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Cowboys vs. Bucs Scouting Report: Reasons to hate Dallas

The Dallas Cowboys visit Tampa on Sunday for just the sixth time. While they're 2-6 this time around and without star quarterback Tony Romo, there are still many, many reasons for Buccaneers fans to hate them. Here are a few. (Cheap and clickbaitey, you say? Pfffff. For the meatier football stuff, skip to the Matt Cassel section.)

• You might not like Giants fans or Eagles fans, but you understand that they cheer for their teams because they used to live in the Northeast. But have you ever noticed how few Cowboys fans are actually from Dallas or even Texas? And how poorly they defend their allegiance?

"I like the helmet. I like the star."

What? You like … the star? Really? That's a reason for asking your mother to buy you a box of Lucky Charms, not for liking a football team.

"I liked them ever since I saw the overhead shot of Texas Stadium in the opening of Dallas."

Ooookay … I saw a little bit of Magnum, P.I. growing up. Somehow, I never developed a lifelong interest in mustaches.

• America's Team? Stop it.

Cowboys fans love to tell you about "their" rings. They've won five of them, you know. But since the introduction of a salary cap in 1994, the Cowboys have won exactly one Super Bowl (1995 season). And since that Super Bowl, they've won just three playoff games and failed to advance beyond the divisional round.

Think about it: The only success a generation of Cowboys fans has ever known is a handful of NFC East titles. Even so, that won't stop them from proudly wearing "How 'bout them rings" shirts at the stadium Sunday. How adorable that the Cowboys sell merchandise that celebrates a championship they won TWENTY YEARS AGO.

Like it or not, if any team deserves the label "America's Team," it's the New England Patriots. They haven't had a losing season since 2000, they've reached the playoffs 12 of the past 14 seasons, they've won four Super Bowls since the start of the millennium and appeared in two others, they have an unbearable fanbase and — perhaps most important — they have a star in their red, white AND blue logo. They have all the boxes checked.

• Sure, the Cowboys' stadium might be the best in the NFL, but what kind of accomplishment is that when you have $1.2 billion to spend? Bravo, Jerry Jones, for constructing one stadium for the price of two. And kudos, city of Arlington, for contributing at least $325 million. Sweet deal for a man with a net worth of $5 billion. Maybe he can get Habitat for Humanity to build him a vacation home.

Despite its excess, the stadium is designed with the average football fan in mind. It's a lot of trouble to sit comfortably on a couch, drink cheap beer and watch the game on your very own 52-inch television. The Cowboys, though, offer fans an escape from such misery and generously charge $50 to park and $30 to access a standing-room area where the view of the 25,000-square-foot high-definition video board will be blocked by someone's watermelon-sized head.

All right, that's enough hate. Let's get to the things to watch for this Sunday.

Matt Cassel

Part of the Cowboys' reasoning for starting Cassel over Brandon Weeden was Weeden's inability to get the ball down the field. In his final start — against the Patriots in Week 5 — he completed just four of 11 passes of 10 yards or more. Cassel has been more aggressive and accurate in his three starts, completing six of 13 passes of 20 yards or more, according to Pro Football Focus. Still, the Cowboys are winless (0-6) this season when any quarterback other than Romo starts a game. Since 2010, they are 0-8 when Romo doesn't start.

Jason Witten

Though defenses have kept him out of the end zone after he scored two touchdowns in Week 1, Witten is having another steady, Witten-like season. Week in, week out, you can count on the veteran tight end for about five catches and 50 yards.

How does he do it? The option route. Here's an example that analyst Cris Collinsworth touched on during Sunday's game against the Eagles.

The Cowboys are trailing 14-7 with about five minutes left in the third quarter. On the play before, Darren McFadden lost 3 yards on a run up the middle to bring up second-and-13 from the Philadelphia 45-yard line. The offense has been struggling, scoring just five touchdowns and 10 field goals in its previous 47 drives. It needs to pick up this first down and at least reach field goal range.

The Cowboys line up in an empty back set with three receivers, including Witten, to Cassel's left and two to his right. The Eagles show man coverage with linebacker Jordan Hicks lined up across from Witten and over his inside shoulder.

After the snap, Witten runs right at Hicks. The two receivers on the outside, Terrance Williams and Lucky Whitehead, run vertical routes to clear out space underneath. Hicks plays inside leverage against Witten, which means he's trying to avoid giving up a play to the inside of the field. Witten identifies Hicks' technique and cuts to the outside. He catches Cassel's pass for a 9-yard gain and first down.

Had Hicks played outside leverage, Witten would have cut inside and still been wide open.

We see the same concept in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys in a similar position — trailing 27-24, less than five minutes remaining in regulation, third-and-8 from the Philadelphia 41-yard line.

Hicks again plays inside leverage, so Witten breaks to the outside. While Hicks gets a hand on the ball this time, Witten grabs hold of it and picks up 14 yards and another first down. The Cowboys go on to kick a game-tying field goal.

When defending tight ends, the Bucs are about average; they see 7.7 passes per game and allow 46.6 yards (NFL averages are 7.8 and 55.6). The Cowboys might try to get Witten matched up with linebacker Lavonte David, who has struggled in coverage this season. Eli Manning threw into his coverage eight times last Sunday and completed seven passes for 46 yards and a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus.

Dez Bryant

These are the kinds of things that happen when a team loses six games in a row (language might be offensive):

After his rant Thursday, Bryant tweeted an explanation.

Wow. Bryant doesn't mess around. The man likes a fully charged phone. The rest of us? The battery life is always 11 percent.

Darren McFadden

Reporters, analysts and fans like to cite teams' win-loss records when a running back reaches a certain number of carries or a certain number of yards. This thinking is flawed, of course; teams don't win just because they're running the football. In general, running backs tend to accumulate carries when teams are trying to run out the clock.

For example, you might hear someone say that the Minnesota Vikings are 6-0 this season when Adrian Peterson carries the ball at least 19 times and 0-2 when he doesn't. Just roll your eyes. The Vikings' record probably has more to do with them killing drives (opponents are converting 29.7 of third downs, second-lowest rate) and not allowing points (opponents are scoring 17.5 points per game, second-fewest).

Darren McFadden's current streak of three straight games of 20 or more carries might sound impressive, and it is, but only because he has managed to stay healthy for more than a handful of possessions. From 2012 to 2014, he reached 20 carries just four times.

Since becoming the lead back in Week 6 after the Cowboys released Joseph Randle, McFadden rushed 29 times for 152 yards against the Giants, 20 times for 64 yards against the Seattle Seahawks and 27 times for 117 yards against the Eagles. The Cowboys lost each of those games.

Twenty carries and 100 yards doesn't guarantee victory, but McFadden is the only back to do so twice this season in a loss. (Doug Martin rushed 20 times for 106 yards in the Bucs' 37-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 4.)

The Cowboys defense

Coming into last Sunday's game against the New York Giants, Bucs cornerbacks hadn't intercepted a pass. Then Sterling Moore picked off Eli Manning on the first offensive play of the game. Late in the third quarter, Alterraun Verner picked off Manning again when he jumped Odell Beckham Jr.'s slant route.

Meanwhile, Cowboys cornerbacks are still looking for their first interception. Safety J.J. Wilcox is the only member of the secondary to come away with one. The defense has three total, tied with the Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens for fewest in the league. Only eight teams ever (but three last season) have finished a 16-game season with six or fewer picks.

Jameis Winston hasn't thrown a pick in four consecutive games but has come close, nearly throwing two in the end zone against the Giants.

Final analysis

The Bucs and Giants each turned the ball over twice last Sunday, but the Giants were able to turn their takeaways into more points. Cassel is throwing interceptions at a higher rate (4.4 percent) than any quarterback in the league (minimum three starts), so the Bucs should get more opportunities this week. Prediction: Bucs

Cowboys vs. Bucs Scouting Report: Reasons to hate Dallas 11/13/15 [Last modified: Sunday, November 15, 2015 7:35pm]
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