Cowboys Countdown to Kickoff - 10 Takes From Tampa

The Cowboys take on the Buccaneers at 12:00 p.m. Central on FOX. Here are some key stats - 10 through 1 - that could play a significant outcome in today's cellar-dweller showdown.

10: The Cowboys defense's third-down rank through the past three weeks -- Third down doesn't seem to be a problem for the Dallas defense, as they have forced opposing offenses off the field 25/36 times since returning from their bye week in Week Seven. The problem has been first, second, and even fourth downs where teams have been able to pick up 42 total first downs on the defense with an average of 6.2 yards per play. That type of production keeps Rod Marinelli's defense out of third-and-longs where he his rushmen can truly create chaos. The Cowboys defense has had 58 third-and-longs all season, tied with Tampa Bay for the fewest in the league. No team in the bottom-5 has a winning record, which makes for undesirable company for a team still aspiring for the playoffs. (And yes, we're busy here calculating Cowboys playoff chances and we're busy here trying to figure out who we should be rooting for in today's other games.)

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Further stressing out Dallas' D? The thin ranks at linebacker. Here are today's Dallas inactives, by the way ...

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9: The number of times Darren McFadden has played a Tampa-2 defense -- In his eight-year career, McFadden has a 4.3 yards per carry against Tampa-2 defenses. In fact, two of McFadden's 15 games with 100 yards rushing or more came against such defenses, though they were the '13 Jaguars and '10 Seahawks. Nonetheless, the former first-rounder in 2008 has shown the ability to get positive yards against this defense if given opportunities. If Dallas doesn't get behind early or handicap themselves with offensive penalties, giving McFadden carries against a front he sees every day in practice won't be a bad idea.

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8: The number of turnovers Rod Marinelli's defenses have forced against rookie QBs -- A genius defensive coordinator has more fun and wreaks more havoc when getting hold of a rookie quarterback than a tornado in a trailer park. Certainly Marinelli has done his part to welcome rookie signal-callers to the best in pro football, compiling a 5-1 record against first-year quarterbacks. Marinelli's defenses even have success against highly touted first-rounders. In his first game, the 2012 Bears forced Andrew Luck into committing four turnovers: three picks and a lost fumble. Though half a season into the NFL, Winston must face the same pressure from Marinelli's Dallas defense if they are to get off the schneid.

Want more Dallas-Tampa game numbers coming at you in a unique way? Click here for "Cowboys 100"!

 

7: David Irving's number of tackles in 2015 -- Who knew the 6-7 undrafted defensive end Dallas signed off Kansas City's practice squad in late September would blossom so quickly? Among Irving's seven tackles for the Cowboys, three of them have either been for no gain or a loss. Irving, a pleasant surprise amid the team's six-game losing streak, needs to continue to find ways to be consistent in his disruption as the rest of the rushmen find their own consistency with eight games remaining.

The Cowboys concede that Tyrone Crawford is supposed to be that guy from the inside. And maybe he will today. But they'll take anything they can get here.

 

6: How many times Matt Cassel has been sacked -- Opposing defenses have dropped the Cowboys third starting quarterback this season six times, which isn't that bad. In fact, it is the epitome of average as it's tied with five other teams for the 16th-fewest from Weeks 7-9 this year. Part of what skewed those results were the four sacks Dallas surrended (two of which were strip-sacks) last week against Philadelphia. Buccaneers defensive end Jacquies Smith and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy have combined for 9.5 sacks. The Cowboys will need to hold forth against these two pass rushers to give Cassel time to scan the field.

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And of course, Cassel needs to target Dez Bryant with the same intensity Dez Bryant targets sportswriters. (That's a joke!)

 

5: Doug Martin's rank for rushing yards in 2015 -- Martin is having one of his best seasons since his Pro Bowl rookie campaign in 2012. Martin has been a big part in helping Winston avoid an interception for the past four games, earning a 4.7 yards per carry and scoring three all-purpose touchdowns and going 2-2 in that span. If Dallas can hold Martin to less than 20 carries, it should bode well for them as Tampa Bay is 0-4 when Martin carries the ball less than 20 times.

 

4: The number of games Winston has committed a turnover -- The No. 1 overall pick committed a turnover in his first four games, starting Tampa Bay off 1-3. Since that time, not only has Winston not thrown a pick, but he hasn't even lost a fumble. Winston has been taking care of the football well as of late because he knows it gives his team the best chance to win. But the Cowboys defense is going to have to join the party of welcoming the rookie quarterback to the NFL if they want to get that almost mythical third win.

                         

 

3: The number of wins when Winston has at least a 55-percent completion percentage -- Sacks don't seem to affect Winston, as he 3-2 when he gets dropped twice or more per game. So the key to affecting Winston with pressure will be forcing him to throw from platforms that are uncomfortable. When completing less than 55 percent of his passes, Winston is 0-3.

 

2: How many fourth-quarter takeways the Dallas defense has -- While it is true the Cowboys defense is second to last in the league with four takeaways through eight games, only two of those have come in the fourth quarter and in the same game: Sept. 20 in Philadelphia. No coincidence Dallas won 20-10, just as it is the 13 teams with two fourth-quarter takeaways or fewer are unable to get above a .500 record.

 

1: The number of takeaways Dallas has had after backing up an offense at their own 5-yard line -- The Cowboys join the Eagles, Raiders, and Steelers for being the only teams in the NFL to get a takeaway in those situations, but the flip side of this state is what is depressing. Of the four opponent drives that have started at the 5-yard line or closer to the goal, 2/4 of them have ended in scores. The two other defenses in the NFL who have allowed that to happen are the Jaguars and Titans.

                     

Marinelli's D needs to find answers against a Bucs club coached by one of his best friends, Lovie Smith.


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