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Film room: Why the Cowboys’ offense must find balance against a vulnerable Raiders team

Dallas needs to get back to the formula that made them a dominant offense.

After a tough loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and a disappointing offensive performance, the Dallas Cowboys will square off on Thanksgiving against a Las Vegas Raiders defense that might be the exact matchup they need.

Let’s dive in.

The Raiders are reeling

Losers of three straight games after a 5-2 start, the Raiders’ season is quickly spiraling out of control. That might make them more desperate and dangerous on Thursday, but it’s also a sign of the holes they have on both sides of the ball.

On defense, the Raiders have allowed 32 points per game during their losing streak, although it’s not because they’re suddenly getting carved up in ways they weren’t during the first seven weeks of the season. Really, it’s come down to their inability to get off the field. They’ve allowed opponents to convert on 53.5% of third down attempts during their losing streak, and that’s rooted in a combination of factors.

First, they can’t stop the run. Las Vegas ranks 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and 25th in yards per attempt. That translates to more frequent third-and-manageable situations for the offense.

Second, their cornerback depth is thin. That means when they’re dealing with those third-and-six-or-less situations, they aren’t as capable of effectively matching up in man coverage. This leaves them with mismatches across the field that the offense can attack. Often, Vegas plays more zone coverage as a result, but that can be easier to convert against in short-yardage situations. Below are a couple of examples.

This was a third-and-three from last week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Raiders would drop into cover-2 zone. The Bengals had a high-low route concept dialed up to attack it. Focus on the bottom of the screen where Cincinnati was able to put the flat cornerback into conflict:

That seemed a little too easy for third down.

The below play occurred later in the game. This was third-and-six. Again, the Raiders played cover-2. Again, the Bengals attacked the flat cornerback with a high-low route concept:

Over the last two games, Raiders opponents converted 12 of 15 attempts on third-and-six or less when passing. It’s easy to understand why.

How the Cowboys should attack

So, what does this mean for the Cowboys? It means they should get back to what made them a dominant offense during their six-game winning streak: Balance.

The Cowboys kind of abandoned their rushing attack against the Chiefs on Sunday, only running the ball five times in the second half and never on consecutive plays. That was in a game that wasn’t out of reach until the final gun sounded.

In fact, the Cowboys haven’t really stuck with the running game for more than a month now. After a four-game stretch from Week 2 to Week 5 where the offense ran the ball more than they threw it in each match up, they’ve done so just once since (against the Falcons in Week 10). Part of that is a function of the defense they’re playing on any given Sunday. Some of it has been due to the circumstances of the game. Some of it has been by design, however.

Either way, the Cowboys should have opportunities to make some big plays on the ground against the Raiders. Las Vegas has allowed the second-most run plays of 20 or more yards this season. This has been due to them committing some of the cardinal sins of poor run defense:

Losing at the line of scrimmage:

Failing to keep backs from easily getting to the perimeter:

And big cutback lanes due to over-pursuit of the ball carrier:

There will be opportunities for big plays on the ground. Given Ezekiel Elliott’s banged up knee and the Raiders’ vulnerabilities on the edge, this could be a big Tony Pollard game.

The Cowboys also have the advantage against Las Vegas’ passing defense despite being short-handed at wide receiver. They should certainly mix in some throws on early downs where they’ll see more predictable zone coverages.

Gus Bradley’s Raiders defense is among the league leaders in zone coverage frequency and is dead last in blitz frequency. That means Kellen Moore will need to pull out the zone-beating concepts we saw so much of in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that has a similar profile on defense:

The return of left tackle Tyron Smith would be huge for the Cowboys in both phases of the game. But, the return of the approach that made the Cowboys the No. 1 offense in the NFL entering last week would be just as welcomed.

Find more Cowboys coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

Nick Kehoe, Cowboys Film Room. Nick provides breakdowns and analysis of the Cowboys based on the All-22 Coaches Film. He is a former producer on the NFL Matchup Show. You can find more of his NFL analysis at FootballFilmRoom.com

@Nick_FFR
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