Dallas Cowboys fans cheer during the fourth quarter of the Oakland Raiders 19-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys on October 2, 2005 at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by James D. Smith/NFL) *** Local Caption ***
When we were talking about the Cowboys in Thursday night's preseason opener against the Raiders, we made note of the fact that there weren't going to be many starters playing major roles in the proceedings. That's true of the home team as well, but the Raiders should still provide good tests for a few Cowboys units, regardless of who is on the field.
The Raiders like to throw the ball deep, and they should do so early when JaMarcus Russell is in the game with the starting offense. The Cowboys are without Mike Jenkins and Terrence Newman at the corners, so Courtney Brown and Orlando Scandrick will get chances to prove that they can cover down the field against a speedy group of receivers. The pass rushers will also get a chance to strut their stuff on those plays, so if Russell is able to make plays down the field it should be taken as a red flag defensively.
The deep passing figures to continue as the game progresses, but the bigger thing to watch for is how the second defensive unit does against the run. The Raiders have a formidable trio of running backs in Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, and the Cowboys' second unit linebackers tasked with stopping them should have their hands full.
Victor Butler and Jason Williams have earned some praise on the practice field so it will be interesting to see them reacting to good backs. Bobby Carpenter, on the other hand, has been an object of scorn throughout his time with the Cowboys and needs to show he has some value before they decide to make him someone else's problem.
The Raiders were not good against the run last season, and are still figuring out just how to plug the holes in their defensive front. If any of the Cowboys units struggle to move the ball on the ground Thursday night it will be a reason for some distress, but the second unit, in particular, needs to show that they can open holes. If they can't, the Cowboys will have to keep an eye on the waiver wire for reserve blockers who can step in without stopping the offensive momentum.
One of the most interesting players to watch in silver and black, regardless of impact on the Cowboys, will be rookie wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Raiders drew some criticism for taking him with the eighth overall pick in April's draft, and the razzing grew worse when Heyward-Bey missed a lot of the spring with leg injuries. He's expected to play a lot on Thursday night, and a bad outing will only renew the catcalls lobbed in Raiders owner Al Davis' direction.