The Cowboys didn't get the easiest of draws to start the season. In fact, it's probably as tough as it gets – facing Tom Brady and the Bucs, the defending Super Bowl champs on the road as they hang their championship banner.
But the Cowboys can win the game, no matter how tough of a challenge it might be.
Here's a look at the keys to victory for both the Bucs and Cowboys.
The Buccaneers will win if…
The defending champions are poised to make another run at the title with a roster that features 22 returning starters. The Buccaneers are led by the ultimate winner, Tom Brady, and his winning pedigree has given the team a championship swagger that could make them impossible to beat in 2021.
Offensively, TB12 directs a unit that features three playmakers on the perimeter with 1,000-yard potential. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown create problems with their ability to win on the outside against single or double coverage. With few opponents capable of matching up, Brady is content to hit the open man until the defense swaps defenders or switches coverage. Given the Cowboys' propensity to play man-to-man or a variation of Cover 3 (three-deep zone), Brady could play a game of target practice for 60 minutes. If the veteran gets into a rhythm early, it could be a long night for the Cowboys.
The Buccaneers want to utilize blitz pressure to suffocate the running game and harass quarterbacks on passing downs from a defensive standpoint. Todd Bowles will send an assortment of five- and six-man pressures with a variety of zones behind it to enable his defenders to keep their eyes on Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott at all times. The Buccaneers want to keep No.4 and No.21 under wraps to force the Cowboys to win with their complementary players. If the Buccaneers can dictate the terms with the defense forcing Prescott to throw in obvious passing situations, the defending champs will control the game and chalk up a W at the end of the night.
The Cowboys will win if…
Mike McCarthy must craft a plan that prioritizes complementary football from the opening snap. The Cowboys must utilize all three phases to neutralize the defending champions in the season opener. From controlling the clock on offense to winning the field position battle in the kicking game to limiting explosive plays on defense, the Cowboys will need to earn high marks in each of these areas to walk away with a victory.
On offense, the Cowboys must balance their desire to light up the scoreboard with the need to control the game's pace. Prescott and Co. are at their best when playing from in front due to the offense's ability seamlessly from an aerial circus to a ground-and-pound unit. The O-Line must win in the trenches without Zach Martin to enable Kellen Moore and McCarthy to seize control of the game's pace, tempo, and rhythm. If the Cowboys are to achieve a 50-50 balance in the first half before putting the game Ezekiel Elliott's shoulders in the second half, the game is being played at the Cowboys' desired tempo.
Defensively, the Cowboys must adjust to the frenetic tempo Brady could opt for in a hurry-up, no-huddle offense. The veteran will randomly push the pace against defenses early I the season to see if the chaos can lead to communication breakdowns and blown assignments in the secondary. In addition, the quickened pace could make it easier for the Buccaneers to gain yards on the ground against a tired defense. Dan Quinn will need to be on his game to get the calls in and control the game with a clever mix of pressure and coverage. He will need to vary his tactics against Brady to keep the chess master from cracking the Cowboys' defensive code.
In addition, Quinn will need to find ways to put his best defenders (Demarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons, and Randy Gregory) in prime playmaking positions. Whether utilizing various sub-packages or targeting a weak line along the Buccaneers' offensive line, Quinn must attack and exploit any weakness at the point of attack.
If the Cowboys can get solid coverage from the defensive backfield while revving up the pressure, America's Team can steal a victory from the defending champs utilizing a creative game plan.