BUCCANEERS // COWBOYS OVERVIEW
The Buccaneers (4-3 at home // 1-6 on the road) will travel to Dallas this week to take on a Cowboys team that is 6-1 at home and has won five of six games to move within one win of clinching the NFC East. Only three teams in football are allowing fewer points per game than the Cowboys, while only two teams are allowing more points per game than the Bucs. Unsurprisingly, Vegas has given a big nod to the home team here, with the Cowboys installed as touchdown favorites in a game with an Over/Under of 48.0.
BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
The Dallas pass defense allows the third highest catch rate in the NFL, though with a below-average aDOT and strong tackling after the catch, this team has managed to rank middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt — and their talented secondary and disciplined play have enabled them to tighten up significantly in the red zone against the pass, with only five teams allowing fewer touchdown passes on the year. Only three teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than Dallas, as they force opponents to march the entire field with mistake-free football — an approach that meshes poorly with the strengths and weaknesses of this Bucs passing attack that is at its best when taking shots downfield.
The ability to comfortably target this passing attack is further dented by the expected return of DeSean Jackson, who will eat into the snap share of Chris Godwin and will eat into the target counts of both Godwin and Adam Humphries. We should see Mike Evans play a full compliment of snaps on the outside with Humphries taking on his typical underneath role and DJax/Godwin mixing and matching snaps in the other perimeter role — with DJax taking on a few downfield shots, and with Godwin taking on the intermediate and red zone routes this role affords.
If you feel compelled to attack the Cowboys’ pass defense with the Bucs’ passing attack, you can take heart in the fact that the dip in yardage volume for the Bucs coincided with the DJax injury — creating some opportunity for a few more big plays this week with downfield coverage divided between Evans and DJax, and with Jameis perhaps called on for a few more downfield shots than he has been asked to throw the last three weeks. In the last three games in which all four receivers were active, target counts on the Bucs looked like this:
:: Evans — 6 // 7 // 8
:: Humphries — 3 // 5 // 6
:: Godwin — 7 // 3 // 4
:: DeSean — 8 // 7 // 8
The targets should be there for all these guys once again, making them “bet on a big play or touchdown” options, in a tough matchup for big plays and touchdowns.
Behind these four, Cameron Brate (zero games above 36 yards this year // six touchdowns on the season) will continue to operate as a touchdown-dependent commodity. For what it’s worth, the Cowboys have allowed the third most tight end receptions in the league this year, with six touchdowns allowed to the position.
BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
The Bucs’ run offense has been one of the least useful units in football, ranking 31st in yards per carry and 28th in rushing yards per game (with both marks buoyed by Jameis’ 244 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry on the year). Peyton Barber has only 16 catches on the year, making him extremely yardage-and-touchdown dependent. On that note: he has scored six touchdowns, and he has topped 100 yards only once. This week he’ll take on a Dallas defense that has allowed the third fewest yards per carry and the fifth fewest rushing yards per game. Barber is simply a hope-for-multiple-touchdowns play.
COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE
Tampa has been one of the more attackable run defenses in the NFL this year, ranking bottom eight in both yards allowed per carry and rushing yards allowed per game, while allowing more running back touchdowns than any team in football. Ezekiel Elliott has recent touch counts for the Cowboys of 30 // 31 // 29 // 40 // 25, and he is going to be locked into a heavy workload again in this spot as the engine of a Cowboys offense that needs this win in order to close out their strong season with a division title. A win this week would also give the Cowboys nothing to play for in Week 17 — allowing them to treat that game like a bye and rest some of their overused players before the playoffs kick off. This is a big game for Dallas, and we should expect them to lean heavily on Zeke once again — setting him up as the top on-paper floor/ceiling play of the weekend.
COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
This spot for the Cowboys’ passing attack is less spectacular than the season-long “Tampa pass defense” numbers make things appear (on the year, the Bucs are allowing the most yards per pass attempt while giving up the highest catch rate in the league), as the Cowboys are not a downfield-attacking team (often relying on volume or YAC for their upside), while the Bucs have been one of the better tackling units in football, allowing the sixth fewest yards after the catch on a per-reception basis. With Zeke in a great spot in this matchup (and with the Cowboys’ defense likely to make trouble for the Bucs’ offense), it will be difficult for volume to pile up. And with the Cowboys’ conservative approach in the pass game (a stunning-low four passes last week of 15+ yards for Dak Prescott, against the Colts’ Tampa 2 zone), YAC will be your best path to upside.
If you want to go to this passing attack, your strongest bet — by far — is Amari Cooper, who has recent target counts of 9 // 8 // 13 // 7. Amari has yardage totals in this stretch of 180 // 76 // 217 // 30, with the 180-yard game coming off a pair of long YAC plays against Washington, and with the 217-yard game coming in a matchup against Sidney Jones and the Eagles, in one of the rare instances in which the Cowboys opened up the offense and chose to attack downfield. To be clear: it is not impossible for Amari to break off a long run after a catch in this spot, and it is not impossible for him to connect on a downfield shot. It is also not impossible for him to score multiple touchdowns. But your safest bet in this spot is to assume seven to nine high-floor, lower-upside targets, with Amari needing to do something after the catch (in a tough after-the-catch matchup) in order to reach ceiling.
With Dak topping 300 yards only once all season (and with almost all of his passing yards coming through Amari and Zeke), it has become almost impossible to comfortably target other pass catchers on this offense. If, for some reason, you feel compelled to go here: Cole Beasley continues to offer real-life value for the Cowboys, and he could become viable with a score // Michael Gallup has “viable DFS score” upside in his arsenal, though it’s a guessing game as to when he will get there // Blake Jarwin now has back-to-back games of seven targets, with the first coming in a pass-heavy affair against Philly and the second coming against a Colts team that faces the second most tight end targets in the NFL — though the Bucs, it should be noted, face the eighth most tight end targets and have allowed the fifth most tight end yards. Jarwin ran 30 of a possible 41 pass routes last week, so he has a solid shot at remaining involved.
Unsurprisingly, my primary interest in this game flows to the Cowboys’ backfield, where Zeke stands out as the highest on-paper floor/ceiling play on the weekend. His usage and the matchup line up nicely for a strong game, with Zeke’s “failure” games in these spots still not hurting your roster. He’s one of the top options on this slate.
Behind Zeke: Amari, Jarwin, and even Dak can all be considered, though none of them stand out given projected game flow and the conservative nature of this Dallas attack. Amari, of course, carries the highest upside of the bunch with his explosive after-catch ability and his guaranteed involvement in this attack.
On the Bucs’ side, I likely won’t target anything myself, as targeting players against Dallas has been an iffy proposition lately, and this has especially been true in Dallas. If taking a shot on the Bucs, I would likely try to capture some upside with Evans or DJax — hoping one of them manages to connect on a downfield shot or two — though there are obviously safer ways to gain exposure to upside this week.