It didn’t take long for the pandemic to make its impact on the 2021 season. According to multiple reports, Dallas Cowboys standout guard Zack Martin will miss the team’s regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday after being placed on the Reserve-COVID list.
It’s a major blow for a team that will likely need to score a fair amount of points in order to keep up with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ high-scoring offense. It’s terrible news for fantasy managers that are hoping for a quick start from Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. This was already a tough matchup on paper for Elliott before the Martin news hit the airwaves. The Buccaneers defense was the league's stingiest unit when it came to stopping the run in 2020, and gave up just 80.6 yards per game on the ground. It’s fair to say that Elliott and Co. will have their work cut out for them, and a less-than-desirable matchup on paper now looks even worse than it initially did.
When analyzing how Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ passing game may fare without their stud right guard, things don’t look much better. Considering the fact that Tampa held the lead in so many contests and their opponents were often forced to play from behind, the Buccaneers’ defense gave up a respectable 246.6 yards through the air a year ago. Make no mistake, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will have already identified Martin’s absence as a spot to attack on the Cowboys’ offensive line on Thursday night. There’s a good chance that Prescott will be hurried and under pressure on a consistent basis. Prescott will have to be as sharp as ever, as the pocket will likely be collapsing quicker than he’d like it to be.
Ndamukong Suh is ready to return to action and will likely be the defender that benefits the most from Martin’s absence. Suh spent a lot of time lined up over the right guard last season, which is Martin’s position on Dallas’ O-line. We also wouldn’t be surprised to see the 347-pound mammoth that is Vita Vea slide over from his usual spot over the left guard to take some reps against former third-round pick Connor McGovern, who is the likely candidate to start the game in Martin’s absence. On third-and-obvious passing situations, Dallas would also be wise to prepare for EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul to kick inside on occasion. Bowles will make it a priority to ask questions about McGovern’s ability to handle a more athletic rusher like JPP.
This was already an incredibly tough game for the Cowboys’ offense. Tampa’s defense gave up just 22.2 points per game a year ago. We’re loving Tampa’s chances to start the new season 1-0.
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