Buccaneers: Cowboys roster shows a different game plan from 2020
By Rob Leeds
The Buccaneers aren’t facing the Cowboys teams of old tonight.
The Buccaneers and the Cowboys kick off the 2021 NFL season tonight, and while Bucs fans have a good idea of what their team will bring to the table, it is worth figuring out what the Cowboys have up their sleeve as well.
Until recently, Dallas was known for a great offensive line and a great run game. The Cowboys were almost always good for an All-Pro running back or a few high-rated offensive linemen during the Tony Romo era, but the recent season has shown a shift in mentality.
Ezekiel Elliott has fallen off to some degree. After being one of the best running backs in the NFL for several seasons, 2020 was a down year for the expensive back. Fumbles and a lack of production last season showed this is far from Zeke’s team, but he will look to bounce back in 2021.
As for the offensive line, the Cowboys didn’t play a single game with their full offensive line healthy in 2021. Through injuries and retirements, this offensive line will look different from the one that dominated during the 2010s.
Based on these two factors alone, the Cowboys had to change their game plan offensively in 2020. Dak Prescott played like a man possessed during the start of the season on a pace that would have shattered the NFL passing yards record, but the defense kept the entire team down with historically bad performances week in and week out.
Regardless, Dallas had to prepare for the 2021 season with or without injuries, and the roster shows this clearly.
While the Cowboys were known for their run game for years, the current roster isn’t constructed in a way that can sustain a run-heavy attack. Dallas currently only has three backs on their roster; Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, and Corey Clement. There is no fullback on the active roster, and the offensive line is banged up with the potential absence of key guard Zack Martin.
Does that really sound like a team with a pound-the-rock mentality? Zeke is the only player in that trio that is great between the tackles, and even he can’t play every offensive snap-we already saw that become problematic with Christian McCaffrey in Carolina.
Pollard could be a small starting back, and Clement is a solid and dependable change of pace option, but this unit doesn’t inspire confidence that the offense will live and die by the run.
The receivers and tight ends, on the other hand, indicate Dallas will try to make the pass a greater priority this season, and why shouldn’t they? Dak is a top-10 quarterback when healthy by every statistical measure that isn’t quarterback wins (which is not a stat). Even then, Prescott has won 68% of his games since entering the game, including a playoff win against the Seahawks, which is better than Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford, and a vast majority of the rest of the NFL.
When you add a great quarterback to a very talented wide receiver room, sparks are bound to fly. We all saw that in Tampa last season.
Dallas is going to throw the ball tonight. With the receiver corps they have, the Cowboys would be out of their minds to not throw the ball. The Bucs have the best run defense in the NFL. While their secondary is also very good, this is the only way teams were able to consistently gain yards on Tampa last season, so don’t Dallas to approach this game like they would have years ago.
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