In Thursday’s Key Matchup, we delve into the battle that will unfold on the edges in pass-rush situations when the Bucs visit the Cowboys in Week Three.
Buccaneers offensive tackles vs. Cowboys pass rush
Sunday’s Week Three meeting with the Cowboys will be the Buccaneers’ first look this season at a defense that operates primarily with an odd front.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is going to be aggressive. CBs Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr will be physical as they man up in press coverage, and if the Bucs’ receivers struggle to gain separation vs. the two cover corners, Dallas’ pass rush is potent enough to get to QB Josh Freeman before deeper routes develop.
The Bucs showed in Week Two vs. the Giants that, when Freeman is given time to throw, their passing game can be explosive now that they have a true deep threat in WR Vincent Jackson.
Bucs head coach Greg Schiano, fully aware of the challenge awaiting his O-line, will start 6-foot-9 Demar Dotson at right tackle ahead of Jeremy Trueblood for the second week in a row. Dotson is a more athletic player than Trueblood, but Ryan will no doubt be throwing a lot of different looks and disguises at the Bucs to try to catch them off guard. Dotson’s recognition will be tested.
At left tackle, Donald Penn has played well, battling one very good pass rusher in Panthers DE Charles Johnson and an elite sackmaster in Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul in each of the first two games. It will not get any easier for him when he lines up across from Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware, who recorded two sacks in Week One vs. the Giants. Ware will test Penn’s endurance with his relentless approach and ability to collapse the pocket. While Ware was held fairly quiet in Week Two, Cowboys SLB Anthony Spencer notched two sacks and, while his ability to set the edge vs. the run is the strength of his game, he also can be a very disruptive pass rusher.
The Bucs are committed to running the ball, and they will need the ground game to gain traction Sunday to ease the pass-protection burden on its offensive tackles. Freeman can help his tackles, too, by getting rid of the ball quickly if he senses pressure and coverage is tight.