Cowboys vs. Raiders: Areas Each Team Needs to Address Before Regular Season
As the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders face off in preseason play on Monday night, both teams have weaknesses that they must address if they expect to improve upon disappointing 2011-2012 campaigns.
The Cowboys and Raiders both went 8-8 last season and failed to make the playoffs, and things aren't going to get easier for them in their respective divisions. The New York Giants are the defending champions and the Denver Broncos just landed Peyton Manning.
Here's a look at what each team must work on before the regular season kicks off.
Dallas Cowboys (2011 Record: 8-8)
The Dallas Cowboys have a top-10 defense in terms of talent, but they allowed 21.7 points per game last season, 16th in the NFL.
That's despite racking up 42 sacks and having arguably the best pass-rusher in the league in six-time Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware (19.5 sacks last season).
A lot of the blame can then be placed on the secondary. The Cowboys drafted former LSU standout cornerback Morris Claiborne to begin addressing the issue, but it's going to take some time for him to get assimilated into the league. Until then, the rest of the secondary must step up, and that starts with new acquisition and former Kansas City Chief Brandon Carr.
The Cowboys were essentially the San Diego Chargers of the NFC last season, going on a roller coaster ride from week to week.
At one point, they were 7-4 and within reach of grabbing the NFC East title, but they went on to lose four of their last five games and finished 8-8—just barely missing the playoffs.
Two of those final four losses came to the New York Giants and enabled New York to catapult to its second championship in five years. But the Cowboys also lost to the Arizona Cardinals and got embarrassed by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16, 20-7.
The Cowboys can't afford to go on losing streaks like that if they expect to make the playoffs this season.
The Cowboys lost four games in which they were leading at the half way point of last season. That included losses toward the end of the season to the Cardinals and the Giants.
Winning teams and title contenders don't do that.
A combination of turnovers and poor defense largely attributed to the breakdowns. The Cowboys need to be more mentally strong this season.
Oakland Raiders (2011 Record: 8-8)
The Oakland Raiders allowed 27.1 points per game last season and tied for third-most in the NFL. They allowed 251 passing yards per game and 5.1 rushing yards per attempt. They also ranked in the middle of the pack with 39 sacks.
During the offseason, they lost cornerback Stanford Routt (four interceptions, 15 pass deflections) and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (seven sacks) and didn't have the draft picks to make up for it.
Who will win Monday night's game?
The Raiders tied for second in the AFC in turnovers last season with a grand total of 30 (23 interceptions, seven fumbles).
Sixteen of those interceptions came from quarterback Carson Palmer in just 10 games.
It's hard to win ball games when you are turning the ball over at an alarming rate. The Raiders have to be more careful with the ball, and that starts with Palmer.
Oakland racked up an astounding 163 penalties last season, by far the most in the NFL (the Chiefs were second with 110). They set themselves back a combined 1,358 yards on penalties alone.
Now, the Raiders have a new head coach in Dennis Allen. Will the defensive-minded Allen be able to curb the Raiders' penalties on the offensive side of the ball?
One thing's for sure: With Peyton Manning in Denver, the Raiders can't afford to shoot themselves in the foot if they expect to be competitive in the AFC West this season.
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