It doesn't get much more important for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys than this upcoming Sunday's game. At 7-6 and with their playoff lives on the line, the Cowboys have no other choice but to defeat the Oakland Raiders if they want to keep their hopes alive.
Though both the Cowboys and Raiders were expected to be fighting for supremacy in their respective conferences, neither has quite had the season they'd hoped for. After a disappointing loss to the Chiefs last week, Oakland now sits at 6-7, and is also in a must-win situation.
Most fans don't get the opportunity to watch the Raiders each Sunday, and have been wondering what is going wrong out in Oakland. Sure, the offense has taken a step back and Derek Carr has not been the same quarterback we saw a year ago, but overall that side of the ball has been good enough most weeks.
The real problems for the Raiders begin on the defensive side of the ball. And their struggles don't discriminate – as they've been pretty terrible against both the run and pass this season.
According to Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defensive-adjusted Value over Average) metric, the Raiders defense ranks last in the NFL against the pass and 21st in the NFL against the run. In terms of more raw statistics, the Raiders allow 350.8 yards per game and rank 22nd in the league in net yards per game. The Raiders defense also ranks last in the league in both yards per attempt and completion percentage allowed on throws outside the hashes, according to Pro Football Focus.
The worst position group on this defense, by both the eye test and the Pro Football Focus numbers, are the linebackers. PFF has their linebackers with a 60.6 average grade, and outside of veteran Navorro Bowman, the group has been pretty disappointing.
Their secondary hasn't been much better either, ranking last in the league against the deep ball and 28th against short passes (again, by DVOA). When you watch the tape you see pretty clear problems on the defensive side of the ball, though many Raiders fans will tell you the struggles of the offense have failed to aid what they expected to be an undermanned defense.
If there was going to be a week for Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant to connect on a few deep balls, the numbers say that this should be the time. While the Cowboys offense has struggled to create yards-after-catch much of the season, this could be another opportunity for Cole Beasley, Rod Smith, Ryan Switzer, and Dez Bryant to make some plays with the ball in their hands.
And though Oakland boasts arguably the best EDGE rusher in the entire league in Khalil Mack, the rest of that defensive roster is not nearly as impressive. If La'el Collins can slow Mack's pass rush down, the Cowboys offense should be able to have a successful day against the Oakland Raiders.