Takeaways from Week 1 win for Buccaneers over Cowboys
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to Dallas on Sunday Night Football and shut down the Cowboys. It was a 16-point win that should have been even more lopsided. But it wasn’t all palm trees and rainbows for the Bucs. There was a lot of good and a few touches of bad to go with it. Here’s a breakdown of the good and bad sides of Week 1.
Good: Leonard Fournette
Playoff Lenny, Lombardi Lenny, now SNF Lenny . Despite all the (often discredited) offseason rumors of massive weight gain and loss of coaching confidence, Leonard Fournette was the star of the show on Sunday.
Generating 127 rushing yards on 21 carries, the Buccaneers’ back proved to be the driving force behind the offense on a night when Brady was far from spectacular. What was most impressive was the confidence the Buccaneers coaching staff had in him. Game after game, practice after practice, the Buccaneers took to the ground to punish the Cowboys defense in a physical war.
That belies a kind of special confidence the Bucs coaches have in Fournette, the kind that bodes very well for Tampa Bay’s ability to continue bleeding the clock and shifting the chains all season long. The Cowboys never found an answer to Leonard Fournette’s combination of speed and power, and the Buccaneers capitalized on that mismatch to pull off a bold win.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A Tampa Bay offensive lineman is dealing with injury issues that could force him to run out of time. This time the man in question is Donovan Smith, Brady’s blind tackle who is dealing with a hypertensive elbow following the Buccaneers victory.
This injury is particularly concerning, as Donovan Smith is essential to the Buccaneers’ passing game and the Saints (next on the schedule) have a notoriously talented and vicious front seven. While the hyperextended elbow leaves room for Smith to return in time for Week 2, he’s unlikely to perform at 100%. Without him, look to see a lot of attention given to strengthening that left side of the line.
Chris Godwin is also considering another injury designation. This time, it’s a hamstring injury that should cause him to miss several weeks. With the Buccaneers facing an extremely difficult schedule (@Saints, vs Packers, vs Chiefs), the loss of Godwin looms large during the Week 1 celebrations.
It’s a particularly disheartening injury because Bucs fans have all seen how valuable a healthy Godwin is to the Tampa Bay offense. On the game’s very first practice, Godwin took a receiver screen for a chip play that revived the Tampa Bay offense. He brings tremendous ability to gain yards after the catch, a very important part of Tampa Bay’s offense if Brady doesn’t have time to throw deep to earn big yards. More than that, he is one of the best blocking WRs in the league.
Even assuming the likes of Leonard Fournette, who pulled out the final sets of the game after limping on the sidelines, and Julio Jones, who spends a lot of time on the ground after a nice long catch and then saw his goals reduced , are good for the future — those injuries could prove costly for this Bucs team looking for another playoff berth.
Good: La Defense
If Leonard Fournette was the engine of the attack, the defense was the engine of the team as a whole. They harassed and pressed Dak Prescott, stopped productive WR CeeDee Lamb and limited workaholic RB Zeke Elliott to just 52 yards on the ground. They were stellar, with particularly impressive performances from Antione Winfield and Devin White.
Winfield’s presence on the game was evident. He remained business as usual, but added a ball-peddling element that made him a real force to be reckoned with on the Dallas offense. This was evident when he baited a bad throw from Prescott and then jumped in front for an interception, but he was all over the field throughout the game.
Likewise, Devin White has also made huge strides in pass protection. Most notably, he fended off a pass that very easily could have been an interception. But White was still in the right place in passing situations, a huge step up from his performance last season.
He also added two sacks, which encourages White to improve rather than just focus on the passenger side of things. Overall, keeping the NFL’s best offense from last year to just 3 points is a terrific start to the year for the Buccaneers defense.
Disadvantage: Pass Protection
The big experiment in Tampa Bay this year is testing a revamped offensive line, reeling from the loss of three pro-bowl caliber starters this offseason. Ali Marpet retired, Alex Cappa was sent to the Bengals and Ryan Jensen will miss the year through injury.
To replace them, the Bucs turned to a range of career backups and rookies, alongside veteran trade acquisition Shaq Mason. And on Sunday they watched the game. Against Dallas’ pass rush, Tampa Bay’s offensive line seemed overwhelmed with pass protection, frequently forcing Brady into quick throws, offloads and an offensive scheme that revolved around running early and often.
This strategy could work against the Cowboys, whose defensive front seven is less than spectacular, but against the Buccaneers’ real threats in the NFC like the Rams, Saints and 49ers, the Bucs will need to be able to pass the ball consistently. .
All of these teams have phenomenally talented front sevens who will be able to stop Fournette’s rushing attack and reach Brady in the passing game if Tampa Bay’s line isn’t up to snuff. If the line doesn’t improve, the Buccaneers’ road through the NFC could hit a dead end much sooner than expected.
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