By Sam McPherson
The 2013 Dallas Cowboys have been an entertaining bunch to watch, and on Thanksgiving Day, the Oakland Raiders will be a part of the ensuing circus when they take on America’s Team in the traditional NFL game.
Whether the 4-7 Raiders can put a dent in the 6-5 Cowboys’ playoff hopes will depend on how well Oakland responds to two forms of adversity this week. First, the short turnaround between Sunday’s loss to Tennessee and the Thursday road game in Dallas, and second, the realization for the Raiders that their slim playoff hopes all but died with the home loss to the Titans.
The Cowboys, leaders in the NFC East currently, are an enigma, posting a 4-0 record in their division while also losing a few embarrassing games this season in the national spotlight. However, Dallas is coming off a big win Sunday on the road against the resurgent New York Giants, and the Cowboys always play tough on Thanksgiving Day at home.
In fact, Dallas is 28-15-1 on Thanksgiving, and the Cowboys have won five of their last seven Turkey Day contests.
So the Raiders will have to overcome disappointment and travel fatigue on a short schedule against an up-and-down team capable of playing with the best teams in the league (if they show up). It should be fun to watch unfold as we all stuff ourselves with turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
The Cowboys are led by quarterback Tony Romo, playing his usual solid football. Romo takes a lot of criticism from the fans and the media, but the Raiders would love to have a stand-up guy like him on their roster. The Dallas QB has thrown for 23 touchdowns this year, against only seven interceptions. His 97.2 QB rating in 2013 is seventh in the NFL.
The receiving corps are solid. Wide receiver Dez Bryant (61 catches for 851 yards and eight TDs) and tight end Jason Witten (51-569-6) are the primary targets, but Romo has spread the ball around to 13 different receivers this year, giving him a lot of options on every passing down.
However, the Cowboys have an anemic rushing game this season, ranking 29th in the league with just 79.7 yards per game. Running back DeMarco Murray has tremendous potential to bust big runs all the time, but injuries have kept him limited this season to just 125 carries through the first 11 games — and there is no depth behind him on the roster.
As a result, overall, the Dallas offense ranks just 21st in the league at 327.7 yards per game. So if the Raiders can shut down Murray and put more pressure on Romo, it will increase their chances of winning the game.
Defensively, the Cowboys are dead last in the NFL – they rank 32nd, giving up 432.2 yards per contest. Bad defensive teams have made the playoffs before, of course, but the Raiders will have to take advantage of this weak defense if they want to emerge victorious on national television Thursday.
Dallas is coughing up 298.5 yards in the air (31st) and 133.6 yards on the ground (30th). They’re not stopping anyone, really. Oakland will need to come into this game with a dynamic attack, forcing the Cowboys defense to guess what is coming next; the Silver and Black really have a chance here to shine on offense.
While Rashad Jennings has proven to be a very capable starting running back, Oakland would love to get Darren McFadden back for this game to be able to throw both guys at the Dallas defense. The more the Raiders can run, the less pressure on whichever quarterback gets the start to deliver big throws in key moments.
The Cowboys have dealt with a lot of injuries on defense, but they still have some very good players out there. Linebacker Sean Lee may be out, but safety Barry Church is having a great season. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher has nine sacks on the year, and he is back healthy as well after missing a few weeks with an injury.
All in all, the Raiders are 4-7 because they’ve lost some close games they could have won. And the Cowboys are 6-5 despite losing some similar games themselves (two one-point losses on the road to Kansas City and Detroit, respectively). Dallas still has the talent edge here, but the Cowboys rarely play up to their potential — this means a primed Oakland team that is focused could have a chance to steal a victory here.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.