The Oakland Raiders have a critical game Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, and if they don’t play at the top of their game, the season is over.
The Raiders don’t play well against quality NFL opposition.
The Dallas Cowboys, as they near the end of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, appear to have figured out life without Zeke in the past couple of weeks.
That could signal the nail in the Raiders’ coffin.
Oakland is 6-7 and is still clinging to the idea of making them playoffs for the second straight season after a 14-year drought only because the AFC is a dreadful place. Oakland was completely shut down by Kansas City in Week 14 (yes, the same team that had lost six of the past seven games and was completely incapable of winning a game for a month.
Now, in primetime Sunday night, the Raiders must try to figure a way to beat the Cowboys in their final home game of the season. Here are five keys for the Raiders:
5. Start fast
The Raiders need to get some confidence and they need to get their crowd into the game after the stinker in Kansas City. The Raiders were down early in that game and could never recover. If the Cowboys strike fast and take a 7-0 or a 10-0 lead, it could be curtains for Oakland. It needs to move the ball on its first drive. Oakland only had offensive success in Week 14 in garbage time.
4. Protect Derek Carr
Dallas has 32 sacks. It can get to the quarterback. Oakland’s offensive line must do a better job of protecting Carr than it did against the Chiefs. Oakland’s offensive line, known as a premier unit, was dominated by the Chiefs. Carr doesn’t look like a confident player right now. Being under pressure doesn’t help him.
3. Unleash Beast Mode
Oakland starting tailback Marshawn Lynch has been playing better in recent weeks. But the Raiders must use him. He had 61 yards on just seven carries Sunday. Of course, the Raiders had to go away from the run after falling behind 16-0 in the first half. So, this goes back to starting fast. If the Raiders can stick to their game plan and utilize Lynch, it could go a long way. Dallas’ run defense is much better than the last two teams Oakland played, the New York Giants and Kansas City. Dallas is ranked 11th in the NFL in run defense. It is allowing 107.4 yards a game, so Lynch will be challenged.
2. Get to Dak
The Raiders’ secondary is awful. Dak Prescott could have a big game. He is the type of quarterback who could slice Oakland’s defense up. Oakland must make him uncomfortable. The Raiders’ pass-rush has improved in the three games since John Pagano took over as defensive coordinator after Ken Norton Jr. was fired.
Twelve of Oakland’s 26 sacks have come in the past three weeks. Oakland linebacker Bruce Irvin has been on fire. He has completed five of his 7.5 sacks in the past three games. Dallas’ offensive line is much better than the last three-unit Oakland has played. The Cowboys’ have an excellent offensive line and only have allowed 25 sacks. Still, Oakland must find a way to get to Prescott.
1. Stop Cowboys on the ground
While Dallas is playing better lately without Elliott, there is a tail off as running back, of course. Alfred Morris had 62 yards on 19 carries against the Giants on Sunday. The Raiders have to make sure they contain Morris to keep pressure on Prescott.