, so much has been made about the defensive alignments, especially up front in the trenches. Sunday afternoon we will begin to understand if all of the adjustments will help one of the weakest teams against the run in the NFL.
One thing that could possibly work in the Cowboys' favor Sunday will be the fact that everyone in Tampa is looking forward to week #2 when the Philadelphia Eagles come calling. The press, the team, the city are all thinking that the Bucs will walk all over the Boys and head into week two at 1-0. This could allow Dallas to be in the perfect situation for a possible upset.
Offensively, there has to be some concern at the quarterback position as Quincy Carter takes the field for the first time during a regular season game. Certainly the Bucs will try to disguise their coverages and blitz on all kinds of down and distance situations.
Warren Sapp has probably been licking his chops all summer, especially at the thought of running the option.
"If they're going to do it, then it's their quarterback funeral," said Sapp. "I have a wring side seat for it, so I have no problem with it. Nobody runs the option. Are y'all crazy? It's just a changeup for a guy with speed and good mobility. That's playing to the strengths of his feet."
Emmitt Smith returns this season with the very possibility of facing an 8-man front almost exclusively the first half of the season. After all, why would you let the best running back of all-time beat you when you've got a quarterback that wouldn't be starting at his former school if he would have stayed for his senior season?
Also returning for Dallas is WR Joey Galloway. Galloway has looked decent during the preseason and in practice, but we won't know for sure how his knee will hold until he's had a chance to play under "real" conditions.
One thing Quincy Carter has shown us is that he tends to throw the long ball pretty well, and that could be a big factor with Galloway and Rocket Ismail pressuring the Tampa Bay secondary downfield.
As talented as the Bucs are on defense, there is really no reason to think that they can come into Texas Stadium and beat up on the Cowboys like they did last season. This is the first game of the year, and this is the NFL. Any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday.
The Cowboys will need to establish some sort of running game against the Bucs and then try to hit a couple of long balls to Joey Galloway and Rocket Ismail down the sidelines.
Everyone on the Bucs defense will be trying to stop Emmitt Smith, why not open up the game with a couple of easy passes to help Quincy Carter settle down? Let the passing game set-up the running game, at least on the first series. You just know Tony Dungy will have his troops ready to take aim at Emmitt, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Campo take a few chances downfield early to soften up the Bucs defense.
I think that Dallas will keep this game close for at least 3 quarters. Tampa Bay has not shown the consistent offense to simply come in and run up points at will. Too much emphasis has been placed on stopping the run for the Cowboys to allow another 200-yard peformance by Warrick Dunn, and the Brad Johnson-Keyshawn Johnson combination certainly hasn't been proven in NFL circles.
If Quincy Carter can limit his mistakes and if the Cowboys can somehow string together a couple of 10-12 play drives, then they have a chance to be very competetive in this game. Look for a close, low scoring game with the Cowboys in it until the end. With any luck, they'll have the chance to pull it out in the end, but more than likely talent will prevail. Look for a Bucs win, 16-13.
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