The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head to Dallas to conclude their 2019 preseason, taking on the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys are the defending NFC East champions and they're coming off a 34-0 blanking of the Houston Texans in Week Three, though stars such as Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Sean Lee will likely cede all playing time to young reserves in Week Four
Indeed, Thursday's game will be a showcase for the players on both teams who are still fighting for spots on their respective 53-man rosters, or to put out game tape that another team might find appealing when the waiver wire is flooded on Saturday . Here's what you need to know to prepare for all the action in Dallas.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
Thursday, August 29, 8:00 p.m. ET
AT&T Stadium (capacity: 80,000)
Local Television: WFLA (NBC Channel 8)
TV Broadcast Team: Chris Myers (play-by-play), Ronde Barber (analyst), Dan Lucas (sideline)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
Preseason: Thursday's game will mark the first time that the Buccaneers and Cowboys have ever met in the preseason. Prior to this year, Dallas was one of just five remaining teams that had never appeared on a Tampa Bay preseason slate. The other four are the Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.
Regular Season: Dallas owns a 13-4 edge in the all-time series with Tampa Bay, including seven wins in the last eight meetings. The majority of that series (11 of 17 games) has been played in Dallas, with the two teams meeting in Texas seven straight times before the Cowboys finally came to Tampa in 1990. The Buccaneers' first win in the series was a 27-7 decision at Raymond James Stadium in 2000 powered by Warrick Dunn's 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns. That kicked off a three-game winning streak for Tampa Bay through 2003. The Bucs most recent victory over the Cowboys came in 2015, when the Bucs led a Matt Cassel-led offense to 213 yards in a 10-6 finish. Dallas then won a pair of home games in 2016 and 2018.
· Each team's defensive coordinator has previously been employed by the opponent in Thursday's game. The Cowboys' Rod Marinelli began his NFL coaching career in Tampa, joining Tony Dungy's staff in 1996 as the defensive line coach and remaining in that capacity for a decade before becoming the Detroit Lions' head coach in 2006. Tampa Bay's Todd Bowles was the secondary coach in Dallas from 2005-07.
· Cowboys' Head Coach Jason Garrett also has a tie to Tampa, albeit a brief one. He was on the Bucs' roster for part of the 2004 season, the last of his eight years in the league as a quarterback.
· Bucs assistants Chris Boniol and Kacy Rodgers also had stops in Dallas in their coaching travels, while Cowboys assistants Carlos Polk was on Tampa Bay's staff the last five years. Markus Paul, the Cowboys' head strength and conditioning coach, was a player for the Buccaneers in 1993.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Tampa Bay:
· Head Coach Bruce Arians
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Head Coach Jason Garrett
· Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore
· Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith O'Quinn
KEY 2019 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· OLB Shaquil Barrett (UFA)
· LB/S Deone Bucannon (UFA)
· CB Jamel Dean (3rd-round draft pick)
· S Mike Edwards (3rd-round draft pick)
· QB Blaine Gabbert (FA)
· K Matt Gay (5th-round draft pick)
· CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd-round draft pick)
· WR Breshad Perriman (UFA)
· P Bradley Pinion (UFA)
· DL Ndamukong Suh (UFA)
· LB Devin White (1st-round draft pick)
WR Randall Cobb (UFA)
DT Christian Covington (UFA)
DT Trysten Hill (2nd-round draft pick)
S George Iloka (UFA)
G Connor McGovern (3rd-round draft pick)
RB Tony Pollard (fourth-round draft pick)
DE Robert Quinn (T-MIA)
ADDITIONAL 2019 CHANGES OF NOTE
· In January, Tampa Bay engineered one of the most significant changes a franchise could make in hiring a new head coach. That man is Bruce Arians, who needed just five years to become the winningest coach in Arizona Cardinals history and who has a history of helping quarterbacks excel. Arians assembled an extremely experienced coaching staff around him, almost all of whom he had worked with in the past.
· One of the coaches Arians brought on was Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who served under him in the same capacity in Arizona in 2013 and 2014 before becoming the Jets' head coach. Bowles' arrival means the Buccaneers have switched to a base 3-4 defense, something the team hadn't identified with since 1990.
· Bowles' defense means certain players were redefined as outside linebackers, inside linebackers and defensive linemen. No matter the position designations, Tampa Bay's defense is expected to be more aggressive and varied in its pass-rush packages, and will likely ask its defensive backs to play more press-man coverage than it has in the past, which plays to the strengths of many players in that unit.
· Tampa Bay's offense was prolific in 2018 in terms of yards, especially in the passing attack, and most of its starters return for 2019, so one could reasonably expect another strong season on that side of the ball. If anything, the Bucs may be more aggressive under Arians, whose 'no risk-it, no biscuit' philosophy involves taking the big-play shot when you have the chance.
· While there's a good chance it will get resolved before the start of the regular season, the contract impasse between star running back Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys has obviously given the backfield a different look. Rookie fourth-rounder Tony Pollard is trying to emerge as the lead runner in Elliott's absence and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry in the preseason.
· Dallas moved on from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan after the Cowboys' offense struggled in the playoffs and promoted Quarterbacks Coach Kellen Moore to take Linehan's place. Like the Buccaneers' new offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich, Moore moved quickly into a coordinator spot after just one year as an NFL coach. He is the son of a successful high school coach and has been studying football his whole life, but it remains to be seen what his play-calling will look like.
· Jon Kitna, who finished a 14-year career as an NFL quarterback with two seasons in Dallas, is in as the new QBs coach in Moore's place. Kitna is also in his first season on an NFL staff, as he has been coaching at the high school level since the end of his playing days. The Cowboys have surrounded Dak Prescott with four former NFL quarterbacks in Garrett, Moore, Kitna and Tight Ends Coach Doug Nussmeier.
· We did not include tight end Jason Witten in the new additions section above, even though he went from the Monday Night Football broadcast booth to the Cowboys' sideline this offseason. Of course, Witten is anything but new to the Cowboys, having fashioned a 15-year Hall-of-Fame career in Dallas before retiring following the 2017 campaign. It remains to be seen how much playing time the 37-year-old icon will get in his return but his presence is sure to have an effect on the team's younger tight ends.
10 or 20 spots – Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians suggested there are up to 10 spots on the eventual 53-man roster that are still undecided. Beyond that, young players farther down the depth chart could also be eyeing a place on the 10-man practice squad, as that unit can often be a springboard to more permanent employment later. With all of the starters held out, any healthy candidate for those spots should have an opportunity to state his case Thursday night in Dallas. It's a big night for those who might be seeking a fifth or sixth spot at receiver, cornerback, linebacker and defensive line.
Testaverde Take Two – Rookie quarterback Vincent Testaverde is not likely a strong candidate for one of those 53 spots, having just rejoined the team this past weekend after the injury to Blaine Gabbert. If there is an NFL career in store for Testaverde, it may take a bit longer to develop. Regardless, Thursday's game is a dream come true for the young player, who is the son of former Buccaneers quarterback Vinny Testaverde and, because of that, a Tampa native. Testaverde is expected to get the bulk of the playing time against Dallas, and his parents – Vinny and Mitzi – will be watching from the stands.
Happier Returns? – The Buccaneers are trying to decide who will return punts and kickoffs for them in the regular season, but that task has been hampered by a lack of evidence. The Bucs only have three punt returns in the entire preseason, all of them by Bobo Wilson in last week's game against Cleveland. Wilson has provided a bit of a spark in the return game, last year and this summer, but the coaches want to make sure they're confident in his ball security. Scotty Miller and Spencer Schnell will probably get some looks in the return game on Thursday, too. Ronald Jones appears to be a top candidate on kickoffs but he may not play against the Cowboys so Wilson and running backs Andre Ellington and Dare Ogunbowale could have opportunities to demonstrate further value to the team.
Safety Concerns – As training camp neared, it looked like the Bucs would have an all-out battle for the two starting safety spots, headlined by the foursome of Justin Evans, Jordan Whitehead, Mike Edwards and Kentrell Brice. However, Evans started camp on the active/PUP list and was only removed from that list this past weekend. Edwards, a third-round draft pick, started out hot and shot to the top of the depth chart but has missed a couple weeks with a leg injury. Brice and Whitehead have assumed the first-team roles somewhat out of necessity, though Whitehead in particular has done well with the opportunity, including an interception against the Browns. Those two may not play on Thursday, and Edwards is still out, but Evans is looking for the opportunity to get back on the field and back into the battle for a starting role. Veteran Darian Stewart, a mid-camp acquisition, is also an intriguing figure in the safety equation.
Trending – Preseason stats are specious. There's no reason to believe, for instance, that big-time producers on offense in August are going to be key parts of the attack in the regular season. This is particularly true of Game Four. That said, there have been a couple of encouraging developments in statistical categories that were particularly troublesome for the Buccaneers last year: turnovers on offense, third-down defense and red zone efficiency. All of those have been improved so far this preseason, and it would be nice to see those trends continue as the games that count approach.
1. Buccaneers RB Dare Ogunbowale vs. Cowboys LB Joe Thomas.
One has to track farther down the depth chart to find the matchups that might matter in Thursday's game. During the regular season, the Buccaneers will probably split most of the carries between Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones, and veteran Andre Ellington could fit into a pass-catching role with which he was familiar in Arizona under Arians. But there could be room for one more spot in the backfield, and first-year man Ogunbowale is fighting for it. He has a rugged running style and has accounted for both rushing touchdowns this preseason, while carrying 30 times for 90 yards and catching five passes for 73 yards. The Cowboys have an outstanding trio of front-line linebackers in Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee, but Thomas, a former starter in Green Bay, also provides good depth and is fighting for his own roster spot.
2. Cowboys WR Devin Smith vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean
A former second-round pick by the Jets in 2015, Smith had just 10 catches over three seasons in New York, the last one spent on injured reserve, thanks largely to a pair of ACL injuries. He did not play in the league in 2018 but is attempting to get his foot back in the door in Dallas with a strong preseason. The six-foot, 193-pound Smith is far and away the Cowboys' leading receiver this summer with 12 receptions for 157 yards and one score. Smith may be battling Cedrick Wilson for the Cowboys' last receiver spot, and it may be tougher if he's covered by Dean, who had a lockdown performance against the Browns last Friday, according to Head Coach Bruce Arians. The third-round rookie out of Auburn has great speed and length, and while his roster spot is probably safe there are still battles being waged for playing time in the regular season.
3. Cowboys T Cameron Fleming vs. Buccaneers OLB Demone Harris
With six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith resting a sore back, former Patriot Cameron Fleming has been running with Cowboys' first-team line. Fleming has 23 career starts, including three last year in his first season with Dallas and has shown flexibility throughout his career. Collectively, the Cowboys have shown good pass protection this preseason, ranking 10th in sacks allowed per pass play. The Buccaneers are still sorting out their depth at edge rusher and Harris, a first-year player who shed some weight in converting from defensive end to outside linebacker for the Bucs' new defense, has one of the team's 10 sacks. Harris should see plenty of playing time on Thursday as the Buccaneers look for additions to an OLB group that starts with Carl Nassib, Noah Spence and Shaq Barrett.
There are no official injury reports during the preseason, but teams do often generate a list of players that are not expected to play. The final game is different, however, in that most teams hold all of their starters and key players out anyway, meaning even players who might have had a chance to return after missing time will still be rested. As such, there are few particularly relevant injury notes for either team.
Most significant for the Buccaneers is that the team signed rookie quarterback Vincent Testaverde after Blaine Gabbert sustained a shoulder injury last Friday night, and Testaverde is expected to see significant playing time. Safety Justin Evans is also expecting to play after being activated from the PUP list over the weekend. It would be his first action since Week 13 of last season.
The Cowboys have a number of players who have missed practice in recent days or who have been limited, including three-fifths of their starting offensive line: Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La'el Collins, the latter of whom left practice early on Monday with a groin injury. Cornerback Byron Jones, like the Bucs' Evans, has also just come off the PUP list and has begun practicing but is not expected to play on Thursday. Wide receiver Amari Cooper and linebacker Sean Lee are targeting a return in Week One of the preseason but won't be needed against the Buccaneers.
(Retractable roof stadium) Partly cloudy, high of 95, low of 76, 20% chance of rain, 61% humidity, winds out of the SE at 7 mph.
Head referee: Brad Rogers (three seasons)
· Favorite: Cowboys (-5.0)
· Over/Under: 33.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Scoring: K Matt Gay, 14 points
Touchdowns: TE Tanner Hudson/RB Dare Ogunbowale, 2
Passing Yards: QB Ryan Griffin, 652
Passer Rating: QB Ryan Griffin, 100.4
Rushing Yards: RB Dare Ogunbowale, 90
Receptions: TE Tanner Hudson, 17
Receiving Yards: TE Tanner Hudson, 226
Interceptions: CB Jamel Dean/S Jordan Whitehead, 1
Sacks: DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches, 2.09
Tackles: ILB Kevin Minter, 8
Scoring: K Brett Maher, 21
Touchdowns: 6 tied with, 1
Passing Yards: QB Cooper Rush, 398
Passer Rating: QB Dak Prescott, 122.9
Rushing Yards: RB Tony Pollard, 84
Receptions: WR Devin Smith, 12
Receiving Yards: WR Devin Smith, 157
Interceptions: S Donovan Wilson, 2
Sacks: DE Taco Charlton/DE Kerry Hyder, 2.0
Tackles: LB Justin Phillips, 11
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: t-16th (19.0 ppg)
Total Offense: 75th (351.0 ypg)
Passing Offense: 3rd (273.0 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 26th (78.0 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 2nd (23.0)
Third-Down Pct.: 13th (40.0%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: t-28th (11.11%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-23rd (45.5%)
Scoring Defense: t-16th (18.7 ppg)
Total Defense: 5th (253.3 ypg)
Passing Defense: 5th (167.0 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 11th (86.3 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-4th (16.3)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 5th (23.8%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 9th (9.35%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 6th (40.0%)
Turnover Margin: t-7th (+1)
Scoring Offense: t-16th (19.0 ppg)
Total Offense: 18th (302.3 ypg)
Passing Offense: 13th (215.0 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 20th (87.3 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 9th (20.3)
Third-Down Pct.: 28th (25.6%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: t-10th (5.56%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-23rd (45.5%)
Scoring Defense: 2nd (9.0 ppg)
Total Defense: 3rd (246.7 ypg)
Passing Defense: 6th (168.0 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 9th (78.7 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 3rd (13.3)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 2nd (22.0%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 12th (8.65%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 21st (66.7%)
Turnover Margin: t-1st (+5)
· Head Coach Bruce Arians on how to prepare for a fourth preseason game using all reserves and young players: "The one thing about this last game – you always want to try to keep it as simple as possible so they can play fast and show you that they're real athletic. You don't want them out there thinking. That part of it, you just want to see good one-on-one stuff all night and try to be as proficient as possible. Special teams, that's where most jobs are going to be won in this game – somebody that covers a kick, maybe knocks a ball loose, does something big that gets one of those last 10 spots or maybe one of those 10 practice squad spots. There's a bunch of spots up."
· Safety Justin Evans on getting a chance to play on Thursday for the first time since last season, and learning a new defense: "It's all based on, if you're on the field you get more accustomed to it. You get the feel for it. So, obviously, not being on the field I haven't been getting the best work I could possibly get. But I was hurt and that's the way we went and that's just how it was. I'm back healthy now and we're just going to go from there."
· Arians on a young player in the secondary who has impressed him in particular: "I think Jordan [Whitehead] has made probably the most progress on defense. Learning the scheme – we knew how physical he was, but his pass defense has gotten so much better, his awareness has gotten so much better and he had a heck of a ballgame the other night."
· Wide receiver Chris Godwin on what advice he would give the young receivers who are going to play on Thursday night: "Really, just go out there and play. At the end of the day, it's football. You've been working your entire offseason, your entire preseason, to get your opportunity. Now, more than ever, you're going to have your opportunity to go out there and show what you can do, not just for this team but for all the other teams in the league."
· Quarterback Vincent Testaverde on his impending NFL debut: "I've been preparing for this my whole football career and now it's finally happening. So I'm going to definitely try to do my best to take advantage of it."
The countdown to season kickoff is on! The Bucs are kicking off the NFL's 100th season with a FREE Tim McGraw pregame concert for all fans with a ticket to the home opener on Sept. 8! Get your tickets today.