The Nemesis: DeMarcus Ware
When you have been in this league as long as guys like Tony Romo and Jason Witten, you are going to get the opportunity to be in a lot of games. DeMarcus Ware is in that same category and like Romo and Witten, he has only faced the Oakland Raiders twice in his career. In those two games, Ware has recorded a sack in each of those meetings. For Ware and his teammates, it might not be so much about rushing Matt McGloin but having to slow down Rashad Jennings and this Raiders running game. The Raiders will do their best to try and protect McGloin, the best way they can and that will be trying to run the ball. It's a physical rushing attack and Ware will be the key at the point of attack but also on the backside when that ball goes away. What would help Ware in this game, is if the Cowboys offense can put pressure on the Raiders to have to score right along with them, thus allowing Ware more chances to rush the passer. In this matchup, Ware could be facing Jared Veldheer who will be making his first start since the last time these two teams met in the preseason. Veldheer is coming off a triceps injury and in his place, Khalif Barnes has done a nice job and will draw the assignment of handling Ware.
The Weapon: Tony Romo
Turn back the calendar to Thanksgiving Day 2009, when Tony Romo made his only career start against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium. For Romo, it was an efficient day throwing the ball going 18 – 29 for 309 yards and two touchdowns. For Jason Garrett and this offensive staff, they would take that exact same day from Romo when the Cowboys and Raiders again meet this Thursday. My film study leading up to the game, tells me that the Cowboys are going to have trouble running the ball and it will fall on Romo and these skilled players to have to make plays to move the ball and score points. I believe the key to this game is going to be how well the Cowboys can execute plays like they did last week against the Giants on that final drive. This offense is hard to deal with when that is the case. I believe the Raiders will come after Romo and not allow him to feel comfortable in the pocket with linebacker and secondary blitzes. Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver know that if Romo does have time and the rush does not get home, that their secondary would be under attack. The best way for Tony Romo to help his defense is to keep the pressure on this Raiders offense to have to score points. By doing this, Romo can make the Raiders one dimensional and put the pressure on Matt McGloin to have to come up with plays in the game.
Under The Radar: Kyle Wilber
I keep talking about the Raiders and their desire to run the ball against the Cowboys on Thursday. Kyle Wilber will be making his second start at Sam linebacker, after really doing a nice job against the Giants last week. Wilber was up to the challenge on several plays when the ball came in his direction. For the Cowboys to have any success of slowing Rashad Jennings down, Wilber is going to once again have that same type of effort. For these Cowboys linebackers, it's going to be about taking on blocks and getting to the ball. The Raiders are a physical team when it comes to running the ball and with the size of their backs plus how well their fullbacks attack the line, its going to be an all day chore. Like the Giants tight ends last week, I am not that impressed with what I have seen from these on the Raiders. Jeron Mastrud, Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa are not great point of attack blockers and I expect Wilber to be able to control them and work to the ball. Where Wilber had his troubles when he was a defensive end was taking on offensive tackles and having to deal with that mass and power, against these tight ends, they are more of his size and it is easier for him to have to deal with them.
The Nemesis: Charles Woodson
When it comes to all time great players to line up and play in this league, there are none better than Charles Woodson and what he has done throughout his long NFL career. Woodson has faced the Cowboys on five different occasions with a 4 – 1 record. In those meetings, Woodson has recorded 15 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. Woodson has returned the Raiders where he began his career after seven seasons in Green Bay. Woodson has made the transition from shut down corner to safety without any issues. He might not have the speed or quickness that he once had, in his early days with the Raiders and later with the Packers but he is still around the ball and has that ability to turn a mistake by the quarterback, into a turnover or pick up a fumble and score. Next to Rhonde Barber, he was one of the best slot blitzers that I had ever scouted. Woodson had a knack for not tipping off that he was rushing, then explode off the edge for a sack. Even at his age, he is still a physical tackler and can bring a ball carrier down in space. Where teams have had some success attacking the Raiders has been in the middle of the field but it appears that it is more about the other safeties than really his play.
The Weapon: Rashad Jennings
This Dallas Cowboys defense has seen it share of outstanding running backs this season and this week is no different with Rashad Jennings. When you sit down and really study Jennings, you cannot come away not impressed with how he runs the ball. There is a violence in his running style that leaves you shaking your head in his ability to punish defenders. He is a load and whether they hand him the ball straight down hill or toss it on the edge, he is running until he feels contact, then he is going to give you a lot more. There is no secret in what you are going to get from him whether there is a hole or not. He is going to put his head down and carry bodies with him until they get him on the ground. He plays with really strong leg drive. For a big man, has a really nice burst. Doesn't have great timed speed but when you watch him play, he is plenty fast. Has soft hands and looks very comfortable catching in them. Can take simple passes and make them large gains in the open field because of his running style. If he has a weakness, for someone his size, he is a poor pass blocker. He tends to try and cut instead of staying on his feet and taking on his man sqaure. If this game is close on Thursday, it will not favor the Cowboys because the Raiders will pound them with him. Need to get bodies to him quickly.
Under The Radar: Sio Moore
If you asked me the strength of this Oakland defense, I would say that it is their linebackers. I know that Lamarr Houston can be a problem off the edge but these linebackers can make some plays. Rookie Sio Moore, plays as the Sam linebacker in this scheme and he really is a good football player. He is not the tallest guy but he plays with outstanding quickness and lateral range. He can get to full speed very quickly and when he sees the ball, he is going to make a play. Can be an explosive guy when it comes to taking on blocks and shedding them. For such a young guy, he plays with really nice instincts and awareness. It was rare to see him get fooled on a play. He showed the ability to drop or handle his man in coverage. His best trait might be his ability to blitz. In 10 games this season, he has 3.5 sacks and that is because of his quickness. Was surprised at the power he was able to show when taking on blockers. Does a really nice job with his hands and plays with really good leverage. As mentioned, plays with a solid group of guys in Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett. Has a chance to really develop and become something special for the Raiders. Cannot leave him unaccounted for or unblocked because he will make the play. Should have been higher on his college grade in my report last spring.