Earlier we looked at the Cowboys and Raiders offensive units. Now we will make a comparison of the defenses and special teams.
Khalil Mack is a former defensive player of the year and is the best player by far on the Oakland defense. He has received a lot more help lately from linebacker Bruce Irvin. Irvin has been on a tear since Ken Norton Jr. was fired as the defensive coordinator and John Pagano took over those duties. Overall the Oakland defense has been fair to poor, even with the coaching change and despite having one the best defenders in the league. Mario Edwards, Jr was a starter at one point in the season, but he will miss the game this Sunday night. Eddie Vanderdoes and Justin Ellis have provided very little resistance to opposing offenses in a disappointing season across the board for the Raiders.
Demarcus Lawrence has found out what it feels like to be considered a dominant pass rusher this season. He is routinely double-teamed and even gets the attention of three blockers on some plays. Even with all of that he is still able to impact game after game. Lawrence finds ways to pressure on the passer while also being stout against the run. Cowboys fans have been ecstatic with the return of David Irving from his suspension as he has been a beast on the line and taken some of the attention from his line-mates. The disappointment this week is that Irving will miss a second straight game as he recovers from a concussion.
This has been a problem as there has really been a lack of production from the other players on the Dallas defensive line. Taco Charlton and Maliek Collins are both young players that seem to improve a little with every game rep. Collins has struggled when he has played the one-technique, but he should get more reps at the three-technique in Irving’s absence. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has been a d-line whisperer for the Cowboys over the past few years. It now appears that he finally has some talent to which he can whisper…
Sean Lee has been dominant almost every time he has been on the field for the Cowboys this season. He is the brains of the defensive unit and his presence makes everyone around him better. Anthony Hitchens has finally started getting the attention from Cowboys fans as his past two games have been tremendous. In fact, the team is undefeated (4-0) when both players finish a game this season. Jaylon Smith has already exceeded the realistic expectations of almost everyone by simply playing. His play at the beginning of the season was erratic and it was clear that he was unprepared to take on the responsibility of a full-time starter. He took a lot of lumps while he got into his first regular season game action in over a year and a half. His play over the past few weeks has been far better. The team has been able to better manage his plays as Lee and Hitchens have played more and he is finally beginning to show the playmaking ability that led the Cowboys to take a big risk on him in the 2016 draft.
As mentioned above, Bruce Irvin is an accomplished pass rusher and his production has really taken off in the past few weeks. When Navarro Bowman was released by the 49ers earlier this year, he moved his office across the San Francisco Bay without having to move his family. Bowman’s injuries have robbed him of some of his explosiveness, but he is still a heady, effective run stopper. The rest of the unit is unproven or unimpressive…
The Raiders looked at their subpar 2016 play in the defensive backfield and utilized the draft to add talent to that area. They drafted Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu as high upside rookies in an effort to be better than 24th in passing defense. Unfortunately, Conley has been injured and the team recently put both he and Melifonwu on injured reserve. That means the Oakland defense is still dependent upon average talent to slow down their opponent’s passing game. They are starting David Amerson who came from Washington’s waiver wire and Travis Carrie, a seventh-round pick from the 2014 draft. Oakland’s safeties represent a bigger investment as Karl Joseph was a first-round pick and Reggie Nelson was signed as a free agent. Unfortunately, they have not made the difference as this unit has struggled mightily whenever they have faced a competent passer.
In another nod to how these teams mirror each other, the Cowboys also looked to this draft to get an influx of talent in their secondary. Dallas’ pass defense actually ranked two spots below Oakland’s for the 2016 season. The difference is that their 2017 investments are finally on the field, and they are rewarding the Dallas brass for moving on from experienced veterans. Chidobe Awuzie has been stellar now that he is finally healthy. Xavier Woods has been a revelation as a sixth-round safety. He is handling the slot cornerback duties admirably. Jourdan Lewis is likely the best cover guy of the rookies, and he has had several flashes of that ability after being pushed into service by Anthony Brown’s struggles. The Dallas safeties have struggled all season. Byron Jones has seen his performance fall off precipitously. Jeff Heath still trades off a great play with a blown assignment. Kavon Frazier’s performance over the past couple of weeks has been a ray of hope, especially in the run game. Their captain, Orlando Scandrick, is still recovering from broken bones in his back but even in his absence, this is…
Sebastian Janikowski has been on injured reserve for the entire 2017 season. He’s been replaced by Giorgio Tavecchio who has been solid for Oakland this season. Marquette King is a social media aficionado. This has allowed him to gain recognition that is usually reserved for skill players. He’s also good at his job. King is consistently in the upper ranks in most punting categories. He has a reputation for having a booming leg that can help the Raiders change field position in an instant. Cordarrelle Patterson is not a difference maker at wide receiver but that is precisely what he’s been throughout his career as a returner. He handles the kick returns and Jalen Richard is the primary punt returner. While Patterson has a history of excellence in returning kicks, Jalen Richard is dead last this season in punt return average.
Dan Bailey was a mortal kicker last week in the Meadowlands. This is an aberration as he has been the best kicker in the league over the past few years. If Bailey reverts to form, there is no one else the Cowboys would want to take their kicks. Chris Jones has gotten better every year for the Cowboys and that has continued with his performance this season. He routinely pins teams inside their 20 and even their 10-yard line. He is earning that four-year extension of his contract. Ryan Switzer has shown some spark in the return game as he handles both kicks and punts. Jones and King are very good punters resides. Patterson is an accomplished returner while Switzer is a promising rookie. Bailey’s greatness with range makes this an…
The Cowboys and Raiders are each built to succeed with strong running games, explosive wide receivers, and good kicking games. Neither have had the season their fanbases expected and are scrambling to stay alive in their respective playoff races. These similar teams with similar seasons will battle it out in the Black Hole on Sunday night.