NFL News & Analysis

NFL Week 1 Game Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Dallas Cowboys 29

Sep 9, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) celebrate after a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers edged the Dallas Cowboys 31-29 to kick off the 2021 NFL season.

The game finished on what feels like a routine occurrence — Tom Brady walking the ball down the field with less than a minute remaining to set up a game-winning field goal.

Ultimately, Brady finished with 379 yards and four touchdowns, and Dak Prescott matched it with 403 yards and three touchdowns of his own.


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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quarterback

Tom Brady picked up where he left off in February, dissecting the Cowboys' Cover 3 and Cover 1-heavy scheme. Brady didn’t need much in the way of a run game to be effective on play-action passes, as the run fakes still opened up windows in the middle of the field. And when he found the mismatch he wanted on the perimeter, it was successful, as he repeatedly took advantage of Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown with five-time All-Pro Antonio Brown. Brady did throw a couple of interceptions, but his rhythm was established early and lasted all night.

Running Back
Player Attempts % of Yards after Contact Average Yards Before Contact Stuffed %
Leonard Fournette 9 78% 0.8 11%
Ronald Jones 4 50% 1.8 0%

Tampa got whatever it wanted in the passing game, but the Cowboys were clearly set on not allowing any downhill runs on the night. Leonard Fournette carried the ball the majority of the time and averaged less than a yard before contact on his attempts. Dallas changed the point of attack on a fifth of his runs, as it was clearly forcing the ball to bounce outside or cut back.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

From the moment Brady was introduced in Tampa Bay, it was easy to imagine the value he would provide for Chris Godwin. He aligned inside on almost 80% of his receiving snaps and, now that he’s healthy, jumps right into his place as Brady's No. 1 target. Godwin was targeted 14 times and accumulated nine catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Rob Gronkowski had a pair of touchdowns as well.

Offensive Line

The offensive line was true to its 2020 form, allowing nine total pressures without surrendering any QB hits or sacks. Tristan Wirfs had the hardest matchup of the night against Demarcus Lawrence, but he (like his teammates) still help up well in pass protection.

Defensive Line

The work that this unit did to occupy gaps in the run game is evidenced in Dallas' lack of production on the ground. Dallas didn't run the ball a ton, but The Bucs defensive line's presence was felt in the passing game. Shaquil Barrett secured the only sack of the night, but Vita Vea was most impressive, notching a quarterback hit and six total pressures on the night.

Linebackers

The dynamic pair of Lavonte David and Devin White were the only two LBs Tampa Bay needed, and both did their part to control the core of Tampa's defense. They combined for three stops on 15 run snaps, as White forced a tackle for loss while both linebackers had an average depth of tackle inside of three yards. Ezekiel Elliott did an excellent job keeping Prescott clean when blitzed, as helped hold David and White to just two combined pressures on 22 opportunities.

Secondary

In spite of all the yardage surrendered to the Cowboys’ receiving corps, the Buccaneers' defensive backfield performed respectably overall. Carlton Davis looks ready to ascend from plus-starter to someone who can reliably take away slot receivers. While he was targeted 10 times, Davis only allowed four receptions and 43 yards while producing three forced incompletions, an interception and a 13.8 passer rating allowed.

Dallas Cowboys

Quarterback

Dak Prescott walks out of Raymond James Stadium looking like a future (and maybe present-day) MVP. Dallas couldn’t get the run game going all night, which never seemed to bother Prescott. He went 42 of 58 for 403 yards (6.9 yards per attempt) three touchdowns, and an interception, which came on one of the few plays where he pushed downfield into a tight window. It’s hard to take away anything other than Prescott being an incredible player fresh off a lat strain and a catastrophic ankle injury. 

Running Back
Player Attempts % of Yards after Contact Average Yards Before Contact Stuffed %
Ezekiel Elliott 11 70% 0.9 18%
Tony Pollard 3 79% 1.0 33%

Ezekiel Elliott is maybe the only player who can empathize with Fournette’s struggles to move the ball on the ground, as he averaged a mediocre 3.0 yards per carry. Dallas didn't use Elliott to set up the rest of the offense, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if it did due to Elliott's 22% stuff rate. His best work came as in pass protection, as he did a great job picking up blitzes and defensive linemen who were looking for clean-up sacks. 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Dallas' receiving corps can certainly justify abandoning an unproductive run game. Budding star CeeDee Lamb had some early drop issues but turned in an impressive night after the catch, as over half his yardage came after his seven grabs. His 15 targets and touchdown were only outpaced by Amari Cooper’s 16 targets and two touchdowns. Cooper had a strong day at the catch point, as three of his receptions were contested. Cooper and Lamb accumulated 58% of the targets on the day. 

Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb vs. The rest of the Cowboys' weapons

Player Targets Yards Explosive Catches % of Targets per Receiving Snaps
Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb 31 243 6 61%
Other Cowboys weapons 26 160 1 39%
Offensive Line

A healthy Tyron Smith looked like a Hall of Fame tackle all over again, as he allowed zero pressures in 69 pass protection snaps. The other four Cowboys offensive linemen allowed 14 combined pressures but mostly stood tall in the face of relentless pressure. Tyler Biadasz performed the worst of the group, as he was beaten twice and allowed five total pressures. 

Defensive Line

Stacking the box in the four-down, Cover-3 world Dan Quinn lives in makes the job easy upfront to stop the run, but it asks the pass rushers to add value to make up for the lack of deep defenders in coverage. Tonight, the Cowboys couldn’t protect its corners, but Demarcus Lawrence performed admirably, notching four hurries and five total pressures.

Linebackers

Rookie Micah Parsons has an athletic profile that could unlock aspects of Keanu Neal, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch‘s skill sets. Parsons rushed the passer 13 times but only had two pressures — one of which came when he was unblocked. He also surrendered three first downs in coverage on eight targets, giving up six total receptions — two of which were 15-plus-yard gains. Dallas needs to find him a long-term positional home to thrive in instead of trying to plug up holes with his skillset.

Micah Parsons' Alignment vs. The rest of the Cowboys' LBs

Player Edge Snaps Pass Rush Snaps Box Snaps Coverage Snaps
Micah Parsons 10 13 38 29
Other Cowboys LBs 3 3 60 56 (39 to Keanu Neal)
Secondary

Cornerback Anthony Brown most likely wants to burn this game tape, as he allowed eight receptions on nine targets for north of 100 yards, a touchdown and a 155.8 passer rating.

Anthony Brown vs. The rest of the Cowboys' defensive backs

Player Times Targeted Completion % Yards Allowed Explosive Passes Allowed
Anthony Brown 9 89% 117 3
Other Cowboys DBs 18 44% 100 3
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