Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers three times in his career, including once late last season, and his numbers have been near-perfect: 908 yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 144.8. Those Buccaneers are about to head to Romo’s home stadium, one week after allowing the most single-game passing yards in team history. It’s the type of equation that would prompt any fantasy football expert to predict big days for Romo and all his receivers.
Romo, however, understands that trends are only useful until they end, and he doesn’t consider his last action against the Buccaneers or last Sunday’s game to be particularly predictive of what will happen this coming weekend in Cowboys Stadium.
“Sometimes stats can go in little segments of two, three, four games here and there,” he said. “I think we’ve just executed at the right times.
“I think they’re a real sound defense that does some different things. After seeing so many yards and points [in the Giants game], I was expecting to see something different on tape, but when you watch them, this is a good defensive unit. They play well together. It’s skewed a little bit, I think, because the Giants got behind so they threw it a lot this past game. I think this defensive unit, they’re good. They’ve showed it on tape a bunch of times now. I think it’s too quick to say they gave up a ton of passing yards and that’s just going to be duplicated over and over again.”
It is, of course, too early to read too much into any numbers on the NFL’s stat page, after each team has played just twice. The Buccaneers are probably not going to give up just 52 rushing yards per game all season, but that total is skewed by the team-record-tying 10 they gave up in Week One to the Carolina Panthers. Similarly, last week’s fourth-quarter craziness in the Meadowlands was the first 500-yard passing day in the history of the Bucs’ defense and will probably be the last for awhile.
The truth is that the Bucs’ defense is still establishing itself under new Head Coach Greg Schiano and new Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan, and what it has put on tape so far has been mostly promising. The Cowboys have seen it, and have come away impressed.
“I think they’re a very good defense,” said Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett. “They’re active up front, they have a lot of really good players, they’re quick, they’re fast, they’re explosive. Obviously the linebackers can run and they have good cover guys in the secondary, two really good corners. It looks like Ronde [Barber] has made a really smooth transition to play free safety and
“So they’re very good on all three levels and they’ve played two pretty good ballgames. The Giant game was a little bit wild in a lot of ways but they did a lot of positive things in that game as well. So we have a tremendous amount of respect for them and certainly their staff and the scheme they play.”
The Panthers’ coaching staff noted after their Week One loss in Tampa that they hadn’t been able to predict with much certainty what style of defense the Bucs would play under their new staff. Two games worth of videotape obviously will help all subsequent opponents, but Romo says there’s no overriding tendency that has become evident just yet.
“They’re definitely aggressive, but they play a little bit of everything,” he said. “They don’t just hang their hat on one thing. I think you can tell that they play hard. You can tell they’re well-coached – they’re in the right spots and they all play as one unit, and that can make for a tough day sometimes. So we’ve got to be very prepared for these guys.”
Garrett said he doesn’t like to generalize over a handful of results such as Romo’s three games against the Buccaneers, and he certainly isn’t expecting anything like last year, when the Bucs gave up 399 yards in a Week 15 31-15 home loss to his Cowboys. He and his players see a new team in the latest Tampa videotape.
“We played them at the end of the year last year but again there’s a new regime down there in Tampa,” he said. “We try to get focused on what we’re doing now, and how he did in the past probably has very little bearing on what’s going to happen this Sunday. We have great respect for their team. They’ve gotten off to a good start in all three phases of the game and we’ve got to get ready for that.”