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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 Bucs to Watch Against the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card Round 

The Buccaneers will face off against the Cowboys, capping off Wild Card Weekend in a rematch of the 2022 regular season opener. On Monday, there are several players to monitor

5 Bucs to Watch vs cowboys

As the No. 5 seed in the NFC Playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys will travel to Tampa Bay to face the fourth-seed Buccaneers on Monday, Jan. 16 at 8:15 p.m. ET, capping off NFL Super Wild Card Weekend. The matchup at Raymond James Stadium will be a rematch of the regular season opener when the Buccaneers dealt the Cowboys a 19-3 domineering victory at AT&T Stadium. In the Week One clash, Leonard Fournette powered the Bucs' offense with 127 yards on the ground, Devin White sparked the defensive effort with two sacks and Antoine Winfield Jr. recorded an interception of Dak Prescott, who suffered a thumb injury that caused him to be sidelined for five games. Entering the first-round of the playoffs, both teams have evolved and will strive to keep their larger ambition alive with a tally in the win column. Monday night's game will provide Dallas the opportunity to defeat Tom Brady, who is undefeated against the Star. The Washington Commanders handedly beat the Cowboys in a 26-6 trouncing last weekend and the club will look to bounce back against the Buccaneers, who won their second-consecutive division title. There are many matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the outcome of the Cowboys-Bucs showdown in the Wild Card Round. Here is an in-depth look at five Buccaneers to observe on Monday Night Football.

Antoine Winfield Jr. 

Since his return from a thumb injury that sidelined him for five games, quarterback Dak Prescott has led the team to new heights. With Prescott under center, Dallas jumped to an average of 35.1 points per game (first), a 56% rate on third down (first) and a red zone touchdown efficiency rate of 78.0 (third). An area where Prescott has been vulnerable is turnovers. He has accumulated 15 interceptions in 2022, tied for the NFL lead. Prescott has been picked off at least once in the previous seven outings. The inability to achieve a balanced attack for Dallas has put an added emphasis on the passing game, which has resulted in pressing and missteps in pass protection. The NFL's average on first-down runs is 4.43 yards this year per run and the Cowboys rank 24th (4.04). Without stout run blocker Terence Steele in the lineup alongside Zack Martin, the Cowboys have fallen to a 31st ranking in first-down runs with 2.91 per carry since Week 14. Whether in run support near the line of scrimmage or blitzing, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. will have a large role on Monday night. The Bucs' Swiss Army Knife and hybrid safety/nicker corner picked off Prescott in Week One. Winfield plays like his hair is on fire and can cover a lot of ground with speed. His angles to the ball are effective against the run or pass. Winfield is highly instinctive, and his recognition of play designs puts himself into prime positioning. He can play in the slot, over the top or come down to set the edge against the run. Winfield has 4.0 sacks in 13 games this season and if Todd Bowles' dials up creative blitzes with Winfield coming from the slot, he and Prescott will battle. This could turn into a cat-and-mouse game between the two football junkies. 

Tristan Wirfs 

Right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who became the Bucs' only Pro Bowl selection, will provide much needed reinforcements on Monday in facing the Cowboys' opportunistic defense. Wirfs has played 931 offensive snaps this season and has allowed only two sacks, while drawing four penalties. In pass protection, Wirfs is patient and effectively picks up stunts and twists by opponents. Wirfs is quick to the second level, showcasing the ability to redirect linebackers. His presence against the Cowboys' defensive line will be pivotal in facing one of the NFL's brightest young stars – pun intended – in Micah Parsons. Parsons can line up all over the Cowboys' front and wreaks havoc at the line of scrimmage. With rare burst off the line, Parsons wins his one-on-ones and sheds blockers in a split second. In 2022, he has accumulated 13.5 sacks and ranks 30th in the league with 70 pressures. Parsons has become the focal point of Dan Quinn's blitz/stunt packages, working to create disadvantageous matchups for the opponent. Parsons is adept at out-leveraging offensive linemen with vertical speed, quickly getting downhill in the backfield. When the pass rush does not get home, Parsons is a great spy. The Cowboys' will likely move Parsons all over to try and disguise looks, but when matched up with Wirfs, it will be a crucial best-on-best scenario in the trenches. 

Carlton Davis III

There is no question mark about the availability of cornerback Carlton Davis, who has missed the last two games due to a shoulder injury, for Monday night's Wild Card matchup against the Cowboys. "He's good to go," said Head Coach Todd Bowles of Davis after practice on Thursday. Davis effectively jams and blankets receivers, solidifying the Bucs' secondary. Davis signed a new, three-year contract extension in March, a representation of the corner's value as the Bucs work towards hoisting another Lombardi Trophy. In 2022, he may not flash on the stat sheet in terms of interceptions (one), but Davis has disrupted passing lanes with 12 passes defensed and has been a force against the run with 65 tackles. Davis can play the high or low side of the route and his combination of size and length make him a nuisance for receivers. On Monday, he will face CeeDee Lamb, who has emerged as the Cowboys' unquestioned No. 1 receiver after the offseason trade of Amari Cooper. Lamb put on a show between the hash marks in 2022, accumulating 107 catches for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns. A lot of Lamb's damage has come out of the slot; however, he plays nearly half of his slots out wide. When he is split out to the right, he will go up against Davis. Lamb is explosive in the open-field, is sudden in-and-out of breaks and is proficient at finding soft spots in a zone. With an elite catch radius, ability to adjust to the ball and a precise route tree, Lamb will be a challenge. 

Devin White 

Devin White is No. 1 since 2019 in the NFL in sacks (20.5) and quarterback hits (55) for an inside linebacker. With rare closing speed, White is the centerpiece of blitz packages for Tampa Bay. White reads plays quickly and covers a lot of ground in zone. On quick dump passes to the flat, White explodes into the ball-carrier and is adept at making tackles in space. With instinctual play, he puts himself in position to make plays. In Week One against Dallas, White spearheaded the defense with 2.0 sacks. He was effective in creating opportunities for teammates as well, as they accounted for White as the expected blitzer. On a crossing pattern with Lavonte David, as both overlapped to rush up the A-gap and B-gaps, Anthony Nelson got home on a sack. Or White blitzed through the A-gap, providing the opportunity for Mike Edwards to sneak over and collapse the pocket as the running back chipped White. Todd Bowles is a pressure master and how the Cowboys' respond will be critical. Forcing Dallas to become one-dimensional will be vital for Tampa Bay. The Cowboys have struggled to run the ball effectively as of late, which has amplified miscues in pass protection and execution down the field. Steele formed a domineering complement with Zack Martin on combo/reach blocks and since his injury, they have struggled to achieve the same level of success. The Cowboys will try to reinvigorate their run game with explosive slash back Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott, the power back through tackles. White will play a key role in limiting yards if the rushers break to the second level and in keeping Dak Prescott off-kilter with pressure. 

Vita Vea 

Vita Vea was one of eight players held out of the team's Week 18 matchup with the Falcons due to injury (calf). He participated in practice in a limited fashion on Thursday and all signs lead to a return for Vea in the Wild Card round, bolstering the Bucs' defensive front. The hope is for Vea and Akiem Hicks to eat up blocks on the interior to free up both linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David to either burst through gaps to stop rushers dead in their tracks or to pursue the quarterback. Vea is a physical force at the point of attack and overwhelms centers and guards with a bull rush. At some point, Vea will face the Cowboys' cornerstone and future Hall of Fame guard, Zack Martin. The perennial Pro Bowler is arguably the best pass-blocking guard in the NFL and is a force in the run game. He is rarely out of position – a rarity for a blocker. The Cowboys' formula is simple in the run game: pull the best player, Martin. The majority of runs come behind him and he sets the tone in the trenches. This will be a stellar matchup come Monday night as these two elite players duel it out.

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