The Dallas Cowboys (2-6) look to break their six-game losing streak but will play at least one more game without Tony Romo under center. While Matt Cassel has looked solid at times as the starter, Dallas has fallen just short of getting a victory without Romo in each of the past three weeks. Now they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5), who have lost two of their last three games.
The Cowboys got a nice boost from star wide receiver Dez Bryant, who looked much healthier in Week 9 against the Philadelphia Eagles, as he caught five balls for 104 yards with a score. He first made his return from the broken bone in his foot the week before against the Seattle Seahawks, but caught just two passes in that game.
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For the Buccaneers, rookie quarterback Jameis Winston has now gone four games in a row without an interception, a streak which began just one game after he threw four against the Carolina Panthers. Winston's strong play has helped lead the Buccaneers to a 2-2 record over that span, and one of their losses came by just one point to the Washington Redskins.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Cowboys and the Buccaneers.
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1. Get Doug Martin and Charles Sims going early
On paper, Martin and Sims should have a field day against the Cowboys. To this point in 2015, Dallas has allowed opposing running backs to rush for 820 yards and eight scores and to catch 52 balls for 499 yards and two more touchdowns. With playmakers like Martin and Sims, it's no surprise that both have the potential to run wild against the injured Cowboys defense.
2. Bring down Matt Cassel
Over Tampa Bay's 2-2 stretch, it's been like night and day when looking at the sack totals. During their two losses to the Redskins and New York Giants, they had exactly one sack. In the two victories against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons? Seven sacks. If the Buccaneers can get pressure on Cassel, it could wind up making all the difference. Fortunately, if last Sunday was any indication, it's possible to bring Cassel down, as he was sacked four times by the Eagles in Dallas' 33-27 loss.
3. Put the ball in the hands of Mike Evans
Yes, Evans had five drops in Week 9, but if a No. 1 receiving target can get going against this Dallas secondary, he can do some serious damage. In three of the past four games, Dallas has allowed Julian Edelman, Jimmy Graham and Jordan Matthews to combine for 20 catches for 328 yards and two touchdowns. Evans will likely be playing with a chip on his shoulder after the loss to the Giants last Sunday, so expect him to get plenty of work in this game.
1. Lean on Darren McFadden
Nobody has a better matchup on paper than McFadden against Tampa Bay's run defense. The Cowboys have leaned on him over the past three games, and he has responded with 397 total yards on 85 total touches. The Cowboys have the one of the NFL's best run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL, with elite players at left tackle (Tyron Smith), center (Travis Frederick) and right guard (Zack Martin). The Buccaneers have two starting linebackers -- Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David -- who have combined to miss 30 tackles this season. The Cowboys need to get McFadden involved early and often.
2. Use bracket coverage on Mike Evans
The Buccaneers are banged up at the skill positions. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are shaping up as game-time decisions after missing Week 9 with injuries. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston has depended on wide receiver Mike Evans in their absence. In Week 9, Winston targeted Evans 19 times -- no other player saw more than five targets. The Cowboys' outside cornerbacks have been better than expected in 2015, but neither player can shut down Evans one-on-one.
3. Feed Dez Bryant
The Buccaneers have a lot of issues at the cornerback position. They have shuffled different players in and out at both outside cornerback and in the slot all season. In Week 9, they benched both starting outside cornerbacks in the middle of the game. Over the past two games, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. have combined for 267 yards, one touchdown and 21 receptions on a whopping 29 targets against Tampa Bay. The Cowboys need to get the ball to Bryant.