The Dallas Cowboys look to keep pace in the NFC East when they host the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving Day at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS. Jason Garrett’s Cowboys (6-5) are coming off last week’s 24-21 victory on the road over the New York Giants which put them into a first-place tie with the Eagles. Dennis Allen’s Raiders (4-7) have already matched last season’s win total, but are just 1-4 on the road this season.
One of the annual Thanksgiving Day hosts, along with Detroit, Dallas is 28-16-1 on the holiday. Oakland is 3-3 on Turkey Day, with its last such appearance coming in 2009 against Dallas. The Cowboys won that game 24-7 behind 309 yards passing and three touchdowns from Tony Romo. The Raiders still lead the all-time series 6-4.
3 Things to Watch
Cowboys’ Porous Defense
The Cowboys are likely regretting letting defensive coordinator Rob Ryan leave. Dallas currently ranks dead last in total defense, surrendering a hefty 432.2 yards per game. This unit has struggled in both pass coverage and against the run. The Cowboys are 31st in pass defense (298.5 ypg), and 30th in rushing defense (133.6 ypg). To be fair, the Cowboys have battled injuries to key players. DeMarcus Ware was injured for a three-game-stretch in the middle of the season. While Ware is back, Dallas will once again be without defensive captain and interception leader linebacker Sean Lee. Lee has been out since Week 10 with a hamstring injury. Dallas appears lost without its stabilizing force, missing assignments and playing less disciplined football. Five different quarterbacks have thrown for 400 yards against the Cowboys. Dallas is 1-4 in such games. Dallas has also allowed a 100-yard rusher in three straight games. Several players have had career days against the Cowboys this year including Mark Ingram’s 145 yards rushing, Andre Brown’s’ 127 rushing yards, and Calvin Johnson’s 329 yards receiving.
Raiders’ Rush Defense
Oakland has been impressive this year in stopping the run, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns. The Raiders are eighth in the NFL in rush defense, giving up just 99.1 yards per game. They’ve prevented backs from making big plays, surrendering an NFL-best one rush of more than 20 yards. Impressively, the Raiders have faced five Pro Bowl running backs and held each under 100 yards rushing. In fact, Andre Brown’s 115-yard performance in Week 10 was the only time this season that a back has topped 100 yards rushing against Oakland.
Pro Bowl Running Backs vs. Oakland's Rushing Defense in 2013
LeSean McCoy, PHI
Chris Johnson, TEN
Jamaal Charles, KC
Alfred Morris, WAS
Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX
The performances against McCoy, Morris and Charles are particularly notable as all three rank in the top five of the league in rushing. For McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, it was his lowest output of the season.
Matt McGloin vs. Dallas Pass Rush
McGloin could be the best story in the NFL this year. The former walk-on and undrafted product out of Penn State, beat out veteran Matt Flynn for the backup job in Oakland. Following an injury to Terrelle Pryor, McGloin got his first NFL start two weeks ago against Houston. The rookie signal-caller led the Raiders to a 28-23 victory, throwing for 197 yards and three touchdowns. His second start wasn’t nearly as impressive, as he threw for 260 yards along with one touchdown and an interception. Most importantly, with Pryor healthy once again, head coach Dennis Allen has chosen to stick with McGloin. It will be interesting to see how the young quarterback will fare on a national stage at AT&T Stadium. Look for the Raiders to try to get him comfortable early by calling for short, rhythm-building completions. The key to his success could be how he handles a fearsome Dallas pass rush. In addition to perennial All-Pro DeMarcus Ware the Cowboys boast a fearsome front with fellow linemen George Selvie (6.0 sacks) and Jason Hatcher (9.0 sacks).
Key Player for Oakland: Rashad Jennings, RB
The Raiders haven’t been able to depend on the injury-prone Darren McFadden during his tenure in Oakland. Thankfully, Jennings has picked up the slack. Jennings has taken the role of lead back the last four weeks. In those four games, he’s rushed for 413 yards and two touchdowns. He has already recorded two 100-yard rushing performances. Over the past four weeks, the 28-year-old leads the NFL with 553 total yards from scrimmage, and sports a 5.65 yard per carry average. McFadden is set to return following a three-game absence, but Jennings will be rewarded for his recent play with the start against Dallas.
Key Player for Dallas: Tony Romo, QB
Perhaps no quarterback takes more criticism than Romo. Despite his critics, Romo is eighth in the NFL in yards passing (2,915) and fourth in touchdown passes (23). For those who claim Romo struggles with turnovers, it should be noted that his seven interceptions are less than Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Romo should be able to slice up the Raiders’ 25th-ranked pass defense.
Matt McGloin has done a nice job in relief of Terrelle Pryor as Oakland’s starting quarterback. However, his potential to make big plays is limited. The Raiders will have to pound the ball and control the clock to win this one. Dallas’ defense hasn’t been great this year, but the Cowboys have faced some of the best quarterbacks in the league. If Tony Romo can build an early lead for the Cowboys, the pass-rushers like DeMarcus Ware should be able to pin their ears back and turn McGloin’s Thanksgiving afternoon into a disaster.
Dallas 30, Oakland 20