The Dallas Cowboys offense needs a bounce back game in the worst way this week against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) defense that ranks as one of the worst in the NFL in pretty much every category. The Cowboys need to come out and put on an impressive offensive performance this week to put themselves back on track and more importantly clinch the NFC East and secure their spot in the 2018 playoffs.
Obviously, the most important thing is getting into the playoffs, but they need to rediscover the rhythm they had during the recent five game winning streak that was ended unceremoniously by the shutout to the Indianapolis Colts. The Buccaneers may be just what the doctor ordered.
Pro Football Focus has the Buccaneers rated as the second worst defense overall. Against the run, they rate as the worst defense in the NFL. Their coverage unit ranks 27th in the NFL and their pass rush is rated 31st in the NFL. I know PFF can be subjective in who is watching what games and how they rate teams, but the overarching point is that the Buccaneers defense is really bad.
The Cowboys have to take advantage of it.
Per Pro Football Reference, the Buccaneers rank 30th in the NFL in scoring defense giving up 28.8 points per game this season. They've given up the most touchdowns in the NFL, 50 on the season, an average of 3.33 touchdowns a game. The Buccaneers defense has allowed the third most rushing touchdowns this season and the second most passing touchdowns. They've allowed the opponent to score more than 30 points in a game seven times, but have held their last four opponents under 30 while going 2-2.
The Cowboys have struggled to score points this season, in particular in the red zone. The Cowboys rank 31st in the NFL in red zone conversion rate. Getting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't have come at a better time as they rank 32nd in the NFL in red zone conversion rate. They allow a touchdown on 78.4% of their defensive red zone attempts.
We know that the Cowboys have been able to move the ball even when they haven't been able to score. The Buccaneers have allowed the sixth most passing yards and rushing yards on the season. Their allowing an average of 258.5 passing yards per game this season and 128.14 rushing yards per game.
Dak Prescott and the passing game should be able to make some plays in the air this week. The Cowboys had some chances and missed last week against the Colts, but have generally been a much better passing game since the Amari Cooper trade. They need to show more of what they did during the five game winning streak and most importantly solve some of their red zone issues. Though these two teams are different from their 2016 versions, Dak Prescott had a huge game the last time they met throwing for 276 yards on 32 of 36 passing, adding 20 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Ezekiel Elliott should expand his lead over Todd Gurley in the 2018 rushing race. Elliott's ran for 1,349 yards on the season, averaging 96.4 rushing yards per game. Elliott in the 2016 meeting ran for 159 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and caught another three passes for 29 yards.
The Cowboys were facing a bad defense in the 2016 meeting and were only able to come away with a 26-20 win over the Buccaneers. Heading into that game, the Cowboys were 11-2 and were shoe-ins for the playoffs and were in control in the NFC East. This year the Cowboys have much more to prove sitting only a game up in the division still needing a win to clinch the division this year. The Cowboys offense needs to come up with a big game this week to take control of their own playoff destiny.
After a major let down last week and with their division rivals hanging around, the Cowboys can't afford another let down with just two games left in the season. With as bad as Tampa Bay's defense has been the Cowboys will have every opportunity in the world to score.
If the Cowboys can't score this week, then they don't deserve to be in the playoffs.