Oakland Raiders v Dallas Cowboys - Key Matchups
David Wilson – Aug 8, 2012
Football is back Raider Nation, and it is back with Monday night football in the Oakland Coliseum against the Dallas Cowboys!
It might only be the pre-season, and so in the end result might not matter that much, but the performance some key players matters very much indeed. Each week I will look at matchups from both the offensive and defensive side of the ball against Raider opponents. They won’t always be the Raiders best players, but how they match up from the guy across from them will be a key to winning the game.
LT Jared Veldheer v ROLB DeMarcus Ware
Jared Veldheer had a breakout season in 2011, going from a star struck rookie in his first year, to the guy who shut down NFL sack leader Jared Allen in his second year. He got roughed up by Julius Peppers against the Bears, but certainly showed enough for the Raiders to think they may have their franchise left tackle going into 2012.
Forget Jared Allen, and forget Julius Peppers. The best pass rusher in the NFL is Demarcus Ware, and he is coming to town Monday night.
Veldheer could not have a bigger test than Ware, who has averaged 16.0 sacks a season over the last five years, and 19.5 last year. There isn’t a tackle in the league who can dominate Ware in pass protection, and even the best of them struggle to limit him.
I was a big fan of Veldheer when the Raiders took him in the third round of the 2010 draft, and he has the size, speed, strength, and intelligence to be All Pro. He has a huge test against the Cowboys, and if he can keep Carson Palmer upright most of the night, then Palmer might just be able to exploit the Cowboys suspect secondary.
C Stefan Wisniewski v NT Jay Ratcliff
Jay Ratcliff isn’t one of the biggest nose tackles in the league, but he is one of the best. He had a below average year in 2011 with only two sacks, but even so was always around the ball.
It is young Wisniewski’s first year at full time center for the Raiders, and going against a quality player like Ratcliff is a good benchmark of where his is at this point in time. I have felt since Wiz 2.0 was drafted that his best position would be at center, as it suits his skill set much better than guard.
Now he has the chance to prove it. If he can handle Ratcliff one on one then it will greatly assist the Raiders in running the ball, and leave an extra blocker free to pick up those linebackers in Dallas’s 3-4 defense.
Both players are slightly undersized for their positions, and get the job done with energy and technique.
Who wins this battle will be every bit as important as Veldheer v Ware.
S Tyvon Branch v TE Jason Witten
If there has been a model of consistency over the last eight years it has been Jason Witten. He blocks well, he runs good routes, and averages 78 catches a year. At 30 years old, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, and will be a stiff test for Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch.
Branch has just signed a new four year contract to stay in Oakland, and he was certainly the right person to give that contract to.
What we need to find out is how well Branch plays in Jason Tarver’s new ‘multiple’ defensive system. It had been said of Branch and other Raider defensive backs, that they were limited in their performance due to an outdated defensive scheme. Branch has had three interceptions in four years, and has been solid, but to take that next step up to Pro Bowl level he has to make more game changing plays. This new scheme should help him do that.
If Branch can smother Witten in coverage, then it takes away Tony Romo’s security blanket, and give the Raiders pass rush time to get to him. That rush will be a big factor when the starters are on the field, as I look for Seymour and Kelly to dominate a weak Dallas interior line.
MLB Rolando McClain v RB DeMarco Murray
If there is one huge question mark over this defensive unit for the Raiders, it is Rolando McClain and the play of the key middle linebacker position.
Taken at number eight overall in the 2008 draft, McClain was a major disappointment last year, and his antics off the field didn’t help either. He showed an inability to get off blocks, an alarming lack of physicality, and a clear lack of effort for most of the year.
There are no scholarships anymore in Oakland, and you know that new coach Dennis Allen won’t hesitate to cut payers who don’t perform. The talk from training camp is mixed, with some reporters down on him, and others giving him good reviews. But camp talk is always cheap, and we won’t know if he has improved until Monday when the hitting starts.
Murray is a capable running back, and has the ability to do some damage if the new run defense is out of sync.
That all starts at the middle linebacker position.
If McClain can make good calls, good decisions, and contains Murray the way he failed to do with average runners like Ryan Grant last year, then it will be a huge bonus to this Raiders defense. Murray also has to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke, and he can play consistently good football as a starter in this league.
At 227lbs, he is a load to bring down and will test McClain.
If McClain doesn’t respond this pre-season, he might find himself not making the final cut.
But rejoice! Football is back Raider Nation!
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