Big Picture: 5 Storylines for Cowboys & Raiders
Week 12 marks the annual quick turnaround for the Cowboys entering their Thanksgiving matchup in Arlington.
This time, the Las Vegas Raiders (5-5) face the Cowboys (7-3) on Thanksgiving for the third time in their last four overall meetings. Dallas will be in their 54th game on the holiday and have registered a 31-21-1 record but have lost three of their last four matchups. Here are five additional storylines for each team heading into this year’s Thanksgiving matchup at AT&T Stadium.
Las Vegas is led by interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, a former Cowboys special teams coach who is now in charge with the Raiders, who have lost three straight games. The Raiders fell to the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, 32-13, thanks to 16 unanswered points allowed in the fourth quarter. With just under 12 minutes remaining, a three play, 75-yard drive was capped off by a Derek Carr touchdown pass cut the Bengals lead to three. But Joe Burrow and the explosive Cincinnati offense took off with a touchdown pass to Jamar Chase and a score from Joe Mixon to put the game out of reach. Las Vegas was outgained by only ten yards but turned the ball over twice in the loss.
The loss continues a three-game losing streak dating back to the bye week in Week 8. Losses to the Giants, Chiefs, and now Bengals all come on the heels of one of the most trying seasons off-the-field for any team in sports. Prior to the bye week, the Raiders parted ways with head coach Jon Gruden after inappropriate and concerning emails were released in a New York Times report.
During the bye week, former first-round wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was arrested for a DUI crash resulting in the death of a 23-year-old woman in Las Vegas. And about a week after that, they released first-round cornerback Damon Arnette after a video of him threatening a man with a firearm surfaced on social media.
Despite some of their struggles over the last three weeks, Las Vegas still employs one of the top front sevens in the entire NFL. Maxx Crosby is having an All-Pro caliber season with 7 sacks, 66 pressures, and the highest edge rusher grade in the league according to PFF. Additionally, Yannick Ngakoue, K.J. Wright, and Quinton Jefferson have each had solid seasons in the pass rush category. Entering the week, they own the highest pass rush grade as a unit on PFF (83.9).The last time these two organizations met, Dallas defeated Oakland 20-17 in the famed ‘index card game’ at the Coliseum. On Sunday Night Football in the middle of December, Dallas elected to go for a 4th-and-1 at their own 39-yard line with under five minutes to play in a tie game. Following a Dak Prescott quarterback sneak, the chains were needed for a measurement to determine the spot. Head referee Gene Steratore then yanked out what was a folded index card to determine that Dallas had indeed converted on the try. Dallas went on to win the game on a Dan Bailey field goal, 20-17, in one of the more unique and controversial endings in regular season history.
Sunday will be the Raiders’ eighth appearance on Thanksgiving with a 3-4 overall record. Their first game on the holiday took place in 1963 which started a run of five thanksgiving games over eight years. But since the 1970 merger, the Raiders have only played in two Thanksgiving contest, both against the Cowboys. Dallas won both matchups, 24-7 in 2009 and 31-24 in 2013.
Dallas enters the week coming off a hard-fought loss at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, 19-9 to the Chiefs. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense never found a rhythm while being held out of the endzone for the first time this season and under 300 total yards. Kansas City jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter before Dallas finally got on the board. From the tail end of the first quarter to the end of the game Dallas was only outscored 10-9, but due to the lack of success on offense, the Chiefs held on for the win.
Just two weeks after Michael Gallup returned from the injured reserve list, there are questions surrounding the depth at wide receiver. Amari Cooper was placed on the COVID-reserve list last Friday and is expected to miss Thursday’s game much like he did this past Sunday. Additionally, CeeDee Lamb was placed into concussion protocol after a play late in the second quarter against Kansas City. There is optimism around his return for the week as chief operating officer Stephen Jones said Lamb is doing “really well” and has a chance to get off the injury report.
Most of the positives from the loss to Kansas City surrounded the play of the defense against one of the best offenses in the NFL. Dallas held the Chiefs to just a single field goal in the second half and forced two turnovers on former MVP Patrick Mahomes. Micah Parsons continued his unbelievable rookie season by adding two more sacks and a forced fumble while Jayron Kearse picked off a pass and took it into plus territory as the second turnover. Dallas did not allow a 100-yard rusher, a 100-yard receiver, nor a passing touchdown in the loss.
Despite positive reports throughout the week, Dallas was without starting left tackle Tyron Smith for the third straight game. Smith was anticipated to return prior to the Kansas City matchup but was instead held out for precautionary reasons ahead of a short week. Additionally, Dallas named Connor McGovern the starter at left guard for the first time this year over Connor Williams. The offensive line struggled throughout the game by allowing five sacks and eight quarterback hits from a revamped Chiefs defensive front.
Two of the last three weeks for the Cowboys have been spoiled by teams in the AFC West, and they wrap up the matchups within the division this week. Dallas started with a win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2 but have since lost to the Denver Broncos and the Chiefs by a combined score of 49-25. Following Thursday’s game with the Raiders, the remainder of the 2021 schedule remains inside the NFC including four of the final six games playing within the division.