Thanksgiving It is a time to take a step back and reflect on the blessings in our lives while stuffing our faces and enjoying family. As we approach this year’s day of thanks, some of us can’t help but admit: watching the Las Vegas Raiders try at football lately is not fun. In contrast, most downtrodden fans are thankful for the days that Las Vegas doesn’t play. But schedule-makers don’t care because, for the first time since 2009, the Silver and Black have a Thanksgiving game against the 7-3 Dallas Cowboys, no less.
Rich Bisaccia’s squadâ€”losers of three straight and on the verge of a complete meltdownâ€”heads to Dallas this week to take onÂ America’s Team. The Cowboys have lost two of their last three, with the two losses coming at the hands of AFC West opponents. Can the Raiders play spoiler and make the ‘Boys dread the Wild West?
The Raiders’ defense has been tremendous lately, but they have another tough test ahead of them. Here are three of Kellen Moore’s toys that Las Vegas must account for come Thursday.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB
Until the Raiders show an ability to disrupt the opposition’s ground attack, this will continue to be their biggest defensive flaw. For about three quarters against the Bengals, Gus Bradley’s group bottled up Joe Mixon. But come the final quarter, the resistance finally gave, and Mixon ended up with two touchdowns on 123 yards rushing (4.1 average). He dominated, especially as the game went along and the Raiders’ defense became gassed. Week 12 presents an even greater challenge: two-time NFL rushing leader and three-time Pro Bowler Ezekiel Elliott.
While he has not been great recently, Elliott still has the capability to wreck a game. Just look at his showings back in Weeks 4 and 5.
Going against the Panthers and Giants, Elliott put up 143 and 110 rushing yards, consecutively. He also had a touchdown in each game, and Dallas won both contests with ease.
Which brings up a great point: when No. 21 runs well, the Cowboys usually win. He has to be this defensive group’s main focus.
Michael Gallup, WR
No Amari Cooper (COVID) and likely no CeeDee Lamb (concussion) will mean it’sÂ Michael Gallup time. That not only helps the Raiders defense but also the Raiders fans.Â Potentially seeing Cooper and Lamb go on a tear would have given off a tremendous sense of â€œwhat could have been.”
Instead, the 25-year-old Gallup, one of the league’s best-kept secrets, will get his turn as the Cowboys’ top target. Two weeks removed from a lengthy stint on the I.R., Gallup is a savvy and well-rounded player who, before Lamb’s arrival, was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019. He’s a tremendous big-play weapon, averaging at least 14 yards per catch in his first three seasons. Cooper and Lamb get all the glitz and glamor, understandably, but Gallup can easily take the top of a defense. If I’m Gus Bradley, given how short-handed the Cowboys will be at this position, I’m having Casey Hayward shadow this guy around the field.Â
Dalton Schultz, TE
This dude just looks like a Dallas Cowboy.Â Like many past greats in this organization, Schultz plays aÂ meanÂ tight-end. Slowly becoming one of Dak Prescott’s most trusted assets, the Stanford product isn’t a serious touchdown threat, but can he catch passes in bunches.Â
For example, Schultz has six receptions inÂ halfÂ of Dallas’ games this season, including last week in Kansas City. Prescott targets him early and often, especially in 2nd/3rd and long situations. Big and tall with sure hands, Schultz won’t blow by any defenders, but he will find the soft spots in zones. The best way to view him is as a chain-mover.Â
Las Vegas must try and take him away in big moments. Your time to shine, Cory Littleton.Â Â
Some Closing Thoughts…
Reasons for optimism are dwindling for this Raiders team. After starting 3-0 and feeling like gangsters, Las Vegas has taken blow after blow, and it seems that those punches have finally caught up to them.Â
However, if fans are trying to find some pieces of positivity in this sandbox of sadness, the AFC is a disaster right now.Â Nobody,Â not even presumed-favorites like the Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs, appears to be in total control of their destinies. So, even if it may not seem true, thereÂ isÂ still life for the Raiders.
But (to sound like a broken record), theyÂ mustÂ get a win on the road tomorrow. If they can, and other games break their way on Sunday, Las Vegas could return to action, well-rested, on December 5th with a renewed sense of purpose.
First on the docket though: a slow-down of Dallas’ top-ranked offense, and a statement victory in hostile territory.
*Top Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images