IRVING, Texas – Games like this are perfect example how quickly things can change in the NFL.
It's only been three years since these two teams squared off – a 16-10 Dallas win. Considering how different the rosters look, though, that might as well have been a decade ago. Josh Freeman was the Bucs' quarterback in that game, and DeMarco Murray scored the Cowboys' only touchdown.
Looking at this week's highlighted opponents further demonstrates that. Of the three, only one – Lavonte David – was even on the Tampa Bay roster. As a rookie, he recorded five tackles. This week's other key players had yet to be drafted, but they are making their presence felt on a young Tama team.
Let's take a look:
Nemesis: Lavonte David, LB
He is just a perfect fit for this Buccaneers 4-3 scheme. A player that lacks ideal size, but makes up for it with outstanding competitiveness. Is non-stop in the way he plays the game. Is both physically and mentally tough.
David has off the charts football intelligence. He's always around the ball because he is rarely fooled. Has the playing speed and quickness to run down plays from anywhere on the field. Is able to consistently beat blocks with his quickness. Plays with range and a closing burst. One of the best in the league when it comes to reading a scheme and getting to the ball. Plays with lateral quickness and agility. Changes direction with ease. Will surprise you with his strength but is a much better player when he can play on the move. His strength is his ability to avoid blocks. Plays with his hands on the move. Is not always going to be able to anchor down and take on blocks and be successful, but he is a finisher as a tackler.
Consistent in the way he plays. Is not up and down at all -- run or pass. Big time effort and pursuit. Is the leader of this defense in that regard. Good in coverage due to smarts and athletic ability. Can play him in zone drops and he is going to react and make plays. Disciplined player overall. Communicates well. Instinctive in the way he plays. Has some quality snaps as a blitzer. Is willing to attack the pocket and mix it up. Is one of those linebackers that never comes off the field.
Weapon: Mike Evans, WR
Super competitive player that will surprise you with how inconsistent he is doing his job. With that being said – you still have to account for his big play ability. Evans is the one big-time player that Jameis Winston has to work with on this offense.
He is not a receiver that has a huge route tree to work with. His best ones are when he goes inside for the ball. Can make great snatch catches over the middle, then the very next play drop one that is right between the numbers on his jersey. It must drive the Tampa coaches nuts the way he plays, but once again he is the best they've got.
Long and lean as a player. Emotional in the way he plays -- good or bad. Can always tell what he is thinking by his reactions on the field. Long strider without much initial quickness or burst. Can gain separation while he is going up the field. If he gets bumped in route, he can be slowed down. Home run hitter when the ball is there for him. Winston is not afraid to lay the ball out there for him. Rare body control and leaping ability. Courage to catch the ball in a crowd. Big time threat in the red zone due to his height. Will go get the ball.
He's physical with the run after catch – not afraid to try and run over tacklers. Will extend to catch the ball, but hands are not always consistent for someone that makes the types of plays he does. Catching radius is large. It is crazy how hit-and-miss he can play, but you do have to account for him each snap.
Under the Radar: Akeem Spence, DT
Really interesting player that sees action as the nose-tackle in this scheme. Spence is similar to what the Cowboys have in Terrell McClain in regard to height and weight (6-1, 307). He's a thickly built interior lineman who takes on blocks using all his limbs as weapons.
First off, he's strong enough to collapse the pocket. Plays low and with leverage. Has a punch, shed, and spin move. Is very powerful and active for his size. Relentless with his effort and pursuit. Good lateral quickness to help out on the perimeter. Can move down the line with ease. Impact-type hitter. Physical as a tackler. Explosive and productive in his play. Plays with good knee bend to leverage blocker in both the run and pass game despite his size. Nice rotational player that shows up better than the starter Tony McDaniel. Reactionary athlete. Good one-gap penetrator. Plays with change of direction, body control and balance.
This is a hard guy to knock off his feet despite his lack of height – you see leverage in his game. Can get up the field then retrace his steps. Have to keep a hat on him or he will get off and get in on the play. Able to key and diagnose the play. Doesn't just run up the field and take himself out of the play. Instinctive player when it comes to finding the ball. Discipline and plays in control. Wins more on quickness than he does moves. Is used in games and stunts. Can penetrate to get others home. Will win his share of one-on-one blocks. Type of player that comes at the blocker down after down. Relentless.