FRISCO, Texas – Here's a look at the two biggest keys to this game, and what I think might swing the outcome between the Cowboys and Buccaneers.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
I really don't think there is anything magical here that the Cowboys have to do to win this football game. Sure, they could execute better or make a coaching decision along the way to help turn the balance of the game.
The bottom line this week is pretty simple: get back that feeling they had in their gut when halfway through the season their record was 3-5. Whatever dark and horrible feeling they had during that time needs to once again be brought back to the surface. For five weeks, this club played every snap like their season was going to end right there on the spot. There was that fight, effort and desire that one can only experience when faced with that harsh reality that everything you worked for is slipping away.
The players need to grab this game against the Buccaneers like they grabbed their season after that horrendous start. The very reason they're now in a position to clinch this division is due to that demeanor that pulled off five-straight victories over some quality opponents. The Cowboys, plain and simple, need to go out and destroy the Buccaneers' will to compete – period. Don't allow them to hang around or feel good about themselves. Shut down their game plans and make them quit.
There is a reason why their record is the way it is. There is a reason why rumors are swirling about a coaching change there. They're looking for a way out, so make sure you play in a way to provide it for them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Win If:
There hasn't been much for the Buccaneers to feel good about, but since the firing of Mike Smith as the defensive coordinator five weeks ago, there has been an improvement in the overall play of the defense.
Since Mark Duffner has taken over, they've done a much better job of creating pressure on the quarterback. Where Duffner has made the most difference is in the way he's been more aggressive with his front since taking over for Smith. As a unit they struggled to get pressure and sacks, but that has changed since they made the switch.
Where the Cowboys have struggled the most is with their offensive line. Opponents have forced them to drive the ball, and for the most part they have -- but they've also suffered penalties, sacks and turnovers along the way.
If the Buccaneers are going to win this game, it will have to be with their defense. Duffner will face the dilemma that all defensive coordinators face when dealing with the Cowboys: commit to stopping the run or deal with their passing game. Duffner has the front seven that could go in either direction. My guess is that he will trust that front and make Dak Prescott beat him throwing the ball against a Cover 2 look. This was the plan of attack that the Colts used last week and Duffner has used at various times this season with some success.
If Duffner can hold this Cowboys offense in check, his offense is capable of moving the ball and finishing some drives to take this victory.