Sunday the Raiders will take on a Cowboys squad that will be without several key starters. Most notably, of course, will be Ezekiel Elliott who is serving the final week of his suspension. Even without him, the Cowboys have begun looking like their old selves again the past couple weeks. Their playoff aspirations are still alive. Whether they stay alive or die in Oakland will depend largely on these key match-ups.
Sean Smith vs Dez Bryant
This is actually a good match-up for Sean Smith, believe it or not. Facing big targets like Bryant is the very reason Smith is employed by NFL teams. These two are essentially the same size, each at around 6-2, 220. Bryant hasn’t had a great season. He has just 712 yards starting every game and has not cracked 100 yards in any game this season. So, it’s not a given he’ll ‘get his’ as he once did.
Marshawn Lynch vs Sean Lee
It isn’t even a sure thing Sean Lee will play in this game. He missed Friday’s practice with a hamstring and back issue. His loss would be significant. Lee had 18 tackles (10 solo) and an interception in the team’s win over the Giants last week. He was returning from injury for that game.
Should Lee play, Marshawn is going to test that hamstring and that back as often as possible. And if Downing has developed any sense whatsoever, that will be somewhere close to 20 opportunities for Marshawn. Fellow linebacker Justin Durant is out with a concussion. Should Lee not be able to go, we could see a group of backup linebackers trying to stop him from going off.
NaVorro Bowman vs Dak Prescott
When Prescott isn’t attempting to pick the Raiders apart through the air, he will look to tuck it and run. It will be up to Bowman to outsmart Prescott as well as keep him from finding open field to take off.
Last week, Alex Smith had a couple of huge holes as well as open field to run. One in particular saw him pick up 16 yards before anyone even got near him. Bowman will have to balance his coverage and keeping an eye on Prescott who is far more dangerous than Alex Smith.
Michael Crabtree vs rookie corners
With the injury to Orlando Scandrick, the Cowboys will be starting rookies at both corner spots in 2nd round pick Chidobe Awuzie and 3rd round pick Jourdan Lewis. It will be Crabtree’s job to show he is the savvy veteran, whichever of them is guarding him at any given moment.
Jared Cook vs Byron Jones
Jones is vulnerable to giving up catches and touchdowns. Last week the Raiders didn’t start looking to Cook until the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. They can’t do that this week. Cook is the team’s leading receiver and his value goes up with Amari Cooper out. This is where the speedy tight end shows his value.