Cowboys Countdown to Buccaneers

The Cowboys look to establish another winning streak after falling to 11-2 last week while the Buccaneers hope to reach 9-5 en route to their first NFC South division title since 2007. Here are some stats to be aware of.

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10: Number of rushing touchdowns the Buccaneers defense has allowed -- The Buccaneers defense has had 10 rushing touchdowns scored on them this season, and none of them have been the long gainer variety. Every one of those 10 touchdowns came inside the red zone, and 7/10 of those rushing touchdowns came inside the Buccaneers 3-yard line. That means if the Cowboys get down inside the 5-yard line, they need to run the football and eschew the fades to receiver Dez Bryant or other pass plays. Inside the 5-yard line, the Cowboys need to go with what they know. 7/15 of the Cowboys' pass plays inside the 5-yard line have resulted in touchdowns compared to 10/16 rushes.

 

9: Number of fumbles Dak Prescott has -- After the 2006 BCS National Championship game, Florida safety Reggie Nelson was asked how defensive end Jarvis Moss was able to sack Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith frequently throughout the 41-14 drubbing. Nelson simply replied Smith, "wasn't on SEC time." In the same manner, Prescott hasn't been on NFL time when in the pocket through 13 games, even though the SEC West may be the closest such approximation. All but one of Prescott's nine fumbles have come exclusively from strip-sacks; standing in the pocket too long and pass-rushers poking the ball en route to a drop-down. His nine fumbles are the third-most in the NFL. Tony Romo has a reputation of "a guy who will give you one" due to his chancy play. Those were interceptions, which Prescott has done a masterful job avoiding with just four. However, Prescott so far is carrying that aspect of Romo's mantle too, but he'll put the ball on the ground. And the Buccaneers are one of many remaining defenses who will keep that in mind.

 

 

8: The Buccaneers defense's rank in most yards per carry -- Tampa Bay gives up 4.3 yards per carry, which is tied with the Lions, Falcons, Vikings, Chiefs, and Bills for the eighth-worst in the NFL. Dallas had six games against five of the bottom-10 teams and Ezekiel Elliott went over 5.0 yards per carry three times. Teams that can stay ahead of the chains with their running game have had success against the Buccaneers. One of the few teams in the NFL that can stop the Cowboys running game is the Cowboys offense with penalties that set them behind schedule. An effective run game against the Buccaneers is an ingredient in the recipe for victory.

 

7: Tampa Bay's rank in turnover differential -- The Buccaneers have a plus-6 turnover differential, which is the seventh-best in the NFL. It helps when the squad is tied with the Chargers, Chiefs, and Ravens for the absolute best takeaway number in the league with 25. However, being tied with the Dolphins for the 12th-most giveaways in the NFL will keep the whole team in the top-10 as opposed to the top-5 in turnover differential. This means the Cowboys have to ratchet up their football protection as the Buccaneers are an opportunistic defense. It also means the offense has to simultaneously take advantage of any freebies the Tampa Bay offense gives them. Last week, Dallas scored zero points off three Giants giveaways in the frustrating 10-7 loss. The Cowboys are the ninth-worst in the NFL in points off turnovers with just 30. It's no shock they join the Titans and the Lions in the bottom-10 of that category as the only teams with winning records.

 

 

6: Number of wins Jason Garrett has against rookie head coaches and Dirk Koetter against playoff-winning head coaches -- Garrett, the smartest man on the sidelines in Dallas, is just 6-8 against rookie head coaches with a 2-3 record in his last five games. This season, Garrett has amassed a 1-2 mark against such head coaches, a disappointing mark that matches his 2015 output. Meanwhile, Koetter is 6-4 against playoff-winning head coaches and holds a five-game winning streak -- the same one the Bucs are riding -- against such coaches. Koetter has been finding ways to get more out of his players. Sunday night, Garrett has to find a way to get the most out of his or see his performance against first-ever head coaches jump to 6-9.

 

5: Mike Evans' rank in receiving yards -- The third-year Aggie wideout has amassed 1,100 yards, the fifth-most in the league, with his 80 catches, which are the third-most in the NFL along with his 10 touchdowns. What more could one expect from a receiver who has the most targets in the NFL with 146? The Cowboys know Jameis Winston will be looking for Evans the whole night and Jerry Jones conceded as much on 105.3 The Fan on Friday. And before anyone laments cornerback Morris Claiborne's seventh consecutive absence due to a groin injury, consider that last year he "allowed" Evans to catch eight passes for 126 yards in the Buccaneers' 10-6 victory. The only good defense against Evans the Cowboys can field is their own offense at this point.

4: The Cowboys' rank for most offensive holding penalties -- As we have alluded to and will continue to throughout this piece, the Cowboys' penalties have really been a disservice to their sustaining of long drives, the staple of their team success. Through Week 14, Dallas has 25 holding calls, which ties them with Jacksonville for the fourth-most in the NFL. Also consider that Dallas with their 11 false starts ties them with Arizona, San Francisco, and Miami for the fifth-most such penalties in the league. They literally are having trouble getting out of their own way. If the Cowboys play towards this reputation, expect another closely decided contest. If Dallas lives down this reputation, then expect them to burn time off the clock like a blown Hemi in a quarter-mile stretch.

 

 

3: The Dallas defense's rank for opposing quarterback passer rating -- This year through Week 14 opposing quarterbacks have tallied a 99.5 passer rating against the Cowboys defense, which is the third-best in the NFL. The Falcons, Lions, and Packers are the only other squads that join Dallas in this category that also have winning records. If Winston can play above this average, he is likely to come away with a victory as his 7-2 record with a 100.0-plus passer rating has shown us over two seasons. If he does not crack the 90.0 mark, he is likely to lead the Buccaneers to a loss as his 4-11 record has shown us. However, it is worth keeping in mind the worst passer rating of his career that came with a victory was a 55.9 rating in last year's 10-6 victory over Dallas.

 

2: The Dallas offense's rank in time of possession per drive and points per drive -- The Cowboys offense holds the ball 3:03 per drive and scores 2.49 per drive. The Cowboys didn't live up to this billing last week with possessing the ball a little under two minutes per drive and scoring 0.5 points per drive. The Buccaneers defense is tied with the Texans as the seventh-best in the league with driving offense back to the sidelines after 2:32 per drive. In points per drive, Tampa Bay is in the absolute middle with 1.89. The Cowboys offense needs to get back to their winning ways and avoid playing down to the Buccaneers defense.

 

1: Tampa Bay's defensive rank on third down conversions -- The Buccaneers defense coordinated by Mike Smith is the best in the NFL on third down, a stat anyone could pick up everywhere else but here. However, what no one is telling you is that Tampa Bay is the third-worst in the NFL on first down yardage surrendered with 6.04 yards given up average, and 5.61 yards surrendered on second downs on average. Furthermore, teams have converted against Tampa Bay on third downs 50 percent when the line to gain is 1-3 yards. Compare that to 30.6 percent on 4-7 yards and 23.7 when the distance is eight yards and beyond. Whether penalties or negative plays, the Cowboys have to excise such losses from their drives if they hope to score against this defense.

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