ARLINGTON, Texas — The Raiders, in their limited practice time this week, worked hard eliminating the plays that coach Tom Cable felt were the difference in some or all of their seven losses.
But two plays into a 24-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium, the Raiders surrendered a 49-yard catch and run that set the tone for a day of what Cable defines as "explosive plays."
The Cowboys gained 384 of their 494 total yards on 10 plays and turned a close game through one quarter into a one-sided affair by halftime.
"It's pretty obvious that there were too many big plays," Cable said after the game, without prompting. "They were so explosive offensively, we were never able to get any kind of rhythm defensively to contain it. "... The biggest thing was being able to defend them and defend the big play. We didn't do a very good job of it."
Such plays have surfaced as a common theme in Oakland's losses, Cable said. And they have changed the complexion of games in about the time it takes Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to generate $1 million in revenue on game day.
In this one, the Big 10 came on seven passes and three runs from five players — wide receiver Miles Austin, tight end Jason Witten, and running backs Tashard Choice, Marion Barber and Felix Jones. The Cowboys amassed only 110 yards on their 46 other plays.
"You can stop a team eight times in a row," Raiders defensive end Jay Richardson said, "but if they get that ninth play that goes for 30-plus yards, then it negates all the work you did. That's what it comes down to, man. We'll play tight defense, play tight defense, then have a lapse. Boom."
The defensive implosion came against a Cowboys offense that had scored only seven points in each of its previous two games. "We were pretty confident in what we were doing that we would be able to take care of the big play in the run and the pass," Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "They knew how to get certain guys open. They knew how to, I don't want to say exploit us, but they knew what to do."
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips also cited the big plays as the primary reason why his team won its eight game.
"The passing game what we were worried about really came through on big plays, which was remarkable," Phillips said.
The Cowboys led 17-0 at halftime and 24-7 early in the fourth quarter, all but eliminating the Raiders' from playoff contention for the seventh straight season. At 3-8, the Raiders are 4½ games behind the AFC West-leading San Diego Chargers, to whom they have lost twice. One more Chargers victory would eliminate the Raiders from the chase for the AFC West title. The Raiders must win their remaining five games just to have any hope for a wild-card berth.
"Explosive plays," as Cable defines them, represent runs of 11 or more yards and receptions of 16 yards or more. The Cowboys totaled three plays of longer than 20 yards, six that were longer than 30 and one that went 66.
The Raiders defensive scheme, Asomugha said, is predicated uponthe notion that '"our players are better than yours, and we're going to prove it type of thing. So, if a coordinator can understand that and try to see how to get those players open "..."
Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett understood how to free up his receivers against the Raiders man-to-man coverage. Quarterback Tony Romo completed 18 of 29 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
"If you play a lot of man-to-man, you got to be able to cover those guys," Phillips said. "You can't cover our guys man-to-man for a long time, and you could see that."
Austin caught seven passes for 145 yards and one touchdown. Witten added five receptions for 107 yards.
Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson said the Cowboys did an admirable job freeing up their receivers so that he, Asomugha and the other defensive backs couldn't get their hands on them to disrupt their routes. A handful of communication breakdowns compounded the situation.
"Once we get back to solid football and play everything like we're supposed to, then I don't think there is a team that can beat us, as long as we're playing solid football," Johnson said.
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