This might be the last thing Cowboys fans want to hear, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are very similar to the Seattle Seahawks. Both squads play a physical brand of football, limiting turnovers and relying on their running game to set up the pass. Despite a disappointing 2011 season, the Bucs’ win over the Carolina Panthers and close loss to the New York Giants show that this team is a different one from a year ago.
24.8: The yards-per-drive posted by the Bucs through two weeks.
Even with their offensive explosion against the Giants on Sunday, the Bucs are still 28th in the NFL in this category. In comparison, the Cowboys have totaled 36.6 yards-per-drive, good for sixth in the league.
33: The Bucs’ average starting field position.
In today’s pass-happy NFL, the Bucs are playing a truly old-school style of football under new head coach Greg Schiano. They run often and protect the football, playing methodically to keep themselves in ballgames. This can limit offensive efficiency, but it also means the Bucs rarely give opponents a short field. Ranked fourth in the NFL in field position, the average Tampa Bay drive has begun 12 yards ahead of the typical Cowboys drive.
88: The percentage of running back carries given to rookie Doug Martin.
Martin is the Bucs’ workhorse running back, so he’ll rarely come out of the game on Sunday. Martin does a little bit of everything – outside running, rushing between the tackles, catching passes, pass protection – and he’ll be the focal point of Tampa Bay’s offense. He’s fourth in the NFL in carries through two weeks.
50/50: The Bucs’ split between runs to the left and right sides of the field.
Left or right, inside or outside, tosses or dives, the Bucs are going to use their running game to hit the Cowboys from all angles on Sunday. They’re particularly efficient behind guard Carl Nicks and center Jeremy Zuttah, so whoever is playing nose tackle for the Cowboys will need to come up big to halt Tampa Bay’s short-yardage efforts.
7.3: Yards-per-attempt for Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, a career-high thus far.
If there’s a single stat that can tell the story of an offense, it’s usually passing YPA. The Bucs are a run-first team, but they utilize their running game to set up big plays through the air. Freeman has been able to find wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams off of play-action passes and other looks that are set up by their running game.
11.5: The percentage of Josh Freeman’s passes that have traveled at least 20 yards.
That mark is good for 13th in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. The majority of those deep shots have come off of play-action, so the Cowboys safeties will need to hold their ground when the Bucs show run action. Freeman has completed half of his deep pass attempts for 111 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks.
44.8: The percentage of Freeman’s dropbacks during which he has faced pressure.
That’s the highest mark in the NFL. In comparison, Romo has been pressured on 37 percent of his passes.
130.7: The passer rating Josh Freeman has generated when throwing to Mike Williams.
Vincent Jackson is the obvious big-play threat for Tampa Bay, but Williams is a talented receiver as well. Opposing defensive coordinators have spent so much time focusing on Jackson that Williams has garnered a whole lot of single coverage. He’s parlayed that into two touchdowns in the season’s first two weeks.
95.2: The difference in Freeman’s passer rating when he faces pressure versus when he has a clean pocket.
The difference is far, far more substantial than the average quarterback. In comparison, Romo’s passer rating when pressured has historically been just around 20 points lower than when he’s given a clean pocket. Freeman might not be Drew Brees, but he generally won’t make mistakes unless you can get in his face. His passer rating through two weeks is 122.9 when given a clean pocket.
9.3: The percentage of Doug Martin’s yards that have come on runs of 15-plus yards.
In comparison, 61.6 percent of C.J. Spiller’s yards have come on big plays. Despite posting one of the lowest big-play marks in the league, Martin still possesses breakaway capability. He’s a load to bring down, so the Cowboys will need to gang tackle Martin in an effort to make sure that, unlike Marshawn Lynch last week, he doesn’t turn any would-be short gains into long runs.
19: The difference in points scored for Tampa Bay (50) and Dallas (31).
A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Cowboys have run only 18 drives all season, the lowest mark in the NFL. The average team has run 22 drives though the season’s first two weeks, and the Bucs have started 23 drives. Nonetheless, the ’Boys are only 23rd in the league in points-per-drive (1.72).
6: The numbers of teams, including the Bucs, who have called more runs than passes.
The Bucs’ passing game can be efficient because defenses get accustomed to seeing the run. Tampa Bay has run the ball on 52.7 percent of their snaps, making them one of the few truly balanced offenses remaining in the NFL. The Cowboys could be susceptible to big plays with a banged up secondary, but their ability to stifle Tampa Bay’s passing game is directly related to their ability to stop Martin on the ground. If the ’Boys can bottle up Martin without putting eight men in the box, thus allowing for safety help over top of Jackson, it will dramatically increase their chances of winning on Sunday.