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Dallas Cowboys vs Oakland Raiders: Big Preview

The Dallas Cowboys have an excellent opportunity to notch another Thanksgiving day win this Thursday against the Oakland Raiders. Oakland handed over the keys to Matt McGloin, a more traditional pocket passer two games ago, so lets start with a look at their offense under his direction.

Offensive Production Leaders for Oakland Under Matt McGloin vs Texans and Titans

Receivers

Receptions and yards are for the games McGloin started, but YAC numbers are for the entire season. I wanted to give a read on how dangerous these guys are after they make the catch. McGloin appears to me a more accurate thrower than Pryor, so these YAC numbers could actually go up if he keeps the starting job.

Marcel Reece is a pass-catching fullback, Rashard Jennings is a running back that has outplayed Darren McFadden this year. Note how dangerous these backs are in the dump-off and screen game. This should be an area of serious concern for Dallas, with their line backing corps in its current state.

Rod Streater is moved around a fair amount in this offense. He is very good in the slot but at 6’2", 192 lbs, he is also a great target lined up wide. Think of him as a lighter, more productive Miles Austin with good hamstrings. He isn’t as explosive as DeSeanJackson, but defending him very physically as was done with Jackson and more recently with Victor Cruz, is essential. Shutting down Streater is job one.

Marcel Reese had a 27-yard TD reception against the Titans this week, so he must be accounted for. Dallas has given up more receiving yards to backs than any other team this year. Reece and Jennings are big outlet valves for McGoin and must be prevented from continually moving the chains.

Not sure if it will be Carr or Scandric assigned to Streater when they go to man coverage, but as long they can do to Streater what they did to Cruz and Jackson, the Raiders offense will be in serious trouble.

Dallas should have success pressuring McGoin, given that the Raiders have the worst pass-protection line in the NFL. That in-turn should make it easier to defend the WRs, but again, Dallas has got to do better against running backs catching passes.

If the pressure is coming, then Dallas needs to run games where they fake blitz and drop a linebacker into McGoin’s hot-read lane, which is likely to be Reece or Jennings.

Mychal Rivera is a rookie tight end that is clearly anxious to prove his toughness, given that he was knocked out cold on Sunday and has already passed his neurological exams, claims to feel good and is set to play on Thanksgiving. This is a huge mistake. With only a few short days separating a knock out blow and his next start, his brain will be very vulnerable. This is the kind of thing that neurologists believe leads to CTE later in life. Rivera is only thinking about this week. He’s a young man and that is understandable.

But the league should have a mandatory rest period of at least a week for anyone knocked unconscious in a game. Instead they have a protocol in place that covers their backside legally, but doesn’t protect players against themselves. I don’t go on this rant because I fear Rivera can hurt Dallas badly in the passing game. I’m saying it because he could seriously hurt himself and certainly jeopardize his future by playing in this game. And for what? The Raiders eliminated themselves from playoff contention with their loss to the Titans on Sunday. Rivera is risking his brain health for the possibility of lowering his teams draft position with an improbable win. Other than that, this game will mean nothing to Oakland.

Attacking the Oakland Defense

Oakland has a good points defense but is suspect in coverage in a few areas. First, they rank 19 and 22 against opposing number one and number two receivers. But they rank 31 against opposing "Other WR", which is most often the slot receiver. This is a huge opportunity for Dallas, now that they are moving Bryant around, have Austin back and have Beasley nicely integrated.

Against tight ends, Oakland ranks 14, which isn’t terrible, but Dallas has Witten, so 14 th in coverage of TE’s probably won’t get it done. The Giants were ranked 9 in TE coverage, and Witten caught two TD passes against them.

So really, across the board, the Raiders secondary doesn’t impress and Dallas’ offense ought to have its way. But especially look to the slot receiver and Witten for big days. I would love to see Dallas go four wide often enough to overwhelm this Raiders team. Having two slot receivers would appear to be a great recipe for gashing a Raiders secondary that has no answer for productive slot receivers.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins suffered a concussion in the Raiders loss this weekend and may be out for this game. With Rivera setting the standard, Jenkins may play as well, although it would be the same mistake Rivera has made. Jenkins may take a look at the receivers he would be matched up with and decide to sit this one out for a number of reasons. Might not be a bad business decision. If he sits, Dallas could very well roll up and down the field on this secondary.

Looking at Recent Work Load: The Last Two Weeks


At this point in the season, workload is a bigger factor than it would be in September or October. After 10 or 11 games, the snaps are really adding up, which is why Dallas’ bye week came at such a perfect time.


Dallas defenders played 64 snaps in their victory over the Giants, thanks to a run-heavy Giants game plan that shortened the game a bit and five three-and-outs created by Dallas’ D, including the strip of Cruz for a fumble return TD.

By comparison, the Raiders defense played 76 snaps in their loss to the Titans. More importantly, Dallas’ last two defensive drives were 3 and outs. Oakland’s last two defensive drives were 16-play and 14-play drives resulting in a total of 10 points scored and the loss of the game. Clearly the Raiders defense wore down badly at the end, while the Dallas D rose to the occasion late in the fourth.

While Dallas was playing zero game-snaps during their bye week, Oakland’s defense played 77 snaps against the Houston Texans.


With a short week to bounce back, playing 89 more snaps on defense in the last two weeks than their opposition, including twelve extra snaps of work in Sunday’s loss, is yet another element working against the Raiders.


With the correct blend of plays, Garrett should be able to keep his offense on the field for several long drives and wear this team down by the fourth quarter.


Summary

Attack on offense: Everything should work pretty well in this game. Austin and Beasley should combine for a terrific day of work out of the slot. But I don’t see anyone who is going to slow down Dez Bryant in this game either, as long as the Cowboys continue to move him around.

Witten should also have a big game. The Raiders have a good pass-rush, so Dallas’ line will once again have their work cut out for them.

Murray has been productive all year and averaged over 6 yards a carry against the Giants, who are one of the better run defending teams, so Dallas has every reason to keep some balance to their attack

On defense, watch out for backs catching passes. Limit the big runs from Jennings and McFadden. Shut down Streater with tough, physical corner play. Drop line backers into McGoin’s hot-read lanes.

Oakland’s terrible pass protection will provide the perfect stage for DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher wreak havoc in front of a massive audience. I’m guessing they won’t disappoint.

Based on what Oakland typically does, you would expect them to score about 20 points + or – 3, and give up about 26 points, + or -3. Their defense has been tenacious. They held Denver to a better total than Dallas did and they beat beat San Diego. They have some talent on that side of the ball.

I have my doubts though about a rookie QB on such a big stage on the road. My guess is that McGoin will contribute some turnovers to Dallas in the early going and allow the Cowboys to build a nice half time lead.

In the second half, Dallas should be able to mix in enough runs and screens with deeper shots to keep Oakland’s defense on the field and wear them down.

I see this as a win for Dallas in the range of 31-17. If Dallas’ offense underperforms they could make a game of it and still win 24-17.

Additional injury notes:

Starting Will linebacker, Kevin Burnett left the game with a quad contusion and did not return. He has been their best cover linebacker and a big reason the Raiders have done well covering running backs in the passing game.. Quad contusions typically require at least three days of complete rest from all lower extremity activity and only light activity like jogging or stationary bike work for 3-7 days following the injury. Translation: unless his injury was misdiagnosed, he will need to miss the Thursday game.

If Burnett doesn’t play on Sunday, Murray and Dunbar could play a bigger role catching passes than they did against the Giants. Dunbar could have a breakout game if Dallas dials up some well-timed screens.

Mike Jenkins, as mentioned, suffered a concusion and was listed as limited participation in a walk through practice today. Have seen no reports about his neurological exam yet, which is a strong hint that he isn’t doing as well as Rivera. Jenkins’ play at left corner has been anything but stellar, so it probably doesn’t alter Dallas’ plans much either way.

If you can’t wait to watch the Cowboys beat the Raiders, then check out these extensive highlights from the last meeting: Thanksgiving 2009 on NFL.com. I was pleasantly surprised with how many highlights were shown, they pretty much give you all the meaningful plays in the game.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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