The Raiders are set to face the Cowboys on Thanksgiving day so this week I spoke with Cowboys blogger David Halprin from Blogging the Boys. He lent us some insight into the team he knows best and tell us what to expect from them against the Raiders Thursday.
Me: Is Sean Lee expected back this week? And how does it affect the Cowboys defense if he can't go?
David: No, Sean Lee will not play. He's out and that definitely affects the Cowboys defense in two ways. One, he's the quarterback on defense, he made the calls and made sure everybody was lined up correctly. But more importantly, Lee is very good at reading a play and running down a ball carrier. The Giants were able to repeatedly gouge Dallas without him in the game, New Orleans did the same. The rest of the Cowboys linebackers do not have the instincts that Lee has.
It appears Mike Jenkins will play in the game. He has been picked on a lot this season. Do you expect Tony Romo to target his receiver a lot Thursday?
I'm sure Romo will pick on him if he's playing the same way he did in Dallas. Jenkins relied on closing speed and instinct in Dallas instead of technique and positioning. While those skills can be impressive on occasion, they can be very inconsistent and lead to big plays. Jenkins was also a pass interference machine for a season in Dallas. Romo probably knows a lot about how to deal with Jenkins, so they'll probably take their shots.
The Cowboys have statistically the worst defense in the NFL. What is the crux of the issue?
There are a couple of issues. One is the injuries they have had along the defensive line, which have been numerous and on-going all season. They are starting and rotating in guys who weren't even on the team at the start of training camp or beginning of the season. It seems like every week they have to bring in a new guy. DeMarcus Ware has missed a few games and Jason Hatcher has also been slowed by injury.The second is learning a new system, Monte Kiffin's version of the 4-3. He used a lot of zone coverage and the Cowboys secondary was more of a man-to-man team. They have begun to play more man-to-man recently which has helped some.
The Cowboys offense is in the bottom ten in the NFL. How do they have a winning record with such low ranking on both sides of the ball?
Well you're just looking at yards, which is actually not the greatest indicator of a team's output. For instance, the Cowboys average 27.1 points a game which is good for 5th in the NFL. And while they are last in yards allowed on defense, they rank 23rd in points given up. One thing the Cowboys do very well is create turnovers, so they give up yards but they also prevent a lot of those drives from turning into points. They have a plus 11 turnover margin and they've scored 6 touchdowns on defense. They also do a fair job on defense in the redzone, and they are an excellent special teams unit. So yards are not the best indicator.
What Cowboys player(s) might we not know about but should be keeping an eye on in this game?
Terrance Williams is a player who can make things happen at the wide receiver spot. The rookie has over 500 yards and 5 TDs and averages 16.9 yards per catch. He's a deep threat. Slot receiver Cole Beasley doesn't have eye-popping stats but can be a big factor on third downs. George Selvie is one of the guys on the d-line who was brought in because of injury, but has six sacks on the year. He's slowed down lately but he can make a difference.