On Sunday, the Raiders must beat the Dallas Cowboys. Failure is not an option. Then they have to beat the Eagles and Chargers in the last two weeks – and pray for some help – if they want to get into the playoffs.
At 6-7 and a game behind the Chiefs and Chargers, the Raiders are desperate. So, against the Cowboys, both the Oakland offense and defense will have to play with intensity from start to finish.
At least one facet of the Raiders defense has shown that it’s peaking at the right time: the pass rush.
Over the past three games under John Pagano – who now directs the defense since Ken Norton Jr. was fired – the Raiders are getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In those three games, the Raiders have 12 sacks. In the first 10 games, they had just 14. Linebacker Bruce Irvin has had five sacks in those three games, with Khalil Mack and Denico Autry adding three each.
And, the Cowboys have at times been shaky in protecting quarterback Dak Prescott. Over a two-game span in November, Prescott was sacked 12 times. He’s been brought down 25 times in 13 games.
One thing Pagano has done is move defenders around in the box, particularly Mack, to force different matchups and try to disrupt protection schemes. But there’s also intangibles involved in the way the Raiders’ pass rush has improved, Pagano said this week.
“I think any time you’re just growing,” Pagano told reporters. “All these guys have been more focused. The identity that we’re trying to create. The listening to the plan of how we’re going to attack these things in the rush game. That’s been good for us.
“Bruce and Denico and Khalil and getting those guys going throughout the four-man rush of truly changing it up. Getting them moving is better for us. But Bruce is doing what we’re asking him to do and he’s doing it at a high level right now.”
Irvin has 7½ sacks this season, just one-half sack behind his career high posted in his rookie season of 2012 with the Seahawks. Mack leads the team with 8½ sacks. Autry has four and Mario Edwards Jr. 3 ½.
Sunday’s game between the Raiders and 7-6 Cowboys is set to kick off at 5:30 p.m. at O.co Coliseum. Oddsmakers have made the Cowboys 3-point favorites.