TAMPA, Fla. – The curtain rises on the Todd Bowles era in Arlington on Sunday night (8:20, NBC) when the Buccaneers meet the Cowboys.
Tom Brady will begin his 23rd season in the National Football League. When Dallas coach Mike McCarthy sees Brady running the Bucs’ offense, he sees a 45-year-old quarterback who has done a remarkable of keeping himself healthy and productive.
When McCarthy broke into the NFL as an offensive assistant with Kansas City in 1993, 37-year-old Joe Montana and 35-year-old Dave Krieg were among those who occupied the Chiefs’ quarterback room.
During his time in Green Bay, which started in 1999 and spanned two decades, including the final 13 seasons (2006-2018) as head coach, McCarthy was around Brett Favre, who played until he was 41, and Aaron Rodgers, who is 38 and going strong. So, he knows a few things about quarterbacks and longevity.
“I think what these pro athletes do today is remarkable, particularly at the quarterback position,” he said a press conference this week. “I have been fortunate to be around a number of quarterbacks that played a long time. Dave Krieg, Joe, and obviously Brett and Aaron. I think it is a credit to what (Brady) does on and off the field. To be able to play at the level that he is playing, but what he is doing physically, to me, is beyond….”
McCarthy paused and said, “I think he has raised the bar for the quarterback position moving forward.”
Running back tandem
In the Bucs’ season-opening 31-29 win over the Cowboys last year, the Dallas ground game produced all of 60 yards and 3.3 yard per tote. Ezekiel Elliott led the way with 33 yards on 11 carries and Tony Pollard had only three carries for 14 yards.
“If you go back to our game last year, they made a very strong commitment to the box as far as one more hat than we had as far as formation,” said McCarthy. “They did it throughout the season. How they play Sunday night, that’s what we’ll (find out).”
As last season progressed, Pollard emerged as one of the NFL’s top all-purpose players while rushing for 719 yards (5.5 per carry), catching 39 passes, and averaging 28.8 yards on kick returns. He clearly had an increased role in the Cowboys’ run game.
Ezekiel Elliott topped 1,000 yards for the fourth time (1,002) in his six seasons and, for the third time, reached double digits in rushing touchdowns with 10.
Who will the Bucs see more of?
“I think they both hold their own,” said McCarthy. “I look at both those guys as No. 1 runners, or however you want to categorize it. I think they are definitely a tandem and it’s obviously a focal point for us.”
Different look on O-line
Dallas lost left tackle Tyron Smith at least until December with a left knee injury sustained during practice the last week of August. Rookie Tyler Smith, a first-round selection (24th overall) out of Tulsa, moved from left guard to left tackle. How long that will be the case remains to be seen. On Monday, the Cowboys signed 40-year-old Jason Peters. The nine-time Pro Bowler will need a little time to get up to speed before he can take the field with his new team.
While the Bucs’ defense will not have to deal with Peters, there will be a much different look than what it saw in last year’s season opener at Raymond James Stadium. The Dallas line not only included Tyron Smith, but also left guard Connor Williams and right tackle La’el Collins, both of whom departed via free agency. Right guard Zack Martin was not in the lineup due to Covid.
A couple of the younger linemen the Bucs butted helmets with last year, such as left guard Connor McGovern and center Tyler Biadasz, have another year of experience on their resumes.
“The development of those second-, third- and fourth-year players, that’s a huge factor in moving the needle, moving your team forward, and that’s where we feel we made some gains,” said McCarthy, who has fifth-year man Terence Steele at right tackle.
Playing at home to open the season – as well as Week 2 against the Bengals – should help a line needing to gel and build early momentum.
“I think the biggest thing is that the operation is cleaner,” said McCarthy. “Something just as simple as cadence and definitely something like playing at home versus playing on the road. I think that’s part of the equation people sometimes tend to overlook.”
All-Time Regular Season Series
Cowboys lead 13-5
Last Bucs win: 31-29, 2021 at Bucs
Last Cowboys win: 27-20, 2018 at Cowboys
Longest win streak: 6, Cowboys 1977 to 1990
Largest margin of victory: 28 points, Cowboys 38-10 on Oct. 26, 2008 in Irving