If this matchup at this point in the regular season feels all too familiar, it’s because it is. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys squared off in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season just over a year ago in a thrilling matchup. Tampa Bay edged Dallas 31-29 in that game, as Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski and Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper each caught two touchdown passes. Neither player will be part of Sunday night’s rematch, so it will be exciting to see which players on the current rosters step up in primetime.
Tampa Bay’s Offensive Line
One of the baseline keys to success for any quarterback is a satisfactory level of protection up front. That prerequisite is even more critical when the signal caller playing behind the offensive line is 45 years-old. Tom Brady’s ability to get the ball out quickly this season will be put to the test behind a unit that has experienced a significant amount of turnover and injury in the last several months. Center Ryan Jensen is questionable to return this season after suffering a knee injury in July, and guard Aaron Stinnie is out for the season after tearing his ACL and MCL. Standout guard Alex Cappa had been a mainstay with the team, but left Tampa Bay in free agency to sign with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Especially with standout linebacker Micah Parsons, the Cowboys do have the personnel to make life difficult for Brady. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will be tasked with adjusting for this throughout the game.
Ezekiel Elliott’s Explosion
One of the most common narratives throughout the offseason focused on the perceived demise of Dallas star running back Ezekiel Elliott. The discussion surrounding whether he was worth the extension he received before the 2019 season has only been more pronounced, and the emergence of reserve running back Tony Pollard has only enhanced the uncertainty surrounding how the team should use Elliott.
But for all of the negative storylines surrounding him Elliott still managed to have a solid statistical year in 2021. He averaged over four yards per carry, scoring 10 touchdowns while playing in all 17 games. While it does seem like Pollard has a little bit more speed at this stage, Elliott has a well rounded skill set that secures his value in the Cowboys’ offense.
His production on Sunday night will be another aspect to keep an eye on.
Buccaneers Pass Catching Weapons
As alluded to above, some of the faces that were involved in last year’s Dallas versus Tampa Bay matchup have changed. In addition to Gronkowski, the Buccaneers also do not have Antonio Brown anymore, and may be without Chris Godwin in Week 1. The team will be relying on a new cast of characters to help get them through the early part of the season.
Wide receiver Julio Jones has had a phenomenal NFL career, but has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. Russell Gage has had his moments with the Atlanta Falcons, but may be asked to do more on a Super Bowl contender this year. Tight end Kyle Rudolph did not show much in his time with the New York Giants in 2021. The success of these three players will serve as an important barometer for Tampa Bay’s season.