It’s now or never.
Even after a lackluster season, the Oakland Raiders still find themselves in perfect position to make a run at the playoffs. Amazing considering that when the lights were on and the stage was bright the team folded under the pressure.
Now the Raiders find themselves no longer controlling their own destiny. Their last three games are must-wins and even if they win out they’ll need the Chiefs and Chargers to stumble somewhere along the way. Oakland’s postseason aspirations are a real “Hail Mary” at this point but hope springs eternal. And if the Silver and Black want to keep those hopes alive it has to start this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
Let’s take a look at how Oakland can attack Dallas and corral the Cowboys.
The Pagano Effect
The Raiders have revamped their pass rush ever since John Pagano took over as defensive coordinator. Khalil Mack and Brice Irvin have combined for eight sacks over the past three games matching their same sack total they had during their first 10 games of this season. Impressive! Both players must win their outside matchups on Sunday against Cowboys’ tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and apply pressure to Dak Prescott to help Oakland’s secondary.
#Cowboys OTs Tyron Smith & La'el Collins rank T-No.17 and 61st in pass-blocking efficiency this season at 93.4 and 96.2, respectively, allowing a combined total of 56 pressures.
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) December 13, 2017
Oakland is going to have difficulty defending the Cowboys’ speedy slot receivers Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams not to mention, Dez Bryant. Oakland must find ways to apply pressure on Prescott and not allow him to go through his read progressions if the first man isn’t open.
The edge is where they can find success as seen here:
In both plays, speed or pure strength quickly collapse the edges and Prescott isn’t allowed time to survey the field. Irvin and Mack could be the biggest help to Oakland’s secondary on Sunday.
Integrate Running Backs into the Passing Game
The past two weeks the Cowboys have given up 20 receptions for 131 yards to opposing running backs. Oakland seems to have trouble attacking downfield so the Raiders need to get their backs involved with the passing game plan.
In these plays, deeper routes push the defense backward opening up shallower passing plays for the quarterback to take advantage of. Giving up an average of six and a half yards per reception to running backs over the last two weeks is something Oakland can take advantage of especially on early downs.
Getting Lynch the ball through the air is a priority especially if offensive coordinator Todd Downing won’t get him the touches he needs out of the backfield. If the Raiders offense won’t consistently pound the ball on the ground then getting running backs involved in the passing game can be a good substitute this week.
Open up the Raiders Passing Game
The Cowboys rank only two spots ahead of the Raiders in pass protection at 23rd in the league. Giving up an average of 234.2 yards per game through the air and 24 touchdowns on the season. Downing needs to let Carr attack the Dallas defense down the field and not only around the line of scrimmage.
Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook should be given plenty of opportunities to make plays downfield for Carr along with Cordarrelle Patterson. As of Wednesday, Amari Cooper was limited in participation in practice with an ankle injury but should he be able to return to work this Sunday it would be a big boost to Oakland’s offense.
Cowboys’ outside corner Jourdan Lewis and slot corner Xavier Woods rank 39 and 51 respectively at their position according to ProFootballFocus.com. In comparison, Oakland’s corners T.J. Carrie and Dexter McDonald rank 30 and 53 respectively. Downing has to create mismatches for Carr to exploit especially at the slot position but as we’ve seen recently it’s easier said than done for this Raiders team.
Once again the Raiders have a favorable matchup against a team missing a big contributor to their success. Patrick Peters last week, now Ezekiel Elliott this week so Oakland must find a way to defeat a short-handed Dallas team that has struggled recently without their star running back.
However, as we’ve seen the Raiders struggle to take advantage of favorable situations and Sunday is no different as they find themselves a must-win game. However this week I like the Silver and Black to pull out a victory. Being at home in the Coliseum is going to be the deciding factor. The Cowboys had trouble putting away the Giants last week despite what the 30-10 scoreboard says. A couple late touchdowns in the fourth quarter put the game away but the Cowboys are still struggling without Elliot.
I look for the Raiders offense to finally score some points this week and win in a shootout. Hang on Raider Nation, this roller coaster 2017 season isn’t over yet, Dallas 20 Oakland 24.