Raiders vs. Cowboys: Takeaways from Dallas' 31-24 Victory over Oakland
It was a slow start for the Dallas Cowboys in this Turkey Day showdown, but they awoke in the second half and defeated Oakland 31-24 at AT&T Stadium. The victory moved Dallas to two games above .500 at 7-5, something the team hadn't previously done since December 2012.
This Thanksgiving game did not proceed as some Cowboys fans might have thought, however, as Dallas was in a close game throughout. Without a strong second half from the Cowboys in this one, the home crowd could have gone home upset on this holiday.
Here are some takeaways from the Cowboys' seventh win of the season.
All statistics were retrieved from NFL.com unless otherwise stated.
Dallas Came out Flat to Start the Game
There's no other way to say it. Dallas started this game with no spark and couldn't get into a rhythm on either side of the football.
The Raiders were the ones who started with a spark, forcing Terrance Williams to fumble on his kickoff return on the game's very first play. Oakland turned that fumble into a touchdown and tallied 14 more points before halftime.
Rookie quarterback Matt McGloin and his offense ate up more than 12 minutes of the second-quarter clock with two touchdown drives.
Obviously, the Cowboys woke up and were able to pull out a victory. The issue is that Dallas can't expect to practically sleepwalk through almost an entire half and expect to win games. That kind of play won't fly next week against Chicago.
DeMarcus Ware Terrorized Matt McGloin
DeMarcus Ware has had to battle injuries this season, but he won his battle with Oakland's offensive line on Thursday.
The Dallas captain didn't earn any sacks on Matt McGloin. That fact doesn't do Ware justice, as he was in the Raiders' backfield several times.
Ware hurried McGloin on more than a few occasions and recorded a tackle for loss when he brought down Rashad Jennings in the first half.
This Thanksgiving was not the greatest statistical performance by Ware in his career. That being said, he played a vital role in a much-needed victory for his team.
Dallas' future Hall of Fame defensive end didn't give McGloin time to feel safe in the pocket on several plays. Tallying a few sacks would have been a nice bonus, but overall, Ware put in a hard day's work on Nov. 28.
Andre Holmes Gave Dallas' Secondary Fits
It appears that Raiders cornerback Mike Jenkins was not the only ex-Cowboy who was excited to play his former team. Andre Holmes, whom the Cowboys cut last year, was a big factor for his new team in this contest.
Holmes finished with seven receptions for 136 yards and a yard shy of a touchdown. Before lacing it up against Dallas, the three-year veteran had just five grabs for 76 yards in his career.
Part of the reason for his success was simply being able to jump over some of Dallas' smaller cornerbacks. The other problem for Dallas was its defenders failed to get in between Holmes and the ball on several occasions.
Despite some solid coverage by Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick, once the ball came toward Holmes, both cornerbacks had trouble keeping Holmes' hands off it.
He might wear No. 18 for Oakland, but that was not Randy Moss in that uniform on Thursday. Dallas can't allow receivers like Holmes to do their best Calvin Johnson impression going forward.
Cowboys Running Backs Came Up Big
Between DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar's efforts, the Cowboys had a formidable running game in Week 13.
Dunbar finished with more rushing yards than Dallas' starter, tallying 82 yards on 12 carries. The Texas native earned 45 of those yards on one long run that gashed the Oakland defense.
Murray was no slouch in this one, though. He became just the second running back in Cowboys history to score three touchdowns on Thanksgiving. The former second-round draft pick also ran for 63 yards and caught five passes from quarterback Tony Romo.
Between Murray and Dunbar's 29 combined carries, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan kept the Dallas offense balanced for one of the few times this year. Romo attempted 32 passes on the day, just three more times than the Cowboys called a running play.
It's not that hard to understand. An effective running game and balanced offense will get a team far in the NFL.
3rd-Down Woes Were Apparent Early on
It's no secret the Cowboys have struggled on third down the past several weeks. The Saints held Dallas without a third-down conversion in their entire Week 10 beatdown of Big D.
Against Oakland, the Cowboys were 1-of-5 on third-down conversions midway through the second quarter. They finished the game with seven conversions on 13 attempts.
Tony Romo's offense couldn't get in rhythm early because wasn't on the field long enough to build momentum. Getting stopped on almost every third down can't help but bring morale down in the offensive huddle.
Luckily for Dallas, the offense found its way after that big scoring drive to end the second quarter. From there on, the Cowboys converted six of their next eight conversion attempts on third down.
What head coach Jason Garrett needs to drill home to his players over this 11-day break between games is to remember the second half in Week 13. If the Cowboys can move the chains on third down like that for 60 minutes every game, they could become a far more dangerous football team.
Dallas' Touchdown Before Halftime Changed the Game
After the Raiders outplayed them for the almost the entire first half, the Cowboys turned the tables on Oakland.
The eight-play drive that took more than seven minutes off the clock in the second quarter diminished Oakland's morale and woke up a sleeping Cowboys offense. Despite all the big plays by the Raiders' receiving corps and the special teams touchdown, Oakland went into halftime only leading by a touchdown.
DeMarco Murray's second touchdown of the day dashed a whole lot of confidence from the silver and black. The score put the Raiders on alert, and they couldn't stop Dallas after taking the field after Selena Gomez's concert.
Without that late score in the first half, this game could have gone a different route. In many ways, the touchdown was the spark that ignited the fire that the Cowboys were missing for most of the first half.
The Offensive Line Kept Tony Romo Upright
Even when the Cowboys were struggling in the first half, Tony Romo had plenty of time to scan the field thanks to his offensive line. In many ways, the O-line was one of the biggest constants for the team in this contest.
Romo was only sacked twice on Turkey Day, both by Raiders linebacker Nick Roach.
As Bleacher Report's NFC East lead blogger noted, Romo saw plenty of success in the second half:
Wow. Romo was a perfect 12-for-12 in the second half. But he hasn't won a playoff game so who cares.— Brad Gagnon (@Brad_Gagnon) November 29, 2013
Obviously, Dallas' No. 9 deserves credit for finding open receivers to complete all his second-half throws. But credit also goes to his offensive line for that impressive statistic.
When Romo doesn't have time to scan the field, it's hard for him to find those open receivers. Cowboys fans should be thankful for the big guys up front and have an extra turkey leg in their honor.
Dallas Showed Its Potential in the 2nd Half
For some time now, Dallas has generally been seen as a team that hasn't lived up to its potential. In the second half against Oakland, America's Team showed off its full potential.
Tony Romo didn't throw an incomplete pass, Dez Bryant held onto the ball, and the running game was efficient and involved. On defense, the Cowboys effectively executed a "bend but don't break" mentality and made big stops when necessary.
When it seemed Dallas might let the Raiders squirm back into the game, Brandon Carr ended that attempt with his clutch end-zone interception.
This isn't the first time the Cowboys have flashed what they can do when firing on all cylinders. What is worth noting, however, is that this is the third time in four weeks that Dallas has faced adversity and overcame it.
Against Minnesota and the Giants, Romo led his team down the field for a game-winning score. On Thanksgiving, he and the rest of the Cowboys shut down their opposition and took over control of the game.
Don't look now, but Dallas is close to proving it is a legitimate threat in the NFC.
Alex Hall is a Dallas Cowboys Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.