Well fans, we have officially made it. Today, the 2021 NFL season kicks off and games count for real now. Of course, the NFL knows how to drum up intrigue off the bat, sending the league’s most polarizing team (your Dallas Cowboys) on the road to face the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Cowboys certainly face a tough task right out of the box. Obviously, winning a championship is a good thing (at least that’s what I hear). This opponent, however, is returning every starter from last year’s team. How’s that for continuity?
Meanwhile, Dallas heads into the game mostly healthy, except for one huge gaping loss along the offensive line. All-Pro guard Zack Martin is almost certainly not going to be able to play due to a positive COVID test on Sunday. Martin did not travel with the team and has been all but ruled out of the game by every major decision-maker for the team not named Jerry Jones.
This means that for the 21st consecutive game, the Dallas Cowboys will not be starting their best five guys along the line. How’s that for consistency?
The Dallas Cowboys will face a true test against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
So, how can the Dallas Cowboys go on the road, minus an All-Pro, and shock the world by defeating the defending champs? Let’s get to know thy enemy a little better as we break down the matchup between Dallas and Tampa Bay.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost just five games en route to their second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Of those five losses, none came to a team with a losing record. In fact, the combined record of the four teams (they lost twice to New Orleans) was a robust 56-24. Essentially, they only lost to the best of the best (except for the 8-8 Bears).
The only common occurrence in all five losses was that Tampa Bay went into the locker room at halftime trailing their opponent. The Buccaneers did trail in three other games that they played in which they rallied to win, but it seems like if you want to make life difficult for the Creamsicle Crew, it would be best to have a lead heading into the second half.
This will be the first order of business for the Dallas Cowboys tonight. Take a lead into halftime. Not only will it clearly enhance their chances of winning, but it will also do wonders for their confidence. Feeling like you can win is more than half the battle.
After taking a lead into the half, the next thing the Dallas Cowboys will want… I’m sorry… need to do is win the time of possession battle. In four of those five losses in 2020, Tampa Bay was on the wrong side of that statistic.
In two games, the opposing team (Week 9 against the Saints, Week 12 against the Chiefs), held onto the ball for over 40 minutes and 36 minutes, respectively. The good news for the Dallas Cowboys here is that they definitely have the tools to pull this off.
Usually, the automatic thought when talking about time of possession is centered around running the football. While Dallas is armed with one of the best backs in the game in Ezekiel Elliott, there is more than one way to play keep away from Tommy freakin Brady and his band of Bucs.
Even if every drive does not translate into points, the Cowboys need to get two or three first downs on every possession. With Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup on the perimeter and Zeke behind the line, this should be a manageable task.
The last big key to a surprise dub for the Dallas Cowboys lies in taking care of the ball. In the Bucs five losses last season, the four teams combined for just six turnovers. Two times, the turnover battle was a draw, but the other three Tampa Bay lost.
Now, I know it comes as no shock to say that protecting the football is vitally important. It is just especially so when you have a potent offense led by arguably the best quarterback ever on the opposite side.
The biggest worry I have for the Dallas Cowboys tonight is how the secondary will hold up against the receiving group of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski. The best way to mitigate any disasters in this matchup will be to keep the defense off the field.
Owning the time of possession and winning the turnover battle will be crucial in making that happen. Ultimately, this seems like a monumental task, however, to ask of this defense, this early in the season. As such, I’m predicting an 0-1 start for Dallas as I have Tampa winning 34-23.