Previewing the Tampa Bay Bucs

The Cowboys will face a Tampa Bay team Sunday afternoon that is coming off of more injuries than it's seen at any point during recent memory. We've got that update, as well as the impending gameplan against the Cowboys in this report.

The team with the No. 1 defense in the NFL has a two-game lead in its division and is having immediate success with a new head coach. Sounds like the Bucs? Well, it's not the world champions. The Dallas Cowboys are 5-1 under Bill Parcells while the Bucs are struggling at 3-3 and just gave up more than 450 yards in a game.

Parcells, twice a runaway bride after accepting the coaching position in Tampa Bay, could get a frosty reception when the Cowboys play the Bucs Sunday at RJS.

But the Bucs have bigger concerns.

The Bucs are coming off their worst defensive performance in 12 years in a 24-7 loss to the 49ers. Trailing Carolina by two games in the NFC South, with a showdown against the Panthers in Charlotte Nov. 9, the Bucs playoff fortunes are quickly dwindling.

"We've got to get on a roll," said safety John Lynch. "We've got to put together a winning streak. And I know we can do that. There's a lot of character on this football team and we've got to lean on that now. I mean, this is still a good football team. And we've been through this before."

Injuries could play a big role in this game. Cornerback Brian Kelly was placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle and safety John Lynch is not expected to play due to a recurring pinched nerve in his neck. That leaves cornerback Ronde Barber as the only member of the secondary that started for the Bucs in Super Bowl XXXVII.

"There's no need to panic in my opinion," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "More importantly than the stats, obviously, is a win. We won one and we lost one. We really want to come out and play a lot better than we have the last couple weeks. We've acknowledged it, but it's not a matter of talking about it in front of the cameras, it's about going out and practicing doing it in games."

Offensively, the Bucs rank second in the NFL in passing. But protecting quarterback Brad Johnson was a problem at San Francisco. Johnson and Shaun King attempted 41 passes last week, but only five of them were aimed at Bucs' wideouts.

Receiver Keyshawn Johnson caught just one pass for four yards last week at San Francisco. His agent criticized Gruden for not taking advantage of Johnson's abilities. It could become an issue this week if Johnson is not a bigger part of the game plan.

Defensively, the Bucs were guilty of blown assignments and sloppy tackling against the 49ers. They emphasized both in practice this week. Even Parcells is preparing his team for the Bucs' best effort.

"I think they've had a little misfortune," said Parcells. "Two of those games were very, very winnable, that they lost. I think it goes to show you that even the best teams, if a situation occurs that opportunity exists for your opponent, the wrong thing can happen and it can cost you. I know Tampa, having done what they did last year, they've been on the other side of the coin.

"I told my players that when you've been a championship team like they have, they have some qualities and confidence and things that not every team you play has. We have to be ready for that."

* Head coach Bill Parcells defended Tampa Bay wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson this week, saying he is not a selfish layer. "Listen, these players that are talented players, they want to feel like they're contributing," Parcells said.

"I would never stifle that until it became disruptive. There's a difference between wanting to contribute and being selfish. In Keyshawn's case, Keyshawn was willing to go in there, and you've seen him down in Tampa, he'll go in there and crack block defensive ends. Haven't you seen that? There are not many receivers in this league that will do that. When a guy will approach every task that you give him with the same kind of enthusiasm, I have no problem with those kinds of players."

* With the Cowboys 5-1 and in first place in the NFC East and knowing the heated rivalry that has existed between the Cowboys and Washington Redskins, FOX jumped at the opportunity to move the Nov. 2 Washington-Dallas game at Texas Stadium from a noon start to a 3:15 PM (CST) kickoff.

By moving to the 3:15 p.m. slot, the Cowboys-Redskins game will become the national telecast for FOX, moving from what was going to be a regional telecast for the noon kick-off. That will give the Cowboys back-to-back 3:15 p.m. kickoffs, since the following week's start at Texas Stadium against Buffalo is a late game.

* Through the first six games, the Bucs have lost four starters for a combined nine starts. Compare that with 2002, when Tampa Bay lost two starters for a combined two starts through six games.

* Former Cowboys great Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, remains sidelined with a broken left shoulder blade he suffered against Dallas on Oct. 5. Smith has 192 rushing yards on 65 attempts (2.9 yards per carry), one touchdown, and a long run of 22 yards for Arizona.

Smith also has six catches for 27 yards. Cowboys running back Troy Hambrick has 419 rushing yards on 126 carries (3.3 yards per carry), three touchdowns and a long run of 31 yards. He has nine catches for 59 yards.

TAMPA BAY GAMEPLAN: The Bucs need to regain some balance in their offense. They attempted 41 passes against the 49ers and only had 16 rushes despite never trailing by more than two scores for most of the game. The difference last week was committing four turnovers, as many as the Bucs had all season. Defensively, Tampa Bay will apply all their resources to stopping the run. The Bucs gave up 212 yards on the ground at San Francisco, and if there is a common denominator in their three losses, it's that they have given up big gains on the ground.

According to Keyshawn Johnson, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells will target a few players on each side of the ball to attack against the Bucs. "It could be anybody," Johnson said. "He could say we're going to put pressure on Cosey Coleman and just bull rush him to death and we've got action. Out of the 11 guys, there will be two guys he'll try to take out of the game."

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- The Cowboys have the top-ranked defense in the NFL, allowing 242 yards per game. They are second in rushing defense with a 74.8 average and fifth in passing defense with a 167.2 average. The Cowboys are first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed on first down plays (3.71), first in first downs allowed (14 per game), and third in yards allowed per rush (3.1). The unit has eight interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know. It wouldn't be fair to anybody to get into speculation on where we'd be coaching-wise. I don't know where we'd be if we'd won 10 games last year. I'm of course very, very grateful and pleased that it didn't work out with Bill in Tampa Bay." -- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on where the Cowboys would be if Bill Parcells had taken the Tampa Bay job two seasons ago.

* QB Shaun King suffered a right ankle sprain in mop-up duty against the 49ers, but is probable for Sunday's game against the Cowboys.

* WR Joe Jurevicius, who has been out since Week 2 with a torn MCL, has been upgraded to questionable for Sunday's game against the Cowboys. But coaches do not expect him to play because he has not been cleared to practice.

* RG Jason Whittle, who did not play against the 49ers due to a shoulder strain but was not deactivated for the game, should return against the Cowboys.

* CB Brian Kelly was placed on injured reserve with a torn left pectoral muscle.

* DE Simeon Rice has a lower back contusion but is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Cowboys.

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