The NFL playoffs are finally here and like we all expected three months ago the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be a part of them. They open their quest for a third championship by playing host to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. It is only fitting that for one of these teams the season will end where it began.
The Bucs and Cowboys opened the year by playing each other in week one of the season. This ended in a 19-3 victory for the Bucs as they went on the road in an impressive road win. The Bucs will try to replicate those results, this time with the Cowboys coming to Tampa Bay.
Keep in mind, many things have changed since week one. The Buccaneers have been through many ups and downs before ending the season with a losing record, whereas the Cowboys lost their starting quarterback for more than a month and still finished the season with 12 wins. However, the basic foundation of both of these teams is still the same and that is promising for the Buccaneers.
So, how much can we draw from the first meeting between these two teams? Should the Cowboys really be the favorite or are the Bucs being overlooked? I looked at this and more to see what we can take away for this postseason clash.
Tampa Bay Trench Play
The last time these two teams played the Buccaneers had a lot of inexperience on the offensive line. Second year player Robert Hainsey and rookie Luke Goedeke both made their first career start in this game. Additionally, it was starting right guard Shaq Mason’s first regular season game with the Bucs after being traded from the Patriots.
Overall, this game went well against a Cowboys defensive line that is underwhelming. Tom Brady was sacked just two times (both by star pass rusher Micah Parsons) and the Bucs rushed for 152 yards. A pretty good day at the office for any team.
Flash forward to now and the Bucs are that much more experienced up front. Hainsey and Mason have both settled in nicely in the starting lineup and they have added additional experience by switching to Nick Leverett at left guard. There is reason to believe that the Bucs can find the same type of success in this game against a modest Cowboys defensive front.
The Dallas Cowboys have allowed the 8th fewest passing yards in the NFL this season. Led by Trevon Diggs, this secondary is one that has earned respect this season. This was the case when they played Brady and the Bucs where they held this offense to just 212 passing yards.
However, there are factors to keep in mind. Chris Godwin was in his first game back after suffering a major knee injury last season. Julio Jones and Russell Gage were playing their first game in the Bucs offense. These players are all playing much better than they were then.
And then there is star receiver Mike Evans. Evans had 5 receptions for 71 yards and a beautiful touchdown catch right over Diggs. He too is playing even better as the connection with Brady finally looked on track in the last game the two played together.
Despite the Cowboys success this season it seems logical that the Buccaneers will find more success through the air than they did in week one. This is a matchup that I would have to say favors the Buccaneers.
Dak Under Attack
Dak Prescott was under constant pressure the last time these two teams played. He was sacked twice and was actually knocked out of the game with an injury. His replacement, Cooper Rush, was also sacked twice after that.
The biggest difference this time around is the loss of the Bucs best pass rusher Shaq Barrett. The star outside linebacker, who led the league in sacks in 2019, tore his Achilles in October and will not play again this season. Needless to say, this is a big loss.
However, it might not be as massive as it originally seemed. Even without Barrett for the last two months the Buccaneers still finished tied for 7th in total sacks. This is because of the depth and talent behind him.
Second year edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has played very well down the stretch and has forced a lot of pressure. Anthony Nelson has taken a big jump since taking the starting job and has 2.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in the last five games. Even Carl Nassib has looked good in long stretches.
So while there is no question that not having Barrett will hurt the Bucs, it might not be as bad as it would seem.
The More Things Change
These two teams have gone in different directions since they last met. The Cowboys have won twelve of sixteen while the Bucs scraped out just seven wins after week one. This is why the Cowboys are better favorites despite being on the road.
The thing is, basically everything we saw from these two teams the first time around points in favor of the Bucs. Tampa Bay’s offense should be able to move the ball through the air and on the ground. This Todd Bowles led defense can pressure the quarterback and is strong up front.
If we were to disregard the records for these teams and just look at the matchup then it would be hard to pick against the Bucs. After all, they won convincingly the first time around and have only become more experienced since then. Like the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same.
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