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Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys: Sketching out a Game Plan for Dallas

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Linebacker DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys sacks quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 17, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 20, 2012

Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3, the Dallas Cowboys are looking to rebound after a tough loss in which they were dominated by a team they thought they were better than. 

Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2, the New York Giants successfully rebounded after a tough loss in which they were dominated by a team they thought they were better than.

So I suppose it's not surprising that, in order to get back on track Sunday in their home opener, I'm suggesting that Dallas starts by doing just as the G-men did. 

 

Follow the Giants' lead on offense

New York amassed 41 points and 604 yards of offense against the Bucs by exploiting their weak secondary. It just so happens that the Cowboys offense is quite similar to Big Blue's, so Dallas would be smart to learn from that example by spreading them out and going at Aqib Talib, Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald early and often.

I'm not saying Dallas should ditch the run, but the focus should clearly be on Tony Romo and his receivers working timing routes to neutralize Tampa Bay's talented defensive front. 

The Giants had great success with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Martellus Bennett against Tampa. There's no reason the Cowboys can't do the same thing with Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten playing those roles. 

 

Run left

Tampa's defense has been lights-out at stopping the run from the left side of the defensive line, according to Football Outsiders. So the Cowboys would be smart to stay away from Michael Bennett, Gerald McCoy and even Roy Miller and instead focus instead on hitting the left edge, where Adrian Clayborn is exploitable. 

That works out well for the Cowboys, who, according to Football Outsiders, have had the fifth-most efficient running game in the league this year when running at or outside of the left tackle. Dallas was also much better running left last year, so it's not just a Doug Free-Tyron Smith thing.

Now, I picked up on this, and obviously so did the guys at FO. And Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan is smarter than all of us, so I'm guessing they'll attempt to compensate for it by altering the balance in the front seven and running stunts.

The Cowboys could attempt to counter that by making the right side the strong side, maintaining a balanced attempt and trusting in DeMarco Murray without a lead blocker.

It's all part of the chess match. But Dallas is on the offensive, which is always preferable.

 

Bracket Vincent Jackson often

Josh Freeman has shown that he'll go to Jackson often regardless of the coverage. And unlike the Giants last week, the Cowboys have the depth at cornerback to make that a dangerous proposition. 

With Mike Jenkins back and getting healthier and Morris Claiborne getting better each week, Dallas has a lot of flexibility in the secondary. And the Bucs aren't exactly flush with quality receivers. The idea behind double-teaming Jackson often would be to force Freeman to make big throws and/or progress to second and third reads—something he hasn't been able to do very often since his rookie season.

Of course, a lot of nickel and dime, combined with the fact that both starting safeties are hurt, could put Dallas in a compromising position against Doug Martin and the Bucs' running game. But I don't know that Tampa can win this game just by gashing the Cowboys on the ground. 

And besides, Martin is no Marshawn Lynch. This Dallas defense will be able to control him to a degree.

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