FRISCO, Texas – When the schedule came out back in April, we all circled this game as one of the biggest matchups of the year.
Well, it's a big matchup – but not for the reasons we thought. These two teams were pegged as Super Bowl contenders in August, but they're fighting to stay in the playoff picture in December.
This isn't a division rivalry or even an NFC game, but the loser of this matchup is most likely out of the playoff hunt. That's the type of up-and-down campaign it's been for both teams.
With all of that in mind, it's going to be interesting to see which teams show up. Both of these groups have the capacity to play well, but that obviously hasn't always been the case.
Let's take a look at what to expect when this game gets going:
- This is likely another game without Orlando Scandrick, which means rookie Jourdan Lewis will start at right cornerback. I thought Lewis played one of his best games last week against the Giants from a technique aspect. He wasn't as grabby, off balance or lacking awareness as he had been in some previous outings. Hopefully, this improvement for Lewis will help him against a Raiders receiving corps that struggles when it faces defensive backs that have to make them fight for contested passes. As a group they've had their share of drops when opponents have played them this way.
- Keep an eye on the nickel situation for the Cowboys this weekend. Xavier Woods has been getting the majority of the work since the Washington game, but I am hearing good things about Anthony Brown and the way he is practicing. Since losing his starting job to Awuzie, Brown has had to remake himself in the way he plays and he has been able to show that. His technique has improved to the level of what we had seen from him his rookie season -- which leads me to believe if Woods were to struggle in the slot, Brown would quickly be in the lineup.
- Look for Alfred Morris to be the starter against the Raiders, but don't be surprised if, as the game wears on, Rod Smith is getting more of the snaps. Morris has filled in well, but the belief around the building is that Smith can do more of the things offensively that the coaches want. Even before the breakout game against the Giants, Smith's stock was on the rise and they would like to see if he can shoulder more of the load.
- La'el Collins has been outstanding without practicing at all. What has been amazing is that Collins has been able to handle those matchups one-on-one without much assistance. Against the Raiders, Collins draws the difficult Khalil Mack, but I don't believe he'll handle this alone. Since the Atlanta game, we've seen this offense use more 12 and 13 personnel groups, which tells me that if Collins does need some help, they have a plan in place to make adjustments so Mack doesn't wreck the game plan. Best case is that Collins continues to play well and the offensive staff can focus on other ways to attack the Raiders.
- Like Orlando Scandrick, this looks like it will be another game without David Irving. His time in concussion protocol has improved -- but not to the point where he can play in the game Sunday night. There are several different ways the coaches can once again attack this. Maliek Collins can shift to the under-tackle while Richard Ash plays as the nose. They can work Datone Jones at both spots or move Tyrone Crawford back inside and put Benson Mayowa at end. The one thing with having all is this flexibility along the front is that it can help you cover for those times when all the starters are not available.
- I really do like the matchup this week with Cole Beasley facing Travis Carrie out of the slot -- especially if the Raiders don't give him any help. Coming out of the Giants game, I felt like the coaching staff did a much better job of working Beasley in some route combinations where he could gain some separation. I expect to see that same plan take shape in this matchup due to some of the struggles that I have seen from Carrie on film.
- Even with what happened to Carson Wentz last weekend, I don't see Scott Linehan calling the game any differently in regard to Dak Prescott. One of Prescott's great strengths is his ability to ball handle. That comes in the form of boots and waggles along with the read-option stuff. Both Prescott and Linehan understand the risks associated with those types of calls, but to take those plays out of the game plan will only limit the offense's effectiveness.
- My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: WR Brice Butler, CB Orlando Scandrick, RB Trey Williams, LB Justin Durant, DT Lewis Neal, TE Blake Jarwin, DT David Irving.