The Oakland Raiders fell to the Tennessee Titans last week to drop them to 4-7 and set back their playoff hopes significantly. They have a short week this week as they head to Dallas to take on the Cowboys in a Thanksgiving Day matchup.
Both teams need a win to keep playoff hopes alive, with the Cowboys working on a division title and the Raiders on a wild card spot.
Here’s a look at the five keys to victory for the Raiders against the Cowboys:
1. Score, Score, Score
The Cowboys are the worst defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed per game. They allow 432.2 yards per game, 298.5 through the air and 133.6 on the ground; however, they are only 23rd in points allowed per game. This means that their defense is more of a bend-don’t-break style. The Raiders offense has struggled to put the ball in the end zone this season, making it an even matchup.
The Raiders should be able to gain yards on the Cowboys but will need touchdowns to be able to earn a victory. The team averages just 19.4 points per game, not enough against a Cowboys team with an explosive offense. Quarterback Matt McGloin will need to direct drives that end in points and be efficient in the red zone.
If the Raiders can score and keep up with the Cowboys, they will have a good chance of defeating the Cowboys.
The Cowboys average 27.1 points per game and 326.3 yards per game, mostly through the air. The Raider defense will need to hold the Cowboys under their average to give their offense a chance. Defensively, the Raiders allow over 250 passing yards per game and are coming off a game in which they allowed 320 passing yards.
The Tony Romo-led offense will gain their yards but it will be up to the Raider defense to keep them out of the end zone. If the Raiders can hold them to field goals and get some stops, then it will be much easier for the offense to work. An early lead by the Cowboys would force the Raiders to go away from their strength of running the ball.
The Raider defense will need a much stronger effort than the one they gave last week against Tennessee.
The Cowboy offense is much more explosive than the Raiders and can score quickly with their aerial attack. The Raiders are more of a grind-it-out offense that heavily relies on the run game. The Raiders cannot get into a shootout with the Cowboys because it will be difficult for them to keep up. What the Raiders must do is slow down the pace of the game, sustain long drives and put points up on every possession.
If the Raiders can slow down the game and limit the Cowboy possessions then they will make it a game that they are more suited to play. Keeping the opposition off the field can disrupt the flow of the offense for the Cowboys and limit their opportunities to score. The Raiders must use a heavy dose of Rashad Jennings and play-action passes to gain some yards.
The less chances the Cowboys have to score, the better the chances are for the Raiders to come away with a road win.
The Cowboys are tied for the second-best turnover ratio in the NFL. They have forced 23 turnovers, while turning the ball over just 12 times. The Raiders have forced 16 turnovers, while turning the ball over 18 times. In order to win, the Raiders will have to reverse that ratio. The Raider defense must be aggressive and try to pick off Romo early in the game to put the Cowboys in a hole.
On offense, McGloin will have to not repeat what happened last week when he threw an interception in the red zone. The rookie quarterback will also have to watch his throws as the Cowboy defensive linemen will be focusing on batting down balls, much like the Titans did last week.
The Raiders lost the turnover ratio last week and it ultimately cost them in the loss.
Romo has been sacked just 26 times this season, while throwing for 2,915 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Cowboy quarterback has been kept upright for most of the season and it has helped him be one of the top passers in the NFL. The Raiders must be able to rush Romo and bring him down to give them a chance of shutting down the offense.
Lamarr Houston and the rest of the defensive line must be able to put pressure on Romo and disrupt his timing to record sacks or interceptions. The Raiders struggled last week in bringing down Ryan Fitzpatrick and he torched the secondary for 320 passing yards. If the Raiders cannot bring pressure, look for Romo to replicate Fitzpatrick’s numbers on Thursday.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver must use a variety of schemes and blitz packages to disrupt Romo and the Cowboy offense this week.