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Final Thoughts: What To Do With McFadden, Dez's Matchup & More

FRISCO, Texas – We know what it's like to watch this Cowboys team string together wins, but we haven't seen them react to a loss in three months.

That's the main thing I want to watch Sunday night. The Cowboys have said all the right things about moving forward, but let's see how they put it to action. They'll be at home and indoors, away from the frigid conditions we saw last weekend in New York. And a win could go a long way toward locking up a division title.

Here are a few remaining notes on what I'll be looking for when the Cowboys tee it up with the Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium this weekend.

  • The last time Dez Bryant faced Brent Grimes was in Miami last season. On that day, Grimes carried Bryant all over the field with the one exception, which was when Bryant lined up in the slot and ran across the field on a post against linebacker coverage. Against Grimes, he had three receptions on six targets. For his receptions, Bryant ran an out, a slant and a comeback. To Grimes' credit, he was able to hold Bryant in check on the day, even grabbing an interception from Tony Romo on a poorly thrown ball against pressure. Even if Mike Smith doesn't travel Grimes with Bryant, I expect we'll see Bryant move around the formation in order to try and give him the easiest access in routes. Another reason to stay away from Grimes is that he leads the team with 17 passes defensed.   
  • Big blow for the Dallas defensive line against the Buccaneers with DeMarcus Lawrence ruled out for the game. It's also likely that Cedric Thornton will not see action, either. Thornton was listed as questionable while dealing with an ankle issue and he will be missed. If the Buccaneers have a weakness along their offensive line, it is as guard -- especially with Ali Marpet. Thornton played well against the Giants and would have been able to carry that over this week while working against Marpet. Keep an eye on Terrell McClain and David Irving as they line up across from Marpet and attack the middle of this Buccaneers pocket.
  • After he was added to the 53-man roster on Tuesday, I think Darren McFadden will play a significant role in the game. I expect to see McFadden not only give Ezekiel Elliott limited breaks with the first offense but snaps in the nickel, as well. In talking to various staff members, they have no concern about McFadden's game conditioning and are comfortable with his role in the game plan. Look for Alfred Morris to be the odd man out Sunday on the inactive list.
  • There's one stat that the Dallas defensive coaches care about. In the previous eight games, they're ranked first in the league in scoring, allowing their opponents to score just 131 total points.
  • I would not rule out Brandon Carr travelling with Mike Evans like he did with Odell Beckham Jr. last week -- but this time, I just don't see it being that extensive. Where Evans is so dangerous is when Jameis Winston throws the ball up for grabs in his direction and he goes to get it. The Buccaneers are fifth in the league when it comes to plays of 10 or more, yards and a large part of that is due to the Winston-to-Evans "jump ball," which they've been able to connect on throughout the season.
  • Buccaneers safety Chris Conte is listed on the injury report as questionable dealing with a concussion. If Conte is unable to go, his replacement will be special teams ace Keith Tandy, who is one of the hardest hitters I've seen on film this year.  Tandy is super aggressive and all he wants to do is attack the line of scrimmage. When he is the extra guy down in the box, there are going to be plenty of collisions between him and Ezekiel Elliott. Keep an eye on him to see if the Cowboys use that aggressiveness against him and try to hit one over the top like they were able to do against the Giants.
  • Unless Jason Garrett loses the opening coin flip, my guess is he'll take the ball to start the game. What Garrett is banking on is that his offense is going to score points on their first drive, putting pressure on the opposing offense to do the same. The Cowboys have scored 41 points on the opening drive this season, which plays right into Garrett's plan. Those points are good enough to rank them fifth in the league. On the other side of the field, the Buccaneers have allowed 38 points on opening drives, which puts them 27th in that category and at a disadvantage on the scoreboard.
  • My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mark Sanchez, CB Morris Claiborne, S J.J. Wilcox, RB Alfred Morris, LB Mark Nzeocha, DE DeMarcus Lawrence, DT Cedric Thornton.


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