Week 1: Dallas Cowboys Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Derek MajorCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 29:  Runnng back Felix Jones #28 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball against Dashon Goldson #38 of the San Francisco 49ers at Cowboys Stadium on August 29, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The season begins for the Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium, as they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who've gone through a lot of changes since their meeting last season.

The Bucs have a new coach and, after some questionable cuts and firing their offensive coordinator last week, a new team philosophy. Raheem Morris took over the team after last season ended and gone are veterans Derrick Brooks, Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway, Ike Hillard, Cato June, and Philip Buchanan.

Now running the offense for the Buccaneers is Byron Leftwich, who beat out Luke McCown and prospect Josh Freeman. Leftwich has weapons in the Bucs offense, which for him is a great thing, considering he's a sitting duck in the pocket. Former Cowboy receiver Antonio Bryant finally broke out last season with 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns.

Tight End Kellen Winslow was traded to Tampa Bay in the offseason and Michael Clayton round out the top receivers, although Clayton has been a disappointment since he registered 80 receptions, 1,193 yards and seven scores as a rookie. In four seasons since then, he hasn't topped 38 catches, 484 yards and one TD.

Free agent signee Derrick Ward will add power to the Bucs running game, but Cadillac Williams is penciled in as the starter. 

The Bucs will have to throw quick passes and rely on the run to beat the Cowboys, because Head Coach Wade Phillips will make sure that DeMarcus Ware and company come after Leftwich, especially on third-and-long.

Although the offensive line is one of the few bright spots for the Bucs, they won't be able to hold out all day while Leftwich sits in the pocket. The Bucs might not have much chemistry on offense, however, having a new offensive coordinator and a first-year coach.

Defensively, the Bucs are no match for the Cowboys. Their defensive line had just 29 sacks last season and against the Cowboys they weren't able to generate any pass rush against Brad Johnson, who's just as much a duck in the pocket as Leftwich.

Barrett Rudd leads one of the most inexperienced linebacking corps in the NFL, including Angelo Crowell, who had a knee injury last season and Jermaine Phillips, who's being moved to outside linebacker from strong safety.

The secondary isn't much better. While Aqib Talib is becoming a solid corner, Ronde Barber is 34-years-old and, with the Bucs no longer playing a  primarily cover two defense, a huge liability at his position. The only reason he's still starting is because no one else is experienced or talented enough to take his spot.

The Cowboys will try to rely on a balanced offense that includes their three-man running game and two tight ends who can run and block. Tony Romo will take shots down the field on the Bucs secondary, but he has to be careful, as he throws a lot of interceptions.

Expect Felix Jones to get a lot of touches in the running game and as a check down for Romo. I'm not expecting 100 yards and two TDs from Roy Williams, but he should have a good game, as I can't see Talib or Barber keeping him from getting at least a couple catches. Marion Barber had 71 yards on 25 carries against the Bucs last season; I see no reason why that won't be duplicated.

The Cowboys defense will blitz—a lot. If the Cowboys can get out to a lead and force the Bucs to throw, Leftwich will have a long day.

Anthony Spencer will have to step up because Ware is going to see a lot of double teams, and while he can fight through them sometimes, Spencer will see a lot of single coverage and needs to show that Jerry Jones made a good decision in letting Greg Ellis go. 

It's still unclear if Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick will start opposite Terence Newman, but you'll see all three on the field a lot either way. If the Cowboys front seven can get pressure, the secondary should get some turnovers. They didn't get that many last season and that has to change.

The Cowboys won't turn this game into a massacre, but they should win with relative ease, as the Bucs are just an inexperienced team trying to find its identity. The Cowboys need this game to give their fans a reason to show up the next week as they have their home opener against the Giants.

Final Score: 31-13 Dallas.


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