The red hot Buccaneers take their five game winning streak to Dallas to take on the top team in the NFC
With a playoff appearance on the horizon for the first time since 2007, the team that America is beginning to take notice of travels to AT&T stadium to take on ‘America’s team’. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) are as hot as any team in the NFL right now, but the best team in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys (11-2), stand in their way of growing their league leading winning streak to six games.
The Cowboys are coming off arguably their worst performance of the season, losing 10-7. They lost to their division rivals, the New York Giants, for the second time this season. Cowboys rookie sensation Dak Prescott was anything but spectacular, posting a 45.4 QB rating last week in the loss. As a team the Cowboys are almost certain to bounce back, and the Bucs should have their hands full this week against a team that has showcased a plethora of talent all season long.
Also playing against a division rival in week 14, the Buccaneers behind their newfound defense took care of business against the New Orleans Saints. Make no mistake about it, the Bucs defense is one of the main reasons the Bucs are turning heads in the NFL, as Mike Smith has seemingly found a way to make this defense gel.
This will be the 16th time the Buccaneers and Cowboys will face each other, and the past isn’t pretty. The Cowboys hold a dominating 11-4 lead in the series, including five of the last six. The Bucs did beat the Cowboys in their meeting last season, although both teams were in completly different situations. The Buccaneers were 3-5 last year before beating the Cowboys, who went into the matchup at 2-6, 10-6. This time around the stakes are much higher as the Cowboys look to wrap up a first-round bye and the Buccaneers are eying a division title.
Keys to Victory
Win the battle in the trenches- In order to prove to the Dallas who the tops dogs in the NFC really are, the gameplan in theory should be simple. Pressure Dak Prescott and stuff the run. Easy to preach tough to execute. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has been spectacular for the Cowboys this season. Not only is he a lead candidate for the Rookie of the Year award, but is a solid contender for MVP as well. He currently leads the league in rushing yards with 1,392 yards and his 12 touchdowns on the ground trail only former Buccaneer running back LeGarrette Blount‘s 14. A heavy dose of either Kwon Alexander or LaVonte David shadowing him all evening is a must.
With arguably their toughest task to date, the defensive line has to play physical against the Cowboys offensive line. The Giants last week put pressure on Dak Prescott and made him look like exactly what he is, a rookie. The Buccaneers would be wise to feed of the Giants game plan against the Cowboys from last week. Both Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers have quietly been reeking havoc in the backfield lately and need to continue to do so to slow down the Cowboys offense.
Use physical play to control Dez Bryant– Dez is a physical receiver and can be controlled by matching his physical play. The order will be tall for Brent Grimes, but with the way the defense has played as of late not impossible. Practicing against Mike Evans will prove to be beneficial as both receivers are physical at the line. Taking Dez Bryant out of the game and applying steady pressure to Dak Prescott will help to cause turnovers that may just be the difference in this game.
Get the running game going- Every week it seems the running game is close, but not quite where it needs to be. Doug Martin has been a shell of his 2015 self that earned him an offseason contract. Martin did pick up a touchdown last week, but only averaged 2.9 yards per carry. that number needs to improve to keep the chains moving against the Dallas defense that is almost certainly going to be physical up front. If Martin can find holes and average around four yards per carry, it will go a long way towards controlling the tempo of the game. Keeping the Cowboys defense on the field and wearing them out could open up Mike Evans to make them pay over the top.
Cameron Brate– Brate has seemingly made a big play in each of the Buccaneers’ victories over the last five games. After starting training camp second on the depth chart, Brate has quietly been an x-factor on the field. Brate is currently tied for the most touchdown catches among NFL tight ends with six. Winston needs to continue to find the sure-handed Brate when he finds an opening, as he has been a bright spot this season for this Buccaneers offense.
DNP- Did not practice LP- Limited Practice FP- Full practice
- Demar Dotson, OT (concussion) DNP
- Gerald McCoy, DT (foot) FP
- Sealver Siliga, DT (calf) FP
- Chris Conte, S (chest) FP
- Luke Stocker, TE (ankle) FP
- Lavonte David, LB (hamstring) LP
Although some of the names on this list appear scary, expect everyone under the questionable tag to participate in Sunday night’s game. Overall, the Buccaneers are entering the final three game stretch healthy, which bodes well for their chances.
- Demarcus Lawrence, DE (back) DNP
- Chaz Green, OT (back) DNP
- Morris Claiborne, CB (groin) DNP
- Tyron Smith, T (back) LP
- J.J. Wilcox, S (thigh) LP
- Ronald Leary, G (back) LP
- Jack Crawford, DE (foot) LP
- Dez Bryant, WR (back) LP
- Orlando Scandrick, CB (foot) FP
- Barry Church, S (forearm) FP
- Sean Lee, LB (knee) LP
- L.P. Ladouceur, LS (knee) FP
- Cedric Thornton, DT (ankle) DNP
Demarcus Lawrence being out has to put a smile on Jameis Winston‘s face as anyone who is nicknamed ‘The Tank’ is never quarterback friendly. Morris Claiborne’s absence will boost the stock of the passing attack in this game Dez Bryant, Sean Lee and Barry Church will all be questionable because the NFL did away with the probable tag. In other words, expect them to suit up.
The Buccaneers defense will rise to the occasion. They will pressure Dak Prescott into mistakes, and although Ezekiel Elliott may find success, the Buccaneers offense does enough in this one to bring the Buccaneers to their sixth straight victory. This win will not only have them to look like the favorite to win the NFC South, but will be put them in the first round bye conversation.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 Dallas Cowboys 14
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