FRISCO, Texas – When this game was put on the schedule in May, you probably didn't have a high opinion of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That's the beauty of the NFL – this is a parity-driven league. The Bucs are one of the leagues' hottest teams, having won five-straight games. They also have a bevy of impressive young talent, thanks to some great drafting decisions in recent years.
Here's a look at the three guys the Cowboys will have their hands full with when the Bucs visit on Sunday night.
Weapon:DT Gerald McCoy
There's no doubt about it: this is one of the premier defensive players in the NFL. When they draw up how a three-technique should play in a 4-3 scheme, Gerald McCoy is one of the first names mentioned.
He plays with a rare combination of explosive quickness and power. The way he comes off the ball presents issues for blockers to have to deal with. He is disruptive at the point of attack, and if he's not completely taken care of on the backside – he will chase the play down and finish. He has outstanding lateral agility and body control. He can really change direction and pursue, which makes him difficult to handle when he is on the inside charge while on the move.
When he hits the gap – he is a load to have to stop. He plays with lower body bend and balance, and he understands how to keep his pads down and not give the blockers much to work with. He can anchor down at the point of attack in the running game, and he will strike and explode with his hands to control blockers. He is consistent in his technique and how he goes about his job – this is not a guy who is good one play, then bad the next three.
McCoy has nice run game instincts. He finds the ball and gets in position to make the tackle. He is a disciplined run defender and a hard guy too fool. On top of that, he plays with all types of pass rush moves. He's athletic enough to be used in games and stunts.
The Buccaneers like to play McCoy to the same side as Noah Spence, giving them two outstanding rushers on the same side. You will see him rush in some three-man games with some effectiveness. He can defeat blockers one-on-one, which is why is he is doubled the majority of the time.
I thought Zack Martin and La'el Collins did a nice job of handling him when they played the Buccaneers in 2015. He was held off the stat sheet for the majority of the day, which is rare for him. Once again, this offensive line will have to account for him every play.
Nemesis:WR Mike Evans
Evans has had a huge number of targets in his first two seasons, but he has become more of a consistent receiver in the way that he's gone about his job recently.
He is an amazing player to study due to how his quarterback just throws the ball up for grabs and he comes down with it. This is due more to athletic ability than his skills as a route runner. In college, he was not a receiver that had a huge route tree to work with. He is developing in that area. His best routes are the ones where he goes inside for the ball.
[embeddedad0]Much like Odell Beckham Jr., Evans is emotional in the way he plays -- good or bad. You can always tell what he is thinking by his reactions on the field. He is a long strider without much initial quickness or burst, but he can gain separation while he is going up the field. If he gets bumped in route – he can be slowed down. As we've seen time after time, Evans is a home run hitter when the ball is there for him. He can really track the ball down the field, as he has no blind spots. There is rare body control and leaping ability, as well as courage to catch the ball in a crowd. These attributes make him a big-time threat in the red zone. Much like Dez Bryant, he will go get the ball.
His size also makes him physical with run after catch – he's not afraid to try and run over the tackler. He will extend to catch the ball, but his hands are not always consistent for someone that makes the types of plays he does. His catching radius is large.
Considering all his talent, it is crazy how hit-and-miss he can play, but you do have to account for him each snap. He has the size and physical style of play to create mismatches with corners and linebackers. He also does a good job of adjusting his route if there are protection breakdowns to find the open area.
Jameis Winston's eyes are always in his direction. You can't assume that he is covered – have to get a body on him at all times. He will make some unbelievable plays down the field, as his length gives defenders problems.
Under the Radar:DE Noah Spence
One of my favorite players in the 2016 NFL Draft. If you remember, he was a transfer from Ohio State to Eastern Kentucky – he was kicked out of school and the Big 10 for rules violations. Despite that, I thought he was the best pure pass rusher in last year's draft.
As a rookie, he was slow to get going, but Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith has found a role for him. He is on the field a considerable amount of time now. He plays opposite Robert Ayers and both present problems for offensive tackles off the edge. He thrives in this role because he does an outstanding job of attacking the edge. He plays with balance and body control, and he will chase the play.
Spence is a much better player when he plays wide, and that is what Smith is asking him to do. He can avoid blocks by getting low to the ground, and he plays with some bend around the corner. He had trouble early in the running game when he would give ground, but he is now playing better at the point. In college, size would give him problems in the running game, but he is working on that.
Considering he's a rookie, he's got a knack for locating the ball, which means he can create turnovers. He's got the versatility to play on both left and right side, but I feel like he is more of a true right side guy. He can win those one-on-one matchups.
I would have loved for the Cowboys to have drafted him, but I was told from several sources that they did extensive research on him and felt like they couldn't have taken him. I thought he was sincere when he addressed his problems at the Combine about his off the field concern. This was a better pass rusher in college than Randy Gregory.