The final game of Super Wild Card Weekend features the NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Dallas Cowboys.
The two teams met again in Week 1, when Tampa beat Dallas 19-3 in the most embarrassing game of the season for the Cowboys – a game that ended with Dak Prescott suffering a broken finger that looked like it would end the Cowboys. ‘ chance to even get to where they are now. We know what happened next: Dallas’ defense and Cooper Rush stepped up and saved the season, then Prescott came back and took the offense to the next level as the defense came back. The Cowboys now enter this game as the road favorite.
The Buccaneers were one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL this season, finishing the year with an 8-9 record and entering the postseason only to play in the worst division in the league. And yet, nothing affects what you get from the competition. They have the opportunity now to play home games, and rehabilitate what they could not do in the regular season.
So, which of the two teams will step up to take on the 49ers next week? We will find out soon. Before we break down the matchup, here’s how to watch the game.
How to watch
Date: Monday, Jan. 9 | Time: 8:15 pm ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa)
TV: ESPN | River: fuboTV (try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports program
Impossible: Cowboys -2.5, O/U 45.5 (courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook)
When the Cowboys have the ball
Look at all the stats, and the Cowboys had one of the NFL’s best offenses this season despite their starting quarterback missing a third of the year. He finished 11th in total yards and fourth in points, and seventh in Tru Media’s EPA rating per game. Fast forward to Dak Prescott’s return from injury, and the Cowboys matched the Bills for second in EPA per play.
But there is something about their guilt that leaves them cold. They can pass through areas that look awful, and struggle to get the ball to their more explosive players. This happened in their loss to the 49ers last season, where Tony Pollard had just six touches and CeeDee Lamb was targeted five times, compared to Ezekiel Elliott’s 13 touches (for 35 yards) and 18 combined scores for the likes of Dalton. Schultz and Cedrick Wilson. The Cowboys were held to 307 yards and 17 points, and were sent home in embarrassing fashion.
This season, they’ve mostly avoided those types of games… except for the season opener against the Buccaneers in Week 1 and the Rulers in Week 18. These might be the two worst games of Prescott’s entire career (and the EPA on the dropback). , were sixth and fourth-worst, according to Tru Media), as they combined to complete just 28 of 66 passes for 262 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Lamb had 7 catches for 81 yards and 18 scores in the two games, while Pollard had 15 touches for 41 total yards.
In short, nothing can happen if the Cowboys have any hope of winning this game on the road. They must have led the league in scoring between Prescott’s arrival in Week 7 and Week 17, scoring at least 27 points in all but one game despite 1.6 turnovers per contest. The offensive line’s decline in the second half of the season (and Tyron Smith’s relative struggles to return to right after a Hall of Fame career at left) led to a slow decline, and Prescott’s new offense has had its pros (explosive plays) and cons (too many options). ).
The only way for Dallas to win this game is to focus on its offense around its explosive players. Advancement of football under every game played in the hands of Tampa. Mike McCarthy, Kellen Moore, and Co. he should avoid the temptation to lean on what is known and safe (Zeke runs first with 10, Schultz looks up the middle, etc.), and instead try to press for opportunities. they have in this race.
When the Buccaneers have the ball
The Buccaneers offense this season has been nothing like what we saw in the first two years of the Tom Brady era. In 2020 and 2021, Tampa ranked seventh and second in total yards, third and second in total yards, third and first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and fifth and third in Tru Media’s EPA per game. This season, the Buccaneers ranked 15th in yards, 25th in points, 16th in DVOA, and 22nd in EPA per game.
The issues on the offensive line – Ali Marpet’s retirement, Ryan Jensen’s knee injury, Alex Cappa’s loss to free agency, Tristan Wirfs’ injury, Donovan Smith’s significant decline – were visible for a long time, and they affected every aspect. of the offense.
The pace of the game was at its worst all season. Tampa ranked 30th in rushing DVOA, and only two NFL teams averaged fewer yards per carry (1.16), according to Tru Media. Dallas’ defense finished the season ranked 5th in rushing defense DVOA, but the Bucs rushed them when the two teams met again in Week 1, with Leonard Fournette turning 21 of his carries into 127 yards. (Fournette averaged 3.2 yards per carry all season. His yards 127 against Dallas was 19% of his rushing yards all year.)
Tampa also found they couldn’t push the ball downfield in the long passing game. After Tom Brady averaged 9.06 yards per attempt in 2020 and 8.07 per attempt last season, his average pass went 6.83 yards this season, according to Tru Media. Only 1.0.4% of his passes traveled at least 20 yards downfield, down from a high of 15.4% during Tampa’s Super Bowl season. The one time it looked like the Bucs could get the ball down the field was two weeks ago against the Panthers, when Brady and Mike Evans repeatedly burned poor CJ Henderson, who gave up 7 catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns while covering Evans. .
The Cowboys have been very much At the risk of a decline in play in recent weeks, but it’s often teams looking to the running backs that line up with Trevon Diggs. (If the two matchups between the two teams over the past two seasons are any indication, Diggs will be Evans’ shadow. In those two games, Evans has 8 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.) Since Anthony Brown was lost for the season, Dallas tried Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright, Mackensie Alexander, and Trevon Mullen, and nothing worked. Xavier Rhodes has been getting work done at the position during practice, and he could get his first chance on Monday night. Brady should be ready to do the same job as Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, Julio Jones, or anyone else who matches up with Rhodes (or whatever cornerback the Cowboys throw at him).
The way Dallas can mitigate all of this is to rediscover its speed, which has been missing for a long time. After recording multiple sacks in each of the first 12 games of the season, Dallas has two sackless streaks in its last five games, and has just six sacks in those five contests. Before that, the Cowboys had 4 in every game. (Interestingly, the Cowboys still have problems all the time; they just haven’t been able to turn that pass into sacks.) Unless Micah Parsons, Demarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, and Dante Fowler dominate the game up front, it could be. difficult for Dallas to handle things in the back.
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Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Cowboys 26