On Thanksgiving Day, the Oakland Raiders (3-7) will face the Dallas Cowboys (7-3). It’s the first time the Silver & Black play on this national holiday since 1970. Oakland is 3-2 on Thanksgiving, have a 6-3 lead in the regular season series versus the Cowboys and have a three game winning streak against Dallas.
For less than a week, Bruce Gradkowski has a team and fan-base convinced that he is deserving of the starting quarterback job in Oakland. This second start will determine how well he plays when the spotlight is on and when the football world has their eyes focused on this traditional afternoon of pigskin.
Oakland rarely has prospered after wins since 2003, especially on offense where they become latent and produce very little in blowout losses. This season, opponents have outscored the Silver & Black 61-3 a week after they come off victories.
But Gradkowski is making those around him more comfortable, giving them confidence with his vigor and a win while under center on Sunday. It helps that Robert Gallery is now healthy, Chaz Schilens is back on the field and Darren McFadden’s presence has to be accounted by opponents.
What to Expect:
Dallas is one of the better run-stuffing units in the league, allowing 100.6 yards per game (7th in the NFL). The Raiders didn’t really move the chains on the strength of their ground game versus Cincinnati, so Tom Cable may feel more confident in opening up the playbook and letting Gradkowski shoulder some of the burden that JaMarcus Russell could not with a more complex pass game. McFadden should get some looks in the ‘Wildhog’ formation to loosen up the Dallas defense.
Greg Ellis will face his old teammates after spending 11 seasons in Dallas. “You can’t play on one team forever,” commented Ellis, who leads the Raiders with 5-sacks. “You enjoy the years you were there. I told Jerry I wish we had won the big one while I was there. We didn’t, and he felt like it was time to make a decision.”
Oakland’s defense stifled the Bengals last week, and during their wins this season, it’s been the pressure applied by the front four, which has made life difficult for opposing offensive linemen, and the quarterback they are trying to protect.
The Raiders need to stay away from allowing big yardage on the ground, allowing big plays when defending the pass and tackling better around the line of scrimmage.
What to Expect:
The Cowboys are the 8th ranked rushing team in the league. Oakland is the 30th ranked rush defense in the NFL, but at times they made big plays behind the line of scrimmage against the Bengals and when the defense is at its best, they limit the long chain moving drives that has haunted them in their losses. Defensive coordinator John Marshall stated on the difficulties trying to get the run defense back to a respectable level, “Well it appears that way so far with the results. I’m really shocked, as a matter of fact. I’m surprised. We just keep working at it. There’s reasons why, which I won’t go into right now, but we just got to keep working at it.”
The status of Pro-Bowl tight end Jason Witten may not be known until game-time. “I won’t say it’s severe, but it’s something that worries us about him being able to play this week,” commented Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips on Tuesday.
Dallas’ offense has struggled in their last two games, scoring 14 points combined, averaging 69.5 yards on the ground while coughing up the football five times. Witten’s sprained left foot will not help, especially after they loss right tackle Marc Colombo a few weeks back with injuries to his leg and ankle.
What to Expect:
Dallas has allowed six-sacks in their last two games. Oakland can bring the heat off the edges and along the interior of the trenches. So the Cowboys have to get their running game going against a team that many times allows big chunks of yards in the ground. Tony Romo’s elusiveness and ability to throw on the run could help, especially if he is able to buy time to find his targets on broken plays down the field. And against CB Chris Johnson, Dallas may be able to re-route their receivers or big plays.
This unit is being asked to win games at this point due to a struggling offense who is getting beat up. “I think that is the heart and soul of the team right now, that defense,” receiver Patrick Crayton was quoted on Sunday. “The way they are keeping us around in games, it’s amazing. It has been a true blessing for our offense.”
DeMarcus Ware is one player Oakland’s protection packages have to key on as he has tallied 7-sacks in 2009 and 60.5 so far in his 5-year career.
Terrence Newman is playing very good football and this week, he shrugged off the scuttlebutt about his sideline happening with secondary coach Dave Campo.
“I’m kicking Don out,” Newman stated, joking that the scuffle will be hyped and promoted by his owner. “We’re going to have Jerry promoting it. We might have to move this whole thing to Cowboys Stadium. That’s it! Pacquiao-Mayweather at Cowboys Stadium. Yeah. It’ll be Pacquiao-Mayweather and it’ll be Campo-Newman. We’re going to make it happen. I’m telling you.”
What to Expect:
Dallas has to apply pressure on Gradkowski and force him into mistakes. Oakland’s targets aren’t consistent threats, so Dallas’ front seven can take chances with blitzes and varying attacks. If Oakland becomes too one-dimensional on offense and can’t mix in a few runs, the young talent around Gradkowski may not be able to make enough plays to keep them in the game.
- Richard Seymour is expected to play on Thursday after sustaining a lower back injury against the Bengals. Linebacker Jon Alston on the other hand looks to be dinged after his second concussion this season. Special teams ace Isaiah Ekejiuba will not play either, so the Oakland linebacker unit is very thin right now.
- Darrius Heyward-Bey broke the 100-yard barrier this past Sunday with his seventh catch of the season. The rookie first rounder now stands at 103-yards receiving.
- If Witten can’t play, fans will miss seeing two of the better tight ends in the league. Zach Miller has 34-receptions for 495 yards and 2 scores. Witten has compiled 54-grabs for 481 yards and 1 touchdown.
- Phillips is just 1-6 in his career against the Silver & Black, including 0-5 while with the Broncos (1993-94) and 1-1 while with the Bills (1998-2000).
- Shane Lechler commented on the low-hanging scoreboard in Dallas, “If that guy in Tennessee can hit it, I can hit it.” He continued, “I’m not going to go for it. If it’s there, it’s there.”
Gradkowski’s targets vs. the Dallas pass coverage & pass rush
Gradkowski needs time to pass and his targets to finally make plays for their passer. I don’t expect Oakland’s ground game to run for 120+ yards, so they’ll need another big effort from Schilens, Miller and another player in their aerial attack.
Tom Cable vs. Wade Phillips
It’s time for Cable to open up the playbook and let it loose. He has all his weapons on offense healthy and on the road on national television, Oakland should make a statement with creative and exciting play calling.
Cowboys 17 – Raiders 16
TV & RADIO
The game will be televised on CBS with Jim Nantz providing play-by-play and former NFL player Phil Simms handling color analysis. The game will air in the Bay Area on KPIX Channel 5 and in Sacramento on KOVR Channel 13. The game will air on Raiders Radio originating on KSFO 560 AM, the Silver and Black’s Flagship for the multi-state Radio Network. Greg Papa and former Raiders player, assistant and head coach Tom Flores will man the booth for the 12th straight year. The radio pregame show and postgame show will feature Raider Legends George Atkinson and David Humm along with KSFO’s Rich Walcoff. (Broadcast information cited from the official Oakland Raiders web site)
Thursday, November 26, 2009, 4:15 p.m. ET | Cowboys Stadium, TX
Road Team: Oakland Raiders (3-7) Home: 2-4 Road: 1-3
Home Team: Dallas Cowboys (7-3) Home: 4-1 Road: 3-2
Contact Author: Victor Cotto – SB Report Columnist