Dallas Cowboys: Aqib Talib

Stats & Info preview: Cowboys vs. Bucs

September, 21, 2012
The Dallas Cowboys should be able to move the ball through the air Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have allowed a league-high 801 passing yards through two games, including 510 yards to the Giants in Week 2.

Big plays have burned the Buccaneers. They have allowed seven pass plays of at least 30 yards in their first two games and 21 completions of 11-plus yards, both of which are the most in the NFL. Tony Romo had three 30-yard pass plays in the Cowboys’ Week 1 win over the New York Giants but none in last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Here are three other statistical areas to watch Sunday:

* Josh Freeman struggled to throw the ball deep last season, but he's off to a better start in 2012. The Bucs' quarterback has completed eight of his first 14 pass attempts of at least 15 yards downfield this season, including a pair of touchdowns. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson could be making the difference in Freeman’s deep passing success. Jackson already has six receptions of 15-plus yards in two games. Since the start of the 2011 season, Jackson leads the NFL in targets (72) and is third in receptions (33) on such passes. Jackson had 128 receiving yards last week against the Giants, the first Buccaneers wide receiver with at least 125 receiving yards and a touchdown reception since Antonio Bryant in Week 16 of the 2008 season.

* The Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray has shown the ability to pick up rushing yards between the tackles and outside of them this season. The Buccaneers’ run defense has been especially tight on rushing attempts outside the tackles in their first two games. The Buccaneers have allowed just 15 yards (tied for second fewest in the league) on 10 rushing attempts outside the tackles. Last season, teams consistently rushed outside the tackles with success against the Buccaneers as they allowed a league-high 969 yards on such attempts, including 16 rushes of 20-plus yards, which was also the most in the NFL.

* Lost in the high number of passing yards the Buccaneers have allowed is the fact they are tied for the league lead in passes defended with 14, including 10 against the Giants in Week 2. The Buccaneers' Aqib Talib is the individual league leader in passes defended with five. Since the start of the 2008 season, Romo has averaged 11.8 pass attempts per pass defended.

Dez Bryant's impact has been limited

September, 19, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- During training camp, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was described as being outstanding.

Through two regular-season games, Bryant has seven catches for 102 yards, no touchdowns and two drops. His longest catch was for 38 yards, and of the 25 first downs recorded by Cowboys receivers, he's got four.

On special teams, Bryant has been bad. An expected playmaker, Bryant has just 2 return yards on four punt return attempts. In the season opener at the New York Giants, Bryant found some room down the sideline for an expected long return, but he tripped up on his own feet. In the Week 2 game, he muffed a punt, though he recovered.

To say Bryant is off to a slow start would be fair.

Wednesday morning, coach Jason Garrett didn't mention the word outstanding when talking about the third-year receiver.

"Dez is like everybody else, you just got to keep playing through the tough parts of a ballgame and of stretches of ballgames," Garrett said. "Just got to come back this week, and he's certainly a big part of what we're doing. The defensive teams that we go up against know who No. 88 is, and we certainly do too. We're going to try and help him get going and he's certainly a big part of that as well. It will be a big challenge this week against these corners."

Last week against Seattle, Bryant was stymied by press coverage. While he did get free some, he didn't have much of an impact. This Sunday, the Cowboys face Tampa Bay's Aqib Talib and Eric Wright, good cover corners who like to challenge wide receivers.

"We have a kind of offense that we can stand up here after every game -- and trust me, the Seattle game isn't a great example of this -- but you can stand up here after the Giants game and say, 'Where was this guy?' Witten only caught two balls, Ogletree caught eight," Witten said. "We believe in our offensive football that we have to use all the different weapons at our disposal and attack different ways. If you want to look at a game and say, 'This guy didn't do this,' without recognizing what maybe somebody else did, you can find something bad with our offense every week. Dez catches 10, what happened to Ogletree? That’s a philosophy you can take, but our philosophy is everyone has a role and everyone can do their job to the best of their ability."

The Other Side: Rick Stroud, St. Pete Times

December, 14, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- As part of our weekly feature, The Other Side, we check in with Rick Stroud of the St. Pete Times for a look at what has happened in Tampa Bay this season.

Archer - After last year's success a lot of people looked at the Bucs as a team to make the next step. Obviously they haven't. What happened?

Stroud - The Bucs began the season 4-2 and had just beaten the Falcons and Saints before their trip to London to play the Chicago Bears Oct. 23. Since then, they have lost seven straight games.

It would be too simplistic to say that the youngest team in the NFL didn’t handle a week in London very well, but obviously, they left something overseas.

Injuries have played a factor. DT Gerald McCoy tore his right biceps at New Orleans and went on Injured Reserve for the second straight year. He tore his left biceps and missed the final month of his rookie season.

The three technique is such an important position in the Bucs defense, its importance can’t be understated. The Bucs really had no good replacement. Frank Okam was eventually released and re-signed to the practice squad. The Bucs signed former Bills No. 1 draft pick John McCargo, who lasted about two games before going on Injured Reserve. Finally, they claimed Albert Haynesworth off waivers.

When you’re starting rookies and second year players, there’s a big drop off to the undrafted free agents and waiver claims behind them.

Another factor has been the schedule. The Bucs beat one team with a winning record last season – New Orleans. During the second quarter of the season, in which they traveled 14,000 miles, they played San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, the Saints, Houston and Green Bay. Four of those teams will win their division.

A lot of the Bucs problems have also been self-inflicted. They’re one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. Two weeks ago, coach Raheem Morris ejected DT Brian Price after he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, negating a sack against the Panthers.

Last week, the Bucs led Jacksonville 14-0 but turned the ball over seven times and allowed 41 unanswered points. This week, Morris is working on fundamentals like ball security drills.

In concluding, players that were counted on as rookie have found it tough to duplicate those performances. Defenses adjust. The three worst words in the NFL are ‘I got it.’ There’s been a lot of that going on in Tampa Bay this season.

Archer - Is Raheem Morris in trouble?

Stroud - If Morris doesn’t win at least one or two games in remaining three, it will be tough for the Glazer family to stick with him. They won’t be favored in any of their remaining games against Dallas, Carolina or Atlanta and finishing the season with a 10-game losing streak, 11 out of 12, with no post-season in three years would be hard to ignore.

The Glazer family has only fired two coaches since they took over in 1995 – Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden – and both had tons more success than Morris. But there’s a feeling the Bucs don’t want to spend money on another high-priced coach, who will likely insist on a big investment in free agents. More likely, if Morris can eek out another win, there will be changes to his coaching staff, like a new offensive coordinator.

Archer - What happened to Josh Freeman this year and could Tampa look for a new QB in the draft?

Stroud - No, the Bucs still believe in Josh Freeman. They don’t think 2010 was a fluke when he threw 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His eight comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime are the most in the first two seasons of any quarterback in history.

Freeman is only 23, one of the youngest players on the team. And in his defense, players around him have not played well. WR Mike Williams, who had 11 TDs as a rookie, has only three this season and been plagued by dropped passes. Of Freeman’s 18 interceptions, eight of them were targeted at TE Kellen Winslow, which means Freeman is forcing the ball into coverage in a desperate attempt to get a big play.

Freeman also has played with a sprained right thumb and now has a shoulder injury. The Bucs believe that somehow he will learn from all this adversity.

Archer - Aqib Talib is a local guy. How has he played and how concerned are the Bucs of his long-term viability with his off-field problems?

Stroud - Talib has played okay when healthy. He has only two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns. He cost the Bucs a chance at a win in London against the Bears when his personal foul penalty cost his team about 90 seconds off the clock trailing by a touchdown.

The off-field problems are an issue. He has one year left on his contract and the organization was split about whether to bring him back after the shooting incident in Garland, Texas. Talib stands trial in March on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. If convicted of any crime, the NFL could suspend him for anywhere from four games to a season. Long-term? It’s more like day-to-day.

Archer - The Cowboys secondary is suspect, allowing 100-yard receivers in four straight games. Should Mike Williams be happy?

Stroud - Mike Williams has struggled to match his performance as a rookie when he led all first-year players in receiving yards and touchdowns. He’s had a number of dropped passes, as well. Typically, teams keep a safety over the top of Williams. With Arrelious Benn likely out with a concussion, it might make the Cowboys’ job easier on Williams.