ARLINGTON, Texas — Jack Del Rio has no intention of opening up the playbook, but he’s not all that concerned about showing too much to the Dallas Cowboys even though the hosts will be a regular-season opponent.
It was different a year ago, when the Tennessee Titans were the third exhibition game and also Week 3 of the regular season. To say the Raiders were vanilla in in the August game would be an insult to ice cream.
Given the Dallas won’t be in Oakland until Dec. 17, both teams by then will have established themselves as repeat contenders or major disappointments.
“It’s a little different that by the time we play them toward the endof the year, the last month of the year, we will have seen a lot of each other on tape, so I don’t know that that’s a big of an issue as it was maybe against Tennessee, where we played them early.”
Not that offensive coordinator Todd Downing or defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will get too wild and crazy, although the third preseason game is typically the one that most resembles a regular season game.
“This is a critical time in the evaluation stage, really important looks for us to get as we round into the final chapter of the preseason, or leading up to it,” Del Rio said. “A lot of important work ahead of us, but excited to go and compete.”
It will likely be the final time in the preseason the Raiders will play players such as Derek Carr, Marshawn Lynch, Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack and other front-liners, with backups and those headed for the waiver-wire finishing up against Seattle on Aug. 31.
Five things to watch as the Raiders visit AT&T Stadium at 7 p.m.:
1. The first series on defense: Norton would just love to see the Raiders go out and stuff Dallas with a three-and-out right off the bat, if only to avoid questions about “eye violations” and mental mistakes.
Both Arizona and Los Angeles had their way with the Raiders early. The Rams’ Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp gave a pretty good imitation of the “Greatest Show on Turf.”
In the aftermath, cornerback David Amerson said assistant head coach John Pagano has been instrumental in trying to straighten things out.
“I think last week was a lot of little things that guys weren’t being detailed on and it ended up costing us,” Amerson said. “Luckily its preseason and that’s what we play these games for but we want to go out there and eliminate all of the mental errors.
“It’s one thing if a guy just beats you off a good route, but when you have those little mistakes like your eyes not in in the right place, you’re beating yourself.”
2. How much will Donald Penn play, and when?: Penn has had just two practices but barring something unforeseen would start at left tackle on Sept. 10.
Do the Raiders put him in right away, and give Marshall Newhouse time to reacquaint himself with right tackle?
That’s where Newhouse was throughout the offseason and where he was supposed to be for the 26 days that Penn held out.Del Rio believes switching to the right side should not be an issue. If that happens right away, it displaces Vadal Alexander.
3. Khalil Mack . . . but why?: Mack is always worth watching, and the double team he split against the Rams for a sack of Goff signified the reigning NFL defensive player of the year is good to go.
But considering his value, why play him at all? That question was posed to Norton this week. (You could make the same argument for Carr).
“It’s team-building. It’s getting the rust out,” Norton said. “You don’t get good and stay good by not playing. You have to play ball. It’s important for your good players to stay sharp and to play with other players and it’s important that the team cohesion continues.”
4. Connor Cook vs. EJ Manuel: Manuel’s play against the Rams (3-for-9, 16 yards) can’t be written off as a bad night if he has another poor game against the Cowboys.
Up to that point, Manuel was the clear leader at No. 2. But his throws to the sidelines have gotten more shaky, and some of the touch he had over the middle was absent toward the end of training camp.
Cook put the Raiders in the end zone against the Rams and can still win the backup job.
5. The longshots: Last year the Raiders had four undrafted free agents make the original 53-man roster — running back Jalen Richard, wide receiver Johnny Holton, defensvie tackle Darius Latham and guard Denver Kirkland.
Unless comes on strong in the last two games, it would appear two players have a chance — cornerback Breon Borders and outside linebacker Nicholas Morrow.
Both have seen time with first-team sub packages and can play special teams. Borders played at Duke, while Morrow was at Division III Greenville.
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