When the Dallas Cowboys travel to the “Black Hole” to take on the Oakland Raiders on Sunday Night Football, these are three one on one battles that will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the game.
RDE Demarcus Lawrence vs. RT Marshall Newhouse
Demarcus Lawrence has taken Cowboys fans from wondering if the team would have a pass rush to wondering if they can keep an extremely productive pass rusher in this upcoming offseason. He is making the most of his opportunities in his contract year, but this is not an outlier. As Bob Strum illustrated in this week’s Marinelli report, Lawrence has been a consistently good performer when he has been healthy. He has been dominating the right tackles of the league with a blend of athleticism and technique.
On the opposite side, Marshall Newhouse has struggled to replace the consistency of Menelik Watson who took his talents to the division rival Broncos. He has had problems with both speed and power in his pass sets and has not been the road grading tackle the Raiders need to spring Marshawn Lynch. Without David Irving, Lawrence will have to dominate this matchup enough to demand extra attention and help his teammates produce a pass rush.
Edge Khalil Mack vs. RT La’el Collins
Khalil Mack is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL and he comes screaming off the right side as well as anyone. He is also solid as a point-of-attack run defender and even better chasing the plays going away from him. There is very little weakness in Mack’s game. He can make even the best tackles look foolish with his array of pass rushing moves.
La’el Collins is growing into one of the better right tackles. This matchup is just another in a long line of major tests for Collins in his first season as the Dallas right tackle. He has faced the best the league has to offer and has progressively gotten better. There is no rest for the weary this week. He will need to strap it back up and battle with another formidable pass rusher. The test this week against Mack in prime time will show the team and the league how far Collins has come. If Collins can’t handle Mack off the corner, the Cowboys will likely face a long flight home with a loss and an end to their playoff dreams.
LB Sean Lee vs. RB Marshawn Lynch
If you are reading this, you know how valuable Sean Lee has been to the Cowboys, not just this season but for the past few years. Tony Romo spoke of Lee’s football acumen when he broadcasted a game earlier this season. The All-Pro’s dedication to film study and preparation is legendary. He is still a good athlete at 31 years old. His ability to diagnose an offense and get his teammates lined up properly is just as valuable as his ability to run and hit. He will be challenged in this game as he is facing one of the best tackle-breaking running backs of this generation. Lee will need all his enormous mental and physical abilities to win this battle.
Marshawn Lynch may have the most appropriate nickname in football today. “Beast Mode” is an absolute beast to bring down. He is always churning and grinding for more yards. Lynch is an amazing character and just fun to watch. What is amazing is that even as he has gotten older, his lateral quickness has kept up with his outstanding vision. Lynch spent years making the most of a run-first mentality in Seattle. When he decided to un-retire to join his hometown Raiders, there were many observers that doubted his ability to still impact the game.
While Oakland’s season has been disappointing to this point, Lynch has been anything but that. He has jelled with the most dominant interior offensive line group in the league to form a running game that can hammer a defense. If he brings the hammer to Sean Lee in this game, Oakland will keep their slim playoff chances alive.
Which matchup do you think will be the key to victory or defeat for the Cowboys? Is there a different matchup that caught your eye? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @bigharb06.