As the pilgrims gather in Arlington on this Thursday afternoon to spend yet another Thanksgiving with Mr. Jones, there’s the possibility — remember, I said “possibility”— for the Dallas Cowboys to provide all attendees with a football feast.
The Oakland Raiders are in town. That’s a good thing if you are the Cowboys, although let it be known even the Raiders were feeling pretty good about themselves until an ugly home-field loss four days ago to the so-so Tennessee Titans.
Of course, in the NFL of today, and particularly in this parity party of a season, about 80 percent of the 32 clubs went into late November feeling at least pretty good about their situation.
But despite the Raiders not being a highly regarded opponent, this contest also has the potential to be a tricky holiday afternoon for the Cowboys, whom Las Vegas lists as the heaviest favorite (9 1/2 points) on the entire NFL card for the week, from Thursday through Monday night.
First, there’s the giddy factor, and giddy is never a good thing for this local bunch. But the road win over the Giants was definitely the season’s top feel-good moment after having to sit around for two weeks following the embarrassing whacking delivered by New Orleans.
Second, my research (five minutes on the geek wire) indicates not one Raiders voice was heard this week saying anything disrespectful about the Cowboys. So there goes a major motivational tool that was used against the trash-talking Giants.
As cornerback Orlando Scandrick responded in the victorious visitor’s dressing room Sunday night, “I’ve never heard a team that was 4-6 talk like that.”
But Orlando, my man.
The Giants talked like that all week before the game because…
Yes, they had seen your team play.
They hate you anyway, but they also had no respect for you.
Nor should they have had.
But I’m going easy here on Orlando. As we’ve watched more high-profile cornerback Mo Claiborne drift dangerously close to “bust” status, Orlando has had one heck of a good season. And he had one heck of a good game against the Giants, particularly in corralling the always dangerous Victor Cruz.
In the same category as Scandrick, let me also add an encouraging word about offensive tackle Tyron Smith, a quiet guy who obviously keeps his ears open.
Smith was up against a premier defensive end in Jason Pierre-Paul, who was No. 1 in the Giants’ woofing department the week before the game.
JPP was all over the verbal place, predicting “blood on the field” in a New York win.
As Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher pointed out after the game, JPP didn’t even make the final stat sheet. OK, Hatcher wasn’t exactly accurate. Pierre-Paul was credited with one tackle and one combined tackle, meaning he was swallowed up by Smith.
But with Thursday’s quick turn-around after a big win, and with the Raiders being the opponent, there’s also the dreaded “look-ahead” factor to deal with.
Control of a weak NFC East can be secured, and the next three December opponents — Bears, Packers and Redskins — have injury issues at quarterback. Maybe Jay Cutler will be back in 12 days. Maybe Aaron Rodgers will be back by mid-December. And the Redskins’ season is already over, mainly because RG3 hasn’t been healthy all season.
The “look-ahead” factor looms heavily, even as Jason Garrett puts all his Princeton learning into preaching against it.
Mediocre teams cannot be thinking ahead. And nobody, right, has suddenly upgraded the Cowboys to anything other than mediocre?
The depleted defensive unit will have to hang by its fingernails, and as in the Giants win, gladly give up yardage on the ground while not allowing the big touchdown plays upstairs.
For all of its problems, the defense actually won the Giants game by producing seven points off a turnover, and by slamming the door twice on first-and-goals inside the 10. Instead of the 14-point potential, New York came away with six.
The Raiders are expected to continue to start the rookie quarterback, Matt McGloin, but the zone-read threat, Terrelle Pryor, should be available, and his presence can boost Oakland’s ability to run the ball.
On the flip side, even with Tony Romo and Co. producing the game-winning field-goal drive to close out the Giants, there’s still a puzzling lack of end-zone consistency.
But it is the Raiders. That’s good, based at least on the Vegas point spread. It is, however, also a “look-ahead” game. And that’s the last place the Cowboys need to be looking.