FRISCO, Texas – A closer look at the two matchups I think we'll go a long way in determining the winner of this Cowboys-Buccaneers primetime game:
Dallas Cowboys OT Tyron Smith vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers DE Robert Ayers
This was a matchup we were accustomed to seeing each year when Ayers was with the New York Giants, but he also faced Smith while he was with the Denver Broncos. Ayers has not had much success when facing Smith in those previous games, but he's still a rusher that has the potential to create problems with his wide variety of pass rush moves.
Ayers isn't just going to come with the same rush, down after down. He has tremendous get-off and burst. By using his hands, he can attack a blocker and capture the corner. He has very good body control and balance. Plays with lower body bend and upper body strength. His motor, effort and pursuit are consistent. This is a smart player. He can key and diagnose plays with ease. He has very good instincts playing both the run and pass, which makes him a hard guy to fool.
It will be a challenge to affect him in the boot/waggle packages that the Cowboys like to run. He is not likely to chase the ball and give up the outside, as he is a disciplined player that will hang in there and execute his assignment. He does a nice job of getting off blocks, and he has nice range when the ball comes to his side. You can use him on games and stunts due to his athletic ability, as he is not a stiff moving player at all.
Ayers will play on the same side as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and create problems for blocking schemes to have to deal with both of them. Smith is going to have to play through the whistle on him. You can't allow him to make those plays from the backside in the pocket when Dak Prescott needs that extra second to see the field. He can create turnovers with his effort and ability.
Dallas Cowboys S Byron Jones vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Cameron Brate
Brate is in that mold of tight ends in the league that really don't play as a true tight end along the line. He has an interesting background as a player from Harvard. He's been on and off practice squads for both the Buccaneers and Saints, but he has found his spot with the Buccaneers in their pass attack.
The first thing I noticed was a nice success rate of catches to targets (51-71) along with six touchdowns. He has deceptive speed and quickness, and he will fool defenders in how he gets up the field. He plays with some vertical separation. He can work up the field and find open spaces. He's also productive with his ability to adjust in space -- outstanding when it comes to adjusting to the ball, with top-shelf reactions.
Another strength of Brate's is that he shows the ability to read coverages and make it work to his advantage. He can be a playmaker when given the opportunity. He will make the contested catch when covered. He plays flexed and in the slot so the majority of his releases are from that spot. He's not going to give you much run after catch, but he has an understanding of where the sticks are and will generally get past them for first downs.
The Buccaneers are the sixth-best team in the league when it comes to converting on third downs, and he has a hand in that. I don't see him running away from Jones, but his length could present problems for him. Next to Mike Evans, Brate is that "go-to" guy for Jameis Winston when he needs to make a play.
Control him and it takes a big weapon away from the Buccaneers.