(CBS DFW) — It’s been a rough month for the Las Vegas Raiders (5-5) and Dallas Cowboys (7-3). The Raiders started November atop the AFC West, having overcome a scandal-induced coaching change to win five games on the season. They haven’t won since. The Cowboys walloped the Atlanta Falcons a couple weeks ago. But bookending that impressive win are a complete collapse against the Denver Broncos and a partial collapse against the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s unclear which Dallas team will show up on Thanksgiving against the Raiders.
The high-scoring Cowboys offense failed to find the end zone in Week 11, settling for three field goals. That wasn’t enough. They lost 19-9 and gave back a game to the Philadelphia Eagles in the division standings. Dak Prescott had a rough afternoon, going 28-43 for 216 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked five times and spent much of the game under duress. Tight end Dalton Schultz caught six passes for 53 yards; Michael Gallup hauled in five passes for 44 yards. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 82 yards on the ground.
The lackluster offensive showing can be explained to some degree by injuries and COVID. Left tackle Tryon Smith was out with an ankle injury. Wide receiver Amari Cooper tested positive for COVID, which prevented him from playing. Fellow wide receiver CeeDee Lamb was forced from the game with a concussion late in the second quarter. And running back Ezekiel Elliott tweaked the injured knee that’s hampered him for much of the season.
The Cowboys, when healthy, are one of the NFL’s better offenses. They average a league-leading 418.1 yards and a third-best 29.3 points per game. Their run and pass games are both top five. Much of their success is due to Prescott, but he can’t do it all. And it seems unlikely he’ll have his full complement of weapons with the short week. Cooper is already on the reserve/COVID-19 list and, being unvaccinated, will be out until at least Sunday. Lamb has entered concussion protocol and seems unlikely to clear it by Thursday. That leaves Michael Gallup, who himself only recently returned to the field, and Cedrick Wilson. Elliott played with the aggravated knee injury, which suggests he could be available.
The limited Dallas offense will face a Raiders defense that played well enough to win for much of last week’s game. Las Vegas was down 16-13 early in the fourth quarter. Then the game slipped away from them. Joe Burrow and company put up 16 unanswered points to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a 32-13 win. Ill-timed defensive penalties helped keep their drives alive. But the Las Vegas defense limited Burrow to just 20-29 passing, for 148 yards and a touchdown, on the afternoon. They sacked him three times. The Raiders defense didn’t have an answer for Joe Mixon, who carried the ball 30 times for 123 yards and two TDs.
That’s been the story with this unit for much of the season. They rank among the NFL’s worst against the run, allowing 132.1 yards per game, and among the best against the pass, allowing 220.8 yards.
Their Cowboy counterparts have seen marked improvement as the season has progressed. They shut down the overmatched Atlanta Falcons in Week 10. And that strong play continued in Week 11 against the always-dangerous Chiefs. After allowing 16 first-half points, the Dallas defense tightened up. The Chiefs’ next three drives ended in either a punt or a fumble. Their 10 total plays in those series netted just 25 yards. A Jayron Kearse interception and another forced punt opened the second half.
Patrick Mahomes went 23-37 for 260 yards and no touchdowns on the day. Linebacker Micah Parsons sacked him twice, tying the team’s rookie record with eight on the season. One of those sacks resulted in a fumble and a change of possession in Chiefs’ territory. The unit remains vulnerable against the pass, allowing 251.9 yards passing per game, good enough for middle of the pack. They’re better defending the run, giving up 103.7 yards per game. Though that low average is partially a function of an offense that sometimes jumps out to a lead, forcing opponents to abandon the run game.
The Raiders offense certainly doesn’t want to spot the Cowboys an early lead. But they are comfortable relying on the pass. Derek Carr has put up 3,041 yards on the season so far, third most after Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. Tight end Darren Waller is his leading target in terms of yardage, with 610 on the season. However, Hunter Renfro has also been productive, particularly with the loss of Henry Ruggs III. He leads the team with 56 receptions. For as good as the passing game is, their ground game has not been terribly productive. Josh Jacobs, their leading rusher, has 333 yards on the season in 88 attempts. He’s only topped 50 yards in a game twice.
The Raiders are now looking up at both the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers in the standings. They need to break out of their slump soon if they want to keep pace in the competitive AFC West. The Cowboys face less urgency in the NFC East, with only the Eagles presenting any sort of opposition. But they’ll be looking to get their offense going again in Week 12.
The Raiders play the Cowboys Thursday, November 25 @ 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS.