We are two days removed from the start of the 2021 NFL season, which kicks off on Thursday as the Dallas Cowboys will travel to Raymond James Stadium and face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Super Bowl champions will match up against a high-powered offense that anxiously awaits the return of franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, who has not played since week five of the 2020 season after he went down with a fractured ankle. As such, there are plenty of questions needing answers entering the game.
Jeremy Brener of Cowboy Maven stopped by AllBucs for a five-question Q&A to preview Tampa Bay vs. Dallas.
1. Alright, let's keep it real. The reports out of Dallas are encouraging and he is saying the right things, but just how ready is Dak Prescott for Thursday night after his season-ending injury last year and the throwing shoulder injury in camp?
Dak Prescott has been given the all clear. He should play Thursday night with zero limitations. While the lack of preseason reps might be concerning, Prescott shined in this offense a year ago before fracturing his ankle and he is ready to get back on the field. He's been working in practice for a few weeks now and there does not appear to be any concern about his shoulder. It's obviously very different when you put him on the field in a live NFL game, but he's expected to play, hopefully for all 17 games.
2. Losing Zack Martin undoubtedly hurts the Cowboys' offense, but what will his replacement Connor McGovern bring to the table?
Zack Martin going down shows another example that COVID will still have a major effect on the 2020 season. But Connor McGovern is ready to go. He played a lot as a backup in 2020 because of Martin's injuries, so he's more prepared than your average backup. Alongside McGovern, you're likely getting Tyron Smith and La'el Collins back, which is huge for the Cowboys. Smith played just two games last year and Collins missed the entire season. Last year, one of the Cowboys' biggest strengths ended up becoming a weakness because of all these injuries. Now, you get those guys back sprinkled in with some young players who got playing time because the unit was so injured in 2020. The goal is to keep Prescott clean, especially given his injury history. It won't be easy against that Tampa front seven, but the Cowboys will give them a challenge.
3. Which matchups do you like in the Cowboys' favor against the Buccaneers, and vice versa?
It's hard to like many matchups for the Cowboys against a team coming off a Super Bowl victory, but if I had to pick one, I'm going with Micah Parsons vs. the running backs. I think running back is probably the least strong position on Tampa's roster, and Parsons showed an enormous amount of potential and ability to find the football during the preseason. The Cowboys' front seven is better off with Parsons there and I think the rookie's energy will be felt Thursday night.
As far as the Bucs, I like the wide receivers vs. the Cowboys' cornerbacks. The Cowboys drafted two rookies in Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright, and it's uncertain how much they are going to play, but going against the Bucs receivers is no easy task for any corner, let alone some that have no NFL experience. They also have arguably the greatest quarterback ever in Tom Brady throwing them the football, so that helps their cause. I expect Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown to play most of the time at corner, but they are going to have a tough time against Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
4. After a miserable year defensively in 2020, how Dan Quinn changed Dallas' defense and where can we expect the unit to be better?
The team really placed an emphasis on defense in the draft, with the first six and 8 of 11 draft picks playing defense. The team also prioritized defense in free agency, signing safeties Malik Hooker, Keanu Neal and Damontee Kazee. Neal and Kazee have experience playing for Quinn in Atlanta, while Hooker was a former first-round pick. The team needed new blood to come in and take out the trash from last year, and that's what they've done. While Quinn may have struggled in the end of his head coaching tenure with the Falcons, he's had a lot of success as a DC and he's got new personnel that has a great chance of being better than last year just because the bar wasn't very high to begin with.
5. What is your prediction for this game and why? Any hot takes?
A road win for the Cowboys against the reigning Super Bowl Champions would really send a statement to the league. As much as Cowboys fans want a win Thursday night, it's going to be difficult to grab one against such a vaunted defense. I'm expecting a big night from Micah Parsons, perhaps getting his first NFL turnover, but it isn't going to be enough. Bucs 27, Cowboys 13
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