5 keys for Cowboys offense to have success against tough Buccaneers D

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The Dallas Cowboys had one of the NFL’s best offenses during the first month of 2020 putting up over 30 points per game.That was until quarterback Dak Prescott was lost for the season in October to pile onto the myriad of offensive line injuries. Except for Zack Martin, who is currently battling COVID, the Cowboys have their entire offense back, but their first test of the new season will be a difficult one.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were ranked sixth in total defense in 2020 and fifth in Total DVOA and they’re returning all 11 starters. However, with a three-headed monster at wide receiver, two very capable tight ends, and one of the league’s top running backs, the Cowboys will have opportunities for big plays. Here are five keys offensively for Dallas to have success on Thursday night.

Unleash Dak Prescott

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Prescott went through a long rehab process to get back on the playing field. After a small bump in the road during training when he suffered a strain in his throwing shoulder that kept him out of competitive team drills for a month, Prescott is a full go and has no limitations. Unlike most quarterbacks, Prescott has up to seven different weapons to get the ball to. The Cowboys need to dip into his entire tool bag by calling roll-outs, screens, taking shots down the field on play-action, and attacking the Buccaneers defense down the seams with their two tight ends and slot receiver CeeDee Lamb. Also, run some RPO (Run Pass Option) to keep the defense off-balance. Before his ankle injury Prescott had all three of his starting receivers on pace for 1,000 yards. Now that he's fully healthy, the Cowboys must let him attack and help balance out the offensive game plan.

Convert on 3rd downs, better yet, avoid third downs

It's been true since the beginning of football. The more success you have as an offense on third downs puts you in the driver seat in terms of controlling the pace of the game. The Buccaneers are loaded offensively. Mike Evans, Chris Goodwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, and OJ Howard give Tom Brady a smorgasbord of weapons in the passing game. Their depth at running back is excellent as well with Robert Jones II, Leonard Fournette, and Giovani Bernard. It's paramount for the Cowboys to move the chains and keep Brady and company out of rhythm. The more opportunities Brady is afforded will make it very difficult to keep the Buccaneers from scoring points, he's just too good and decisive with the football. In fact, a better way to control the pace of play is to avoid third downs altogether by being wisely aggressive on early downs. The Cowboys have a lot of new parts on defense and this will be their first game together. To keep them from being exposed too much, the Cowboys should focus on time of possession in this one.

Establish Ezekiel Elliott

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This will be the toughest task for the Cowboy's offense against the Buccaneers. In 2020, they allowed a league-low 80.6 rushing yards per game thanks to their outstanding front seven that features Shaq Barrett, Devin White, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh. The group finished ranked No. 1 in Rush defense DVOA. The absence of Martin hurts big here. Tyler Biadasz, Connor Williams and Connor McGovern will have to neutralize the aforementioned Suh and Vea on the interior as much as possible and give Elliott chances to gain significant yardage up the middle. After his worst season as a professional last season with career lows in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and yards per carry, Elliott went into the lab during the offseason. With the help of running backs guru Josh Hicks, the two-time rushing champion is down to his lowest playing weight since his college days at Ohio State and has looked quicker and more elusive in his workouts. https://twitter.com/3hunnidGuru/status/1390034454425505797?s=19 The best way to demoralize any defense is to keep the chains moving on the ground. Elliott getting consistent three, four, and five-yard gains will keep the Buccaneer's defense honest and compliment Prescott's use of play action. This could be a game that's decided late in the fourth quarter, and if that becomes a reality, Elliott grinding out first downs may seal a victory.

Move wide receivers around

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Cooper, Gallup and Lamb all have different strengths but they do share one common trait, their ability to lineup at multiple positions. During training camp, Gallup began to show that he could play in the slot which adds a completely different dimension to the Cowboy's offense going forward. https://twitter.com/GehlkenNFL/status/1424812268676517899?s=19 Lamb lead all rookie receivers in receptions (69), yards (877), and touchdowns (5) from the slot in 2020. However, during his college days at Oklahoma, he showed he could carve defenses up playing outside as well. If the Cowboys can slide Cooper inside to match up with the Buccaneers' second or third cornerback, he can use his spectacular route-running ability to add another threat down the seams and let Gallup and Lamb get some one-on-one chances on the outside. It would be unwise for the Cowboys not to use this dynamic of their passing attack. Keep the defense guessing, especially one as good as Tampa Bay's.

Convert majority of red-zone opportunities into touchdowns

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Any time a team plays against an offense led by Brady there's an understanding points will have to be put up often. The Cowboys are loaded just like the Buccaneers on offense, some would argue as a unit they are better. There'll be chances inside the 20 for points and the Cowboys cannot settle for field goals. Every team should take points where they can get them. However, Brady is going to make plays and score touchdowns at some point, especially once he finds a rhythm. So, if the Cowboys are consistently getting three points, this game could turn ugly. The Buccaneers will be celebrating a Super Bowl title at home, so the Cowboys can't let this game get out of hand. Getting seven points each trip has to be the focus. Risks will need to be taken. Dallas is facing a Buccaneers defense that has continuity and confidence. Executing this plan won't be easy by any means. However, the Cowboys have the weapons to get it done, and they'll likely be the unit to lead the Cowboys to an upset.

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