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A positional head-to-head breakdown on offense of the Wild Card playoff matchup between the Cowboys and Buccaneers.
While most people feel disgruntled and deflated by last week’s Cowboys’ performance, let’s turn that frown upside down and get enthusiastic. Yes, it’s Wild Card Weekend. The Philadelphia Eagles finished their season by winning against the New York Giants, so they top the NFC East. The Cowboys finished fifth in the NFC and are set to confront the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also encountered their own struggles in Week 18. So how does each offensive position on both teams fare in a head-to-head battle?
Dak Prescott vs Tom Brady
Let’s not make excuses first of all. Last week was easily Dak’s poorest game in the NFL. Drifting when he didn’t need to, sliding out when there was no prominent pressure and then throwing off his back foot. The gameplan and play-calling didn’t help Dak. But if the coaches wanted to call a flat game with very little movement and motion, why play Dak in the game for as long as they did? Facing this Buccaneer’s defensive line will demand Dak to be able to play under pressure effectively again, which we’ve seen often this season. But will also need that third-down efficiency to be in play, especially if they go uptempo to keep the defense on its heels.
So Tom Brady in the playoffs. That’s always an alarming statement to make. It’s true that Brady has clearly slowed this season and has struggled to hit passes he would have commonly made in his younger days. But you have to respect the man that’s done this numerous times in the postseason, as well as on so many final drives in games to clinch victory. One thing Brady can rely on at this stage is a talented wide receiver corps. If there’s one thing Brady cannot stand is pressure and sacks, which can at moments be the chink in his armor. If the defensive ends for Dallas can create enough miscues for Brady and deliver pressure to get him throwing before he wants to, they would have solved their portion of the riddle.
Ezekiel Elliott/Tony Pollard vs Leonard Fournette/Rachaad White
Tony Pollard has a quiet game last week, but he did manage enough off his seven attempts to break the 1,000-yard rushing season mark. The run-blocking last week was poor. But this line is obviously missing a huge part since Terence Steele got injured. Both Zeke and Pollard’s average yards per carry since Week 15 have dwindled rapidly, and for a team that has had so much success in the run game this season, let’s hope that superiority can return against a defensive line that can struggler against the run.
Let’s open with the obvious point when it comes to the Buccaneers running tandem. Zeke and Pollard as a duo practically double the yardage of what Fournette and White have produced. On top of that, both Zeke and Pollard combined for 21 rushing touchdowns, an insane number. The Buccaneers duo have four. What this competition is about is how the Dallas run defense will contain the Bucs, remembering that in Week 1 Fournette managed to go over 100 yards rushing against the Cowboys (the only game this season he broke the 100-yard mark). For the Buccaneers defense, they just permitted 174 rush yards to Atlanta, the fourth most in Week 18.
Lamb/Gallup/Brown vs Evans/Godwin/Gage
Referring back to the statements made about Dak and his execution last week, something is also true about the assistance he was getting from his wide receivers. There was an apparent absence of separation from the Cowboy’s receivers apart from CeeDee Lamb last week. Spacing was also disorganized from Dak’s pass catchers and the entirety of the game script was lackluster. Zero motion, little from the play-action pass and the whole plan for these guys was bland and meaningless. Both Michael Gallup and Noah Brown had low production. The pass defense in Tampa has had its struggles lately and is offering up the eighth-most passing yards in the last three games, more than the Cowboys.
The main force of the Buccaneers is its receiving corps. Since joining the NFL in 2014, Mike Evans has registered a 1,000-yard receiving season every single year; that’s consistency. Chris Godwin has also posted a 1,000-yard season and he has now gone consecutive years attaining that goal for the first time in his career. Russell Gage is the sneaky under the radar player that can capitalize off added attention the other two receivers get. Both Evans and Gage will need to be monitored on the injury report. Gage is dealing with a back injury and Evans with an illness problem.
Dalton Schultz vs Cade Otton
Did Dalton Schultz exhibit enough for you this season to achieve a multi-year contract going forward? It may be the case that last week was Schultz’s final game in the regular season as a Cowboy if he fails to agree to a deal with Dallas this offseason. He’s been a reliable and steady target for Dak, and before answering whether he merits that contract, go back and watch the Tennessee game where he conquered so easily.
For the Buccaneers, they have rookie tight end Cade Otton from Washington. For his first year he has done about average. He found some success around mid-season but has cooled off since Week 12. Hopefully the Cowboys have Jayron Kearse at complete fitness to keep Otton entirely at bay
When your quarterback refuses to climb the pocket or step into a clean pocket, that’s usually a sign he doesn’t completely trust his center. That’s what we saw against Washington while Connor McGovern played at center, but with Tyler Biadasz looking to return for this week’s game, it might reinstall confidence for Dak playing in the pocket. The line still held well last week allowing only one sack and nine pressures against a respectable defensive line that likes to drive down and pressure opposing quarterbacks. This line finishes with, surprisingly, the fourth-fewest sacks allowed this season. That’s after a lot of preseason worries with this line. and they allowed the 13th fewest pressures. Heading to Tampa against a line that loves to shove offensive lines around and rush quarterbacks, they will need to fetch their A-game to help Dak locate his receivers.
The Tampa offensive line has been competent this year. The matter coming into the playoffs for them is health. Both their centers are injured with Robert Hainsey looking to start after carrying a hamstring issue. Left tackle Donovan Smith has a foot injury and it is unknown if he can play. They also lost tackle Josh Wells to injured reserve with a patellar tendon injury. This line though this season has been particularly effective allowing less pressures, less quarterback hits and have allowed the fewest sacks this season. But a lot of that credit goes to their quarterback, Tom Brady, who gets rid of the ball very quickly.
Originally posted on Blogging The Boys