Editor’s note: This is the final part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Cowboys matchups to watch Thursday, 1:30 p.m., at AT&T Stadium.
Raiders FS Charles Woodson vs. Cowboys QB Tony Romo Tale of the tape:
Woodson (24): 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, 16th season, Michigan College
Romo (9): 6-foot-2, 236 pounds, 11th season, Eastern Illinois
The Raiders struggled mightily to contain elusive Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday. Defenders did an excellent job flushing the pocket and a terrible job wrapping him up.
Fitzpatrick was able to wiggle free, extend plays and find an open man downfield. The Raiders ended up losing a 23-19 heartbreaker for exactly that reason.
A bad omen heading into Thursday’s game against Dallas: Romo is way, way better than Fitzpatrick at doing the same thing. He has a stronger arm and better weapons. He’s elusive and smart and confident in his decisions. He's a real threat until the whistle blows.
“One of the things that he does as well as anybody in the league is he’s able to create,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “Obviously, he can throw the ball on time with accuracy, but his ability to extend the play and make plays down the field is probably as good as anybody in the league. So we’ll have to do a great job of staying in coverage when he begins to move around and sometimes you have to stay in coverage for a long time. That’s something that we’ve had to work on and emphasize this week.”
The Raiders didn’t do well enough in coverage last week. They must be at their best against Romo, and free safety Charles Woodson will be in charge of that. He’s been the Raiders deep man, especially with Brandian Ross struggling at strong safety. He’ll need to play smart against Romo and give help to the right cornerback. If he can make a few big plays to lead the secondary, the Raiders could easily win this road game.
Romo, however, doesn’t make many mistakes. He has 2,915 yards, 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season despite various injuries to his receivers.
He should have a full compliment on Thursday, with receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin healthy and tight end Jason Witten playing his usual, consistent self.
The Raiders pass defense will likely decide this game for a few reasons. The Cowboys average just 79.7 rushing yards per game, and Dallas plays porous defense against the run and pass. The Cowboys give up an NFL worst 432.2 yards per game, meaning the Raiders offense should be able to produce and score.
Romo’s ability to create, produce steadily and score is of great concern to the coaching staff, especially after how Fitzpatrick played. The key, the Raiders say is studying how Romo likes to create space, anticipating his movements and tackling well in key moments.
"With (Fitzpatrick), you have to just understand how he is going to move when he’s inside the pocket,” defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “(Romo) does some of the same things. He moves slightly different when you pressure him in different ways. That’s an emphasis. We need to understand that, and where our help is.”
Romo understands the Raiders defense won’t be an easy opponent. He respects their ability to defend and confuse and force quarterbacks to make mistakes.
“They’re very disruptive; they blitz from everywhere,” Romo said. “They’ve got a lot of different things in that can give you trouble, so you have to account for a lot of different stuff. It’s going to be a real tough game, and I think, with all the different ways that they attack you, you have to grind over throughout the week so you feel comfortable by the end of the week.”