This Thursday night the defending Super Bowl champions kick off their season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Dallas Cowboys in the nation’s opening game. Despite the Buccaneers being comfortably favored over a Cowboys team that only won six games last year, this may be one of the toughest tests of the season.
Quarterback Dak Prescott only started five games last season before an injury ended his season. However, he was extremely productive in those games. Prescott averaged just over 370 per game before getting hurt. With this offense remaining in tack from last year, it’s fair to expect similar numbers this season.
Specifically, the Cowboys trio of wide receivers are all returning and all extremely talented. The group of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup may rival the Buccaneers as the best receiver room in the NFL. Limiting these three will be a challenge for the Tampa Bay secondary, but if they can then it should be smooth sailing for the Buccaneers.
New faces on defense.
The Cowboys have added a few new faces to last year’s lackluster defense.
The first is rookie linebacker, Micah Parsons. Parsons is similar to the Buccaneers star linebacker Devin White in many ways. Both are incredible athletes at their position with rare speed and physicality. Additionally, Parsons can pressure the quarterback, much like White, on the blitz.
The other big addition to the Cowboys’ defense is a name the Buccaneers are very familiar with. Dan Quinn joins Dallas as their defensive coordinator after serving as the Atlanta Falcons head coach for the last six seasons. Before that, Quinn was defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks and the infamous Legion of Boom.
It is unclear how much of an impact these two will have on the defense or how quickly. What is clear is that these were two strong additions. Certainly, they will make life more difficult on the Buccaneers than what we saw from the Cowboys last year.
Uncertainty in the running game
For years the Cowboys have had a dominant offensive line. That became even more evident once they drafted running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. Since then Dallas has had an imposing rushing attack.
However, we may be watching this group deteriorate before our eyes. Elliott had the fewest rushing yards of his career last year and tied his career-low in running touchdowns. Many have questioned his conditioning and motivation over the last several months. Elliott appears to have silenced some of his critics by reporting to training camp in better shape, but it’s unclear how much that will improve his on-field performance.
One factor that won’t help Elliott’s cause is the current state of the Cowboys’ offensive line. Future Hall of Fame guard Zack Martin will miss this week’s game after being put on the COVID reserve list. His running mate Connor Williams is just coming off the COVID reserve after missing several weeks of training camp. Right tackle La’el Collins is also just returning after missing time with an injury.
Dallas will likely continue to be strong upfront and on the ground this season, but it seems like the Buccaneers are catching them at the right time.
This is a very talented Cowboys team. Their passing attack projects to be one of the best in the league this year and their running game is strong too. It’s fair to say that Dallas could have one of the best offenses in the NFL this year. Even a great defense like the Buccaneers has to respect this team.
On the other side of the ball, Dallas has talent. It seems like they are moving in the right direction, but it might be a year too soon for this group to keep the Cowboys in this game. This unit will have to make some splash plays to keep things close.
All in all, the Buccaneers are the better team here and should win. With that said, I’ll give Dallas a puncher’s chance to knock out the champs. If the Buccaneers don’t play to their talent level then this could very well be a loss.