Game Scout: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8) At Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 12-4. Dallas has an overwhelming advantage against Tampa Bay in games played on the Cowboys' home field. Dallas is 11-1 at home versus the Buccaneers, including playoff wins in 1982 and 1983. Tampa Bay's only win in Dallas was a 10-6 victory in 2001. The two teams met almost exactly two years ago in Dallas and the Cowboys prevailed 26-20.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bucs know they're going to get a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott from the Cowboys. Tampa Bay allowed the Ravens to run all over them last Sunday for 242 yards in a 20-12 loss. The Cowboys use the play-action game to get downfield passes from Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper. The Bucs have to rally to the football because Elliott is a physical runner. If they can do that, the Bucs have to put pressure on Prescott with their defensive line. Offensively, the Bucs need to strive for balance. Running back Peyton Barber is playing well early in games and the Bucs need to stick with the run. This will enable them to have more time of possession and keep the heat off Jameis Winston. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson could return in the game to give the Bucs another downfield weapon and create space in the passing game.
If right guard Zack Martin is still sidelined with an MCL sprain and fill-in left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo is still out with an eye injury, then the Cowboys will need to adapt their offensive game plan to avoid situations that depend on a clean pocket for Prescott. That means running the ball behind Elliott and pass plays that get the ball out quick. That might also require Dallas to pick its moments to look for Cooper over the top.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
No players listed
--OUT: DL David Irving (ankle), TE Geoff Swaim (wrist)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Tavon Austin (groin), CB Anthony Brown (hand), LB Sean Lee (hamstring), G Zack Martin (knee)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott vs. Buccaneers front seven. Tampa Bay ranks 27th in the NFL in run defense, giving up 4.8 yards per carry and 128.1 yards per game. Last week, the Cowboys' makeshift offensive line struggled to protect Dak Prescott, but Elliott still gained 4.8 yards per carry against a good Colts front line. This is a chance for Elliott to have a huge game and possibly secure the NFL rushing title.
--Buccaneers DE Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Cowboys OL. Pierre-Paul has 11.5 sacks this season, a couple better than Colts DL Denico Autry, who gave Dallas fits on Sunday. Dallas can't allow Pierre-Paul to be such a disruptive force that it debilitates the offense, which was the case with Autry last week in Indianapolis. Dallas head coach Jason Garrett likes to say that everyone has a piece in sacks, so that means the offensive line, Prescott and the receivers need to work together to avoid the negative plays that have crippled the Cowboys at times this season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin caught seven passes for 56 yards two weeks ago against Philadelphia and added four catches for 45 against the Colts. He's proving to be a reliable target as 14 of his 18 catches this season have come in the last four games. And given the Cowboys' red-zone problems of late, Sunday would be a good time for Jarwin to score his first NFL touchdown.
FAST FACTS: BUCCANEERS QB JAMEIS WINSTON in his past 2 vs. NFC East, has 531 pass yards (265.5 per game) with 5 TDs vs. 1 INT for 118.7 rating. Aims for his 3rd in row vs. NFC East with 2+ TD passes & 110+ rating. ... RB PEYTON BARBER had 85 rush yards & TD in Week 15. Has rush TD in 4 of his past 5. Has 839 scrimmage yards this season & needs 161 yards for 1st-career 1,000-yard season. ... WR MIKE EVANS ranks 2nd in NFL with 1,328 rec. yards & leads NFL averaging 17.9 yards per catch (min. 50 receptions) this season. ... TE CAMERON BRATE has 3 TDs in his past 4. Since 2016, ranks 2nd among NFL TEs with 20 TD catches. ... DE JASON PIERRE-PAUL has 3.5 sacks & FR in his past 5. ... LB LAVONTE DAVID had 12 tackles, 2 sacks & FR last week. Has 34 tackles, 3 sacks & FR in his past 3. Aims for his 4th in row with 10+ tackles. ... COWBOYS QB DAK PRESCOTT completed 32 of 36 (career-high 88.9 pct.) for 279 yards & 99 rating & had rush TD in only career meeting. Has 100+ rating in 3 of his past 4. Has 17 rush TDs since entering league in 2016, most among NFL QBs. ... RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT leads league in touches (358), rush yards (1,349) & scrimmage yards (1,892) this season. Had 128 scrimmage yards (87 rush, 41 rec.) last week. Aims for his 8th in row with 100+ scrimmage yards & his 7th in row with 5+ catches. ... WR AMARI COOPER has 31 catches for 531 yards (132.8 per game) & 6 TDs in 4 home games with Dal. Since joining team in Week 9, ranks 2nd in NFC with 674 rec. yards & ties for league lead with 6 TD catches. ... DE DeMARCUS LAWRENCE has 8.5 sacks, 2 FFs & INT in his past 9 at home. ... LB LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH ranks 2nd among NFL rookies with 114 tackles in 2018. ... LB JAYLON SMITH led team with 11 tackles last week. Aims for his 4th in row with 9+ tackles.
PREDICTION: It's hard to envision Dallas not rebounding from last week's disappointing loss in Indianapolis, especially with the hard-charging Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins right behind them in the NFC East.
OUR PICK: Cowboys, 34-17