Opening the season against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers is no easy task. The Bucs earned their Lombardi trophy on the heels of a talented defense that features a loaded front seven. Of course, they also have future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and his assortment of offensive weapons on the other side of the ball. Starting the year on the road against the team that is favored to once again represent the NFC in the Super Bowl would be a challenge for anyone. Yet for a moment, it appeared as if our beloved Dallas Cowboys were up to the task.
In the end, it wasn't meant to be, but that doesn't mean fans should be too disappointed as there were a lot of positives to take from this game. Here are three things we learned from the Cowboys' 31-19 loss to the Buccaneers on Thursday night.
Dak Prescott looks healthy and fantastic
There is no greater feeling of pleasure from this game than watching Prescott trot back onto the football field after last year's devastating foot injury. And because he overworked his shoulder early in camp, we weren't even able to see him in any preseason action this year. But alas, the moment had finally arrived to see Dak in action, and he didn't disappoint.
After being on a "pitch count" in camp, Prescott was unleashed in the form of 58 passing attempts. That ties a career-high. He completed 42 of them for 403 yards and three touchdowns. He also had one interception after a needle-threaded pass went through the hands of CeeDee Lamb. In short, Dak was fantastic. He picked up right where he left off last year as he's now thrown for at least 450 yards in each of the last four full games he has played.
Now, we don't want Prescott to be airing it out this much each week, but it has to feel good that the Cowboys franchise quarterback is more than capable of playing at a high level and give his team every possible chance they have to win the game.
Defense showed up and made some plays
The Cowboys' defense is going to be under the microscope all season. Giving up a franchise-record 473 points last season will do that. And despite the Bucs reeling off 31 points and 431 total yards on the night, it shouldn't go unnoticed that the Cowboys' defense played pretty well at times. Yes, there were some breakdowns in the secondary that led to some pretty easy touchdowns. And yes, the pass rush was absent most of the night as Brady was never sacked. But we shouldn't overlook some of the great things that happened as well.
For starters, the Cowboys' run defense was really good. They only allowed 52 yards on the ground, which is so refreshing to see after this unit finished second-worst in the league last year. The improvement may be attributed to the new guys manning the linebacker position. Micah Parsons led all LBs with 51 snaps, while Keanu Neal had 50. Last year's starters, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch had 16 and 14 snaps respectively. This may have a lot to do with how the Cowboys chose to matchup up against the Bucs offense, but this also could mark a new era of run-stopping in Dallas.
Not only did they do a good job stopping the run, but the Cowboys' defense produced four takeaways. Sure, a couple of them came from deflected passes including an end-of-half hail mary, but a couple also came from some tenacious. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and safety Damontae Kazee each had a forced fumble. Considering takeaways have been something that's stymied this defense in the past, it was nice to see them active in generating turnovers.
Kellen Moore is the real deal
It shouldn't have been that much of a surprise that the Cowboys' offense was going to try to work around the Bucs ferocious defensive line. Tampa Bay had the no. 1 ranked run defense in the league last year, and there is no reason to believe they won't be near the top again this season. Running the ball successfully on that night just wasn't going to happen, especially with the Cowboys without their All-Pro guard Zack Martin.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore mitigated this dilemma by throwing, throwing, and more throwing. Even when we expected them to finally settle down and start running the ball, he just kept having Dak fire away. I applaud this approach. Rather than die on a hill by forcing the run, Moore gave his team a legit chance by looking for other ways to move the ball. Between short passes and attacking certain areas of the Bucs secondary, the Cowboys regularly drove down the field. It is a great feeling to have an offensive coordinator who is not afraid to go to extreme limits to get the job done. This Cowboys offense is going to be fun to watch this season.
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