Oakland has had a lot to be thankful for in 2013. Widely considered by analysts to be a laughingstock of a team, rivaling the 2008 Lions in terms of ineptitude, the Raiders are 4-7 with a number of narrow losses and have been extremely competitive all season long. Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie successfully retooled a defense that was a franchise-worst a season ago despite having about a third of the salary cap in dead money. The team’s pass defense is still gelling, but the run defense has proven to be incredibly strong all year long behind a great set of linebackers and an impressive defensive line. The offense is a work in progress, but McGloin has put together strong performances against strong pass defenses in back-to-back weeks. It seems like the team is only going to get better as time goes on; McGloin led a very impressive drive late in the game to take the lead before the defense squandered it with a number of impressive throws. With the recent news out of practice, it is likely that the Raiders may be the healthiest that they have been all year come Thursday.
Jared Veldheer, injured early in the preseason with a torn triceps, is expected to make his season debut at left tackle against the Cowboys. In case you were wondering: yes, this does seem to push Khalif Barnes to the left guard position, replacing a historically-bad Lucas Nix with a capable veteran. Barnes may not have been great at left tackle, but he too has greatly exceeded expectations after entering the season as a backup right tackle and third-string left tackle. With the improving play of Pashos/Watson at RT, the surprisingly steady play of Brisiel and Gurode at guard, and the expected excellence of Wisniewski at center, the Raiders could go from having one of the league’s worst offensive lines to having a very strong line. This should be wonderful news for Matt McGloin; despite not being sacked once against the Titans, McGloin had to display some impressive elusiveness within the pocket to stay upright. McGloin looked incredibly calm and collected against a blitz-heavy Titans scheme, and it is no surprise that he is starting for Oakland. It will be exciting to see if he can keep up this pace for the rest of the season.
Darren McFadden is also expected to make his return on Thursday, but fans expecting a breakout performance may want to temper their expectations. DMC’s backup to start the season, Rashad Jennings, has had an incredible couple of weeks in his absence. He is second to only Andre Ellington in yards per carry for runningbacks at 5.1 yards per carry, and with an average of over 138 all-purpose yards per game in his four starts, Jennings has firmly entrenched himself as the Raiders’ best runningback. Frankly, he has looked more like Darren McFadden than DMC himself, even when the two were sharing time on the field early in the season. It will be nice to have McFadden back to run the Wildcat, as Marcel Reece was disappointing running it against the Titans, and perhaps he will look like his old, electric self in a backup role.
In addition to Veldheer and McFadden, the players that were dinged up in the game against the Titans are expected to return. TE Mychal Rivera and CB Mike Jenkins, both of whom left Sunday’s game with concussions, were cleared for practice and are expected to play for on Thursday. It will be interesting to see Jenkins lining up against his former teammates. LB Kevin Burnett is also practicing and expected to play after a late-game quad bruise knocked him from Sunday’s matchup. With the short turnaround, it was expected that these players wouldn’t be available for Oakland, so it is nice to see that the injuries weren’t serious.
The Raiders will be without WR Denarius Moore, DE Jason Hunter, and SS Tyvon Branch. It is worth noting, however, that Branch was seen running on the sidelines with teammates. He is expected to return within the next few weeks.