Football analyst Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player and scout who now works for NFL Network and serves as an analyst for DallasCowboys.com, gives his weekly keys to the game Sunday, providing specific points of emphasis for both the Cowboys and Bucs.
The Buccaneers will win if…
Despite the injuries that have ravaged the Buccaneers' offensive line, the Tom Brady-led squad remains a tough matchup for the Cowboys in the season opener. The team's collective talent and championship experience will give them the confidence needed to overcome their deficiencies. TB12 will work around the lack of talent and experience on the frontline by relying on a quick-rhythm passing game that enables him to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry. He will rely on Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones to make defenders miss in the open field. With a missed tackle leading to a big gain, the Buccaneers will attempt to test the Cowboys' tackling skills in the opener to see if they can produce a big gain on a low-risk toss.
The Buccaneers' running game could also be a factor in the game with Leonard Fournette taking on a significant role as the team's RB1. As a grinder with an old-school running style could enable the Buccaneers to grind it out when they are attempting to control the game by utilizing a ball-control game plan.
Defensively, the Buccaneers will attempt to disrupt Dak Prescott's rhythm by choking out the running game and tilting the coverage to No.88. With CeeDee Lamb viewed as the only credible threat in the passing game, the Buccaneers will attempt to make No.4 win the game by targeting his second and third options in the passing game. If Todd Bowles and Co. are successful in dictating the terms to the Cowboys, it will likely lead to a win for the Buccaneers in the opener.
The Cowboys will win if…
The Cowboys will head into the opener with a number of question marks in the lineup. The insertion of a rookie (Tyler Smith) at left tackle leaves Prescott vulnerable in pass protection while also weakening the offensive line's punch in the running game. For the Cowboys to win, Smith must exceed expectations as a rookie to solidify a position that was previously manned by a perennial All-Pro blocker. If the rookie holds up his end of the deal with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard running between the tackles, the Cowboys will be able to control the game and set up Prescott for big play opportunities on play-action passes.
Lamb and Michael Gallup (if active and in the lineup) will need to win against "one-on-one" coverage but an effective running game leads to an effective aerial circus built on play-action passes. if Dalton Schultz continues to play at a high level as a "seam runner" in the scheme, the Cowboys' passing game should be to generate enough points to scratch out a win.
Defensively, the Cowboys will need to focus on keeping the ball in front of the defense while challenging the receivers on the outside. Trevon Diggs and Co. should challenge the Buccaneers' receivers in press coverage to eliminate the "easy" throws (bubble screens, tunnel screens, and quick hitches/slants) that help Brady get into a rhythm.
In addition, the Cowboys must neutralize Fournette and the rest of the Buccaneers' runners to make TB12 utilize a one-dimensional game plan that exposes him to more hits within the pocket. Dan Quinn will need his front seven to own the line of scrimmage to keep Fournette in check, but this game will be decided by the turnover battle. If the Cowboys finish with a two-takeaway advantage on game day, Mike McCarthy's squad will win utilizing a blue-collar approach that is a far cry from the glitz and glamour that some fans covet.