The Oakland Raiders travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. In a classic holiday match-up, two of the most well-known franchises will face off on national television.
Both teams will contend with a short week, having only a few days to prepare for the game. The Raiders are coming off a disappointing last-second loss to the Tennessee Titans at home, while the Cowboys won in dramatic fashion against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
This week, the Raiders conducted a night practice/walk-through Monday, a slowed-down practice Tuesday and a shortened practice Wednesday before traveling to Texas. Because of the quick turnaround, the focus has been on being prepared mentally, while resting and recuperating the players' bodies.
"We're cramming all of our preparation really into a two-and-a-half-day window, whereas normally you're going to have four days to really get prepared for the game," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "Because you're not going to be able to get a ton of full-speed reps, mentally the key is focusing in on the reps that you do get — the walk-through type reps — so that you can execute on Thursday."
Usually, players are allowed 24 hours to enjoy a win or get over a loss, but they're not afforded that time this week. "It's going to be hard, but we just have to be pros and realize that we have a game in two days," said WR Rod Streater on Monday. "We have to take care of our bodies, get to practice tomorrow and get on the plane and get ready to play Dallas."
"The short weeks are always about how quickly you can take the good things from the game before and just try to build on those and correct those mistakes from that previous game," added LB Nick Roach. "And then just getting into as much film as you can for the next team, but the good thing is they're going through the same thing so it's just a matter of who can rush the best."
The Raiders are playing a 6-5 Cowboys team, led by QB Tony Romo on offense and DE DeMarcus Ware on defense. "I think they are a talented football team. Offensively, when you look at them, they've got talented receivers," said Coach Allen. "They just got Miles Austin back. Dez Bryant is obviously a talented receiver. Jason Witten is obviously a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end. Tony Romo at quarterback, DeMarco Murray has been explosive at running back, so I think they're a talented group. I think they are an explosive offense. Defensively, they've given up some yards, but they've taken the ball away a lot. In special teams, they've had some explosive games in the return game. They're a team with a winning record. I believe they're 4-1 at home now. It's obviously going to be a challenge."
And although the Raiders have a losing record, the Cowboys recognize the talent on the Oakland team. "Well, they certainly have a lot of new faces, there's no question about that. And they do a really good job," said Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett. "They've played well at a lot of different times this year and have had a couple tough, tight losses and that is just the nature of this league. When we watch them on tape, in all three phases, a lot of good football players and they're a well-coached team. We're up for that challenge."
The Raiders defense is preparing for Romo and his multitude of weapons at the skill positions. "Tony's been playing this game for a long time, so he's a smart player," said Coach Allen. "I think one of the things that he does as well as anybody in the league is he's able to create. Obviously, he can throw the ball on time with accuracy, but his ability to extend the play and make plays down the field is probably as good as anybody in the league. So we'll have to do a great job of staying in coverage when he begins to move around and sometimes you have to stay in coverage for a long time. That's something that we've had to work on and emphasize this week."
Roach and his unit want to disrupt Romo. "Tony Romo is a guy that has always been a threat since he's been in the league. He's a guy that you don't want to get into a rhythm because once he starts making throws and getting his confidence going, then he's dangerous," said Roach.
One of Romo's favorite targets is TE Jason Witten. "Besides the fact that he's still one of the best that doing it, he's one of the main targets for the quarterback, so whether or not he's really open, a lot of times Romo will still try to throw it to him and let him make a play over the defender," said Roach. "Just knowing that he's going to be an active part of the offense and a threat that they try to use will be something we'll have to try to stop."
He will also look for Bryant on the field, who has eight touchdowns so far. "He's big and physical. He's also got the top-end speed," said Coach Allen. "He's a guy that, you try to get physical with him and he can kind of throw you around and get open. You lay off of him, he's the kind of guy that can catch the ball underneath and create plays down the field with his run after the catch. He's a tough matchup because he's such a big, physical player."
The Raiders defense will need to be aware of Bryant's whereabouts at all times. "He's a good player. He's a good player whether you're throwing to him in the three steps, five steps, seven steps or whether he is running across the field. He's a good player," said Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver. "We need to make sure we understand where he is and how our coverages work, and understand our correct leverage. When we are on our right leverage and we understand where our help is, we have enough to make some plays."
The defense is also focused on stopping the run, specifically RB DeMarco Murray. "It's always big to stop the run no matter if it's a team that really wants to run the ball or wants to run so they can set up the pass," said Roach. "If you let a team run, that's just what they'll do; they'll take what you give them in that respect. We definitely have to do a good job, again, of stuffing that so that we can try to make them as one-dimensional as possible."
Roach had 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Titans. The Raiders have a number of players who have notched sacks this season, making Romo take notice. "They're very disruptive; they blitz from everywhere," said Romo. "They've got a lot of different things in that can give you trouble, so you have to account for a lot of different stuff. It's going to be a real tough game, and I think, with all the different ways that they attack you, you have to grind over throughout the week so you feel comfortable by the end of the week."
The Cowboys offense is ranked 5th in the NFL in points per game. The Raiders, although confident in their defense, want to make sure they put points on the board. "Regardless of who you're playing, the objective is score points when you get in the red zone," said QB Matt McGloin. "Especially against Dallas, that offense has been doing some good things this year so it's crucial that when we get in the red zone, we have to score touchdowns."
McGloin will be making his third start for the Raiders. During his first two starts, McGloin has thrown four touchdowns to four different receivers and only one interception.
The Raiders want to take advantage on offense of a Cowboys defense that gives up the highest average yards per game in the league. It helps that the wide receivers are growing more comfortable with McGloin at quarterback. "Yeah, as we get comfortable and continue to understand each other, I feel like we're going to continue to grow and make more plays," said Streater. "This week we have to catch the ball, create separation, protect it. Whenever we get in a crowded area we definitely have to protect it because I think they're first or second in turnovers."
Ware is back on defense for the Cowboys and the Raiders offense will have to be cognizant of his alignment throughout the game. "He's still a guy that you have to account for on every single snap because he can go out there and ruin a game for you," said Coach Allen. "We have to make sure we understand where he's at and do a great job of blocking him. He's a well-rounded player. He's good against the run. He's good against the pass. We'll have our hands full with him in both areas."
"He's obviously a very dangerous player, and has been for years. And [Jason] Hatcher, inside played well last week as well, so they've got some name players in there that we've got to be aware of," said Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson. "He is certainly a very talented player, and they missed him on defense and I'm sure they're glad to have him back."
The Raiders players are looking forward to playing the classic Thanksgiving game on national television. Many of the guys have been watching this game with their families since they were kids. "I've never played on Thanksgiving, but every year since I can remember we've been at my grandma's house watching it, so it'll be cool to finally be the guys on TV and just another primetime game to play so I'm sure everybody will be nice and hyped," said Roach.
Streater is looking forward to the chance to play on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. "It's a dream come true to be able to play on Thanksgiving," said the second-year wide receiver. "It's a big game we always watched as kids so it's going to be fun to go out there and have that opportunity."
The Raiders rookie quarterback is also ready for the Thanksgiving match-up. "It's a great opportunity for us. I'm sure everybody has grown up watching that game on Thanksgiving with their families," said McGloin. "Being a part of it is something special. We're all looking forward to it and we're excited about it. It's going to be a tough atmosphere for football, but like I said, we'll handle it, we'll work on it and we'll be prepared."