Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin will get a third straight start on Thanksgiving Day. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Over their past two games, the Oakland Raiders’ offense has shown much more life. But if that trend is to continue Thursday in a nationally televised Thanksgiving matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, the Raiders are going to have to be better on third downs.
Over the past two weeks with rookie quarterback Matt McGloin, the Raiders have a 28-23 victory over the Texans and a 23-19 loss to the Titans.
In those games, McGloin was 37-of-64 for 457 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, while taking just two sacks – a tribute to his quick release. Plus, running back Rashad Jennings has filled in well for the injured Darren McFadden.
But the Oakland offense could have been better at keeping drives alive, which could have produced more points and kept its defense off the field.
As Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com pointed out this week, McGloin and Co. converted on their first three third-down plays vs. the Texans, and then went 2-for-15. Then, against Tennessee, they were 3-for-10. McGloin’s final seven third-down throws fell incomplete.
This week, McGloin said that’s an area that must improve.
“Jut keep at it, keep improving, watch more film if we have to,” he told the Bay Area media. “Continue to work the routes, the reads, communicate with guys. Just more of the things we’re already doing. Just continuing to preach it and work on it. Obviously, it’s not a lot of things that are difficult there, but like I said, we’re right there, we just have to work out the kinks. …
“It’s only a matter of time before we break out and have a big game.”
The Raiders (4-7) will be taking on a 6-5 Dallas team that’s coming off a big win over the rival Giants, is 4-1 at home and is averaging 27.1 point per game. The Cowboys also play well on Thanksgiving, having gone 5-2 over the past seven holidays. The Raiders, meanwhile, score just 19.1 points per game and are 1-4 on the road. Oddsmakers have made the Cowboys 9½-point favorites.
But, the Raiders go into the game with some positives.
First, left offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is scheduled to make his season debut after rehabbing from surgery on a torn left triceps. His action at left tackle could push Khalif Barnes – who’s been playing the position – to left guard, giving the Raiders a better opportunity to run the ball on the Dallas defense. In addition, McFadden has practiced this week, and could share playing time with Jennings, to give Oakland a solid 1-2 punch in the running game. Tight end Mychal Rivera also has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion vs. the Titans. Wide receiver Denarius Moore, however, isn’t expected to play.
The Dallas defense has been vulnerable this season, allowing an average of 432 yards per game, including 134 on the ground. But the Raiders’ defense – after being solid most of the season – also has its issues. In the loss to Tennessee, it gave up a long, clock-eating, game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. When the Raiders needed a stop, they couldn’t get one.
“When you’ve got a lead, we believe it’s our responsibility defensively to go out there and protect the lead and hold them,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen this week. “We weren’t able to do that so we’ll learn from it. We’ll continue to work.”
Kickoff for Thursday’s game is 1:30 p.m.