Looking Ahead

The Bucs jumped from three to 10 wins in Morris' second season.

WHAT: Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 17, 7:20 p.m. (CT)
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
SERIES: Cowboys lead series, 11-3

  • Raheem Morris. Morris made headlines last October when he declared his Bucs the best team in the NFC. Definitely a stretch at midseason, particularly with Tampa Bay coming off a 3-13 record in 2009. But by the end of 2010, Morris' bold statement wasn't so outlandish. The Bucs missed the playoffs but tied three other teams, including the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers, for the conference's third-best record (10-6). Like Jason Garrett, Morris is an energetic young coach who got maximum effort from his players. And although the Bucs might be a team on the rise, they're apparently trying to avoid potential distractions. The club turned down a chance to be featured on this year's HBO "Hard Knocks" training camp series. * Youth Movement. Morris' second-year coaching job was so impressive due to his team's inexperience. He started 10 rookies at several key positions, including quarterback (Josh Freeman), running back (LeGarrette Blount) and wide receiver (Mike Williams). All three led the team in respective passing, rushing and receiving totals, and Williams finished second in the Offensive Rookie of the Year voting with a rookie-best 65 catches for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. On defense, 2010 third overall pick Gerald McCoy is already emerging as a productive defensive lineman and team leader. * No Aquib Talib? We'll certainly know for sure by December, but right now the future of the Bucs' top corner is in jeopardy. Talib, charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon back in April, could face a lengthy league suspension once the lockout ends, and the Bucs might be inclined to part with their troubled top pick in 2008. Without Talib, the Bucs would have to address their thinning secondary. Ahem, Nnamdi Asomugha? Match-Up Worth Watching:
    Josh Freeman vs. Cowboys' LBs. The Bucs believe they've found their franchise quarterback. In his first full season as a starter, Freeman threw for 3,451 yards with 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also proved he could hurt defenses with his feet, his 364 rushing yards trailing only Michael Vick among quarterbacks. The Cowboys' linebackers will have to keep an eye on Freeman's scrambling ability all game long.

Bucs' Draft Review:
The Bucs finished 17th in total defense last year and tallied only 26 sacks. They continued to revamp the front seven with a defensive-minded draft. Four of their top five picks were defensive players who could eventually find roles in Tampa's system: Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, linebacker Mason Foster and safety Ahmad Black. Injuries prevented Clayborn and Bowers from going higher in the draft, but both could immediately aid the pass rush.

Last Meeting:
This year's December trip won't be nearly as hot and humid as the Cowboys' 34-21 win at Tampa in the 2009 opener. Tony Romo completed 16 of 27 passes for a career-high 353 yards and three touchdowns to increase his club record of career 300-yard games to 17. The Cowboys found themselves trailing 7-6 near the end of the half, until Romo hit Miles Austin down the right sideline for a 42-yard touchdown. All three of Romo's TD targets (Austin, Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton) scored from more than 40 yards out, including a career-long 80-yard catch and run by Crayton to make the score 27-14 with 12:43 left in the fourth quarter.

One To Remember:
Thanksgiving 2006 might have been the day Tony Romo established himself as a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback. Romo feasted on Tampa's defense in only his fifth career start - a 38-10 rout at Texas Stadium - by tying a Cowboys single-game passing record with five touchdowns for only the ninth time in club history. Troy Aikman was the last Cowboys quarterback to accomplish that feat back in 1999. Romo also completed 13 consecutive passes from the second to the fourth quarter, tying the second-longest streak in team record books. The Cowboys would finish 9-7 (6-4 with Romo as the starter) and reach the NFC Wild Card round that season.

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