The Cowboys’ season began with promise. But a 27-7 loss to Seattle has raised doubts about whether Dallas can play consistently at a high level. Now, the Cowboys face a Tampa Bay team with a new coach and a new attitude. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
After rushing for 131 yards and carrying the Cowboys to victory in Week 1, DeMarco Murray’s production declined in a 27-7 loss to Seattle last Sunday. Against the Seahawks, he gained just 44 yards on 12 carries. In part Murray’s diminished output was caused by Seattle’s run defense, which was ranked second in the league after Week 2. But the circumstances of the game also affected his performance. Dallas trailed by 10 points before five minutes had expired and Murray was soon rendered a non-factor. Tampa Bay — allowing only 2.74 yards per carry, the fifth-lowest average in the NFL — hopes it will be able to shackle Murray like Seattle did.
When the Cowboys pass
Tight end Jason Witten dropped three passes. Receiver Dez Bryant vanished for long stretches. Tony Romo made ill-advised throws. The Cowboys’ passing offense struggled against Seattle. But despite its failures, it is still ranked sixth in the league after Week 2. Now it faces a Tampa Bay defense that has shown it can be opportunistic but also vulnerable against a trigger-happy quarterback. In a loss to the New York Giants last Sunday, the Buccaneers intercepted Eli Manning three times but also surrendered 510 passing yards and three long touchdowns.
When the Buccaneers run
New Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano appears committed to developing a running game with rookie tailback Doug Martin as the featured ball carrier. Only nine teams have more rush attempts than the Buccaneers after two weeks. But Tampa Bay’s ground game hasn’t been a roaring success. The Buccaneers are gaining only 3.6 yards per carry – the ninth-lowest average in the NFL. But that may increase this week against a Cowboys defense ranked 23rd against the run after being tormented by Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch last Sunday.
When the Buccaneers pass
Josh Freeman’s 2011 season was one to forget. He threw more interceptions – 22 – than all but one quarterback in the league. But Freeman has been solid in the first two games and has benefited from the free-agent acquisition of receiver Vincent Jackson, who has made nine catches for 175 yards and a touchdown this season. Still, Tampa Bay’s air attack seems to be in the development stages. It’s the fourth-least productive in the league and this week it’s facing a Cowboys team that has the NFL’s third-stingiest passing defense.
The Cowboys’ special teams were atrocious last week against the Seahawks. Returner Felix Jones’ fumble on the opening kickoff and a blocked punt put Dallas in hole from which it never emerged. Kicker Dan Bailey, meanwhile, attempted only one extra point in the loss. Tampa Bay hasn’t experienced the same misfortune. In fact, Connor Barth has converted all five field-goal attempts after producing the second-highest field-goal percentage in 2011.
The Cowboys have yet to establish a true home-field advantage at Cowboys Stadium. In the 25 competitive games they have played there, they have won only 14. But Dallas should feel considerably more comfortable in the confines of Jerry World than they were in CenturyLink Field and MetLife Stadium – the sites of their first two games. If that doesn’t soothe the Cowboys then the knowledge that they have defeated Tampa Bay in their previous four meetings should.
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