Las Vegas Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys: Matchups, prediction for those fighting Thanksgiving naps

The Las Vegas Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys game should be competitive. Dallas is short-handed, and Vegas needs a win to save their season.

The Las Vegas Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys felt like a massive game just a few weeks ago, but Las Vegas is currently on a three-game skid and looking disjointed on offense. The Cowboys were vying for a top spot in the NFL Power Rankings, but a shorthanded loss to the Kansas City Chiefs killed that dream for now. Now, they face one another on just four days’ rest. Who wins the Thanksgiving battle, and afterward, a feast fit for kings?

Las Vegas Raiders offense vs. Dallas Cowboys defense

Somehow, the Raiders fooled us early on. They didn’t play a particularly difficult schedule up front, but Las Vegas won some games late, and Derek Carr pulled his usual late-game heroics.

I believed this Raiders offense had taken a tumble after Jon Gruden’s departure, but they were 24th in expected points added (EPA) per play and 26th in success rate while Gruden was there! For reference, they were at -0.020 EPA/play offensively with Gruden and are now at 0.016! Las Vegas has been the 17th-most efficient offense in that time.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense has improved drastically from last season. In fact, they’re fifth in EPA/ play, eighth in overall success rate, and second in weighted DVOA (Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric). Dare I say the Cowboys’ defense is really good?

For the more traditional folk out there, they rank eighth in scoring defense and are second in third-down defense.

Derek Carr vs. Cowboys defense

Like most quarterbacks, Carr is far better when he’s kept clean than he is against pressure. However, getting pressure — especially when sending only four rushers — is practically a death sentence for him. The Cowboys are top 10 in pressure rate while only being middle of the pack in blitz rate.

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Additionally, Carr and the Raiders tend to start a bit slow offensively. If Carr and the offense start slow, it’ll be a death sentence against Dallas’ opportunistic defense. They will turn the ball over if Carr and the Raiders see a second-half deficit.

Advantage: Cowboys

Raiders skill position players vs. Cowboys secondary

The last time the Cowboys had an adequate secondary, I was knee-high to a duck. Yet, they’ve found competent safety play for the first time in recent history, and it’s allowed the cornerbacks to play with far more aggression and freedom.

Anthony Brown has been the team’s best cornerback since about Week 6. Trevon Diggs has received the hype and somewhat deservingly so early on in the season. However, since his early stretch, the line he toed between aggression and recklessness has teetered too far toward reckless at times. Injuries began to take a toll on his play as well.

On Thursday, the Cowboys will be without Donovan Wilson, but that’s not necessarily a new thing. He’s oft-injured, and the trio of Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker, and Jayron Kearse has managed without him.

There’s just one slight problem. And by slight, I mean one 6-foot-6, 240-pound problem.

Controlling Darren Waller will be an issue

Darren Waller is a bona fide star. I’d expect Diggs to travel with him at times. But on most occasions, that would probably tip off Carr’s pre-snap, whether the defense is playing man or zone. Kearse would be the ideal matchup for the Cowboys, but they also need his physicality in the box.

Jordan Lewis and Hunter Renfrow will be fun to watch. Renfrow runs some of the most unique routes in the league, and Lewis has always been an aggressive cornerback that can get a bit … toasty … at times. That’s the big matchup to watch. We’ll probably see a lot of Diggs on Bryan Edwards, which shouldn’t matter much until the fourth quarter because that appears to be when Edwards stops being invisible to Carr.

Advantage: Push

Raiders offensive line vs. Cowboys defensive front

Ah, a stoppable force and a movable object meet once again. The Raiders can’t do much of anything on the ground, and the Cowboys aren’t particularly good at stopping the run. It’ll be fascinating to see which side breaks first.

This is probably a matchup where we’ll see a heavy dose of Micah Parsons playing outside linebacker, setting the edge, and rushing the passer. Kolton Miller is the only plus piece on the Raiders’ OL, but Andre James has been better than expected going into the season.

Osa Odighizuwa has hit a bit of a rookie wall in terms of pass-rush production, but he’s still been a solid defender for the Cowboys. Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal are far from an ideal linebacking duo, but they should survive with the lack of explosion on the opposite side.

Advantage: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys offense vs. Las Vegas Raiders defense

The Cowboys’ offense that looked like only an act from a deity could stop them has seen bottom-10 results in the past few weeks. They still rank in the top 10 overall, but this isn’t the same offense we saw just previously.

There’s a solid chance we won’t see Tyron Smith or CeeDee Lamb, and Amari Cooper is out because he tested positive for COVID-19 and is unvaccinated. To top it all off, Ezekiel Elliott looks banged up. The Cowboys refuse to give him a bit of rest despite having a backup that’s possibly the most explosive running back in the league.

The Raiders found an excellent player in Nate Hobbs in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but this is not a well-constructed unit overall. Yet, they are vital in a place that could wreck Dallas’ offense.

Dak Prescott vs. Raiders defense

Prescott is one of the quarterbacks in the category that will always have an advantage no matter what defense they face. However, like Patrick Mahomes earlier in the season, Prescott has gone through his own ups and downs since returning from his calf injury.

All teams do some disguising these days, but Gus Bradley and the Raiders still run a bunch of Cover 3. Personnel might dictate that, but it’s what they do. If given any time whatsoever to deliver passes, Prescott shouldn’t have too much issue carving this secondary up. Trevon Moehrig and Casey Hayward Jr. have been great for Las Vegas, but the other side of the defense presents a massive mismatch.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys skill position players vs. Raiders secondary

Ceedee Lamb is officially listed as questionable, but he was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday, which probably signals that he’ll play. As a firsthand expert in concussions (I’ve had… a few), it terrifies me to see him already back out there. Concussions are easier to acquire once they exist in a person.

Just look at Asante Samuel Jr., who’s now had two in the past three weeks.

If he does not play, this matchup feels like a push. Michael Gallup will need to be more than what his regular role entails, especially if Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown’s football allergies persist. I’d hope that Kellen Moore and company have circled Brandon Facyson’s side of the field and plan to use Gallup as a mismatch there.

However, Dalton Schultz could redeem himself in Week 12 with a big game against Las Vegas. They’ve struggled with tight ends in 2021, and Schultz has proven himself a weapon over the middle for most of the last two years.

Advantage: Push

Cowboys offensive line vs. Raiders defensive front

The Cowboys began the year running through everybody in their path. But that turned quickly, and since Week 5, only five teams have seen less success running the ball. Furthermore, only three have a lower EPA/play running the ball.

Tyron Smith’s availability has been an issue for years, and the Cowboys have always struggled to make up for his absence in particular. He returns just in time, because the thought of Yannick Ngakoue opposite of Terrance Steeler is a terrifying proposition for Cowboys fans far and wide.

Terence Steele played well at right tackle while La’el Collins was suspended for missing more drug tests than I missed days of school as a kid, but he’s struggled on the other side.

Meanwhile, Maxx Crosby will get his no matter who he’s facing. If there is one matchup that could tilt this entire game in the Raiders’ favor, it’s this one here. But they struggle to defend the run, so the Cowboys could look to take advantage there if a banged-up Zeke is given a bit of a rest in favor of Pollard.

Advantage: Push

Betting odds and score prediction

The Cowboys vs. Raiders line favors Dallas by 7 points as of Tuesday morning. The Cowboys are coming off an ugly offensive outing against Kansas City. The Raiders, meanwhile, are simply trying to save their season after a three-game skid.

The 2021 NFL season has been entirely random. It’s tough to feel good about Dallas covering, considering all their injuries right now.

Prediction: Cowboys 28, Raiders 23

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch