Raiders vs. Cowboys: 5 things to watch for Saturday night’s preseason game

Updated August 25, 2017 - 5:38 pm

ARLINGTON, Texas — The past can foreshadow the future.

In 2015, Jack Del Rio oversaw his first preseason as Raiders head coach. He played his starters extensively in the third exhibition. Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree did not appear in the second half, but quarterback Derek Carr and the starting offensive line handled the opening third-quarter series.

In 2016, Del Rio again played many of his starters into the second half. As before, Cooper and Crabtree did not join Carr and the offensive line for it.

This is where Saturday’s expectations should begin. Carr is expected see his most action of the preseason when the Raiders face the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

If the past is any indicator, his evening won’t end at halftime. The same cannot be said for position players such as Cooper, Crabtree and running back Marshawn Lynch.

Here are five things to watch.

The venue

Since its 2009 opening, AT&T Stadium has been a crown jewel among the newest generation of NFL venues. It is multipurpose. It was built with the assistance of public money. And it is a revenue maker, substantially increasing local margins for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

For the Raiders, it’s a preview. The organization doesn’t have a state-of-the-art venue to call home yet. Of course, one is coming, a Las Vegas site currently scheduled to open in time for the 2020 season. Saturday’s venue will provide a glimpse of what’s to come.

AT&T Stadium carried a $1.2 billion cost. It seats 80,000, can expand to 105,000 with standing room, and features a 175-foot scoreboard, which stretches below a retractable roof and over the field of play.

The future home of the Raiders will be domed and seat about 65,000. At a projected cost of roughly $1.9 billion, it shouldn’t lack for extravagance, either.

Donald Penn

The past suggests the entire Raiders O-line will play into the second half. Donald Penn is the obvious exception, unlikely to see the second quarter.

The left tackle has logged just two practices since he ended his holdout Wednesday. And the second of those was about as light and slow-placed as they come. Del Rio said Thursday that Penn will appear against Dallas but be eased into action.

The intrigue surrounding Penn isn’t how much he plays. It’s how well.

The 34-year-old is considered a pro, someone who knows how to prepare his body, even while away from the team. He has never missed a regular-season game with starts in 156 of 160 contests.

Still, a layoff is a layoff.

Penn needs to capitalize of these next couple weeks, as he looks to handle a full workload in the Raiders’ Sept. 10 season opener against the Titans. In the process, with his play, Penn can deliver the Raiders reminder as to why he believes he’s worth more than the $5.8 million salary he is set to earn in 2017.

Third-down defense

Yes, it’s just the preseason.

Still, they want to see better execution from their defense. That includes on third down.

Oakland has offered little third-down (or overall) resistance thus far. In the exhibition opener, the Cardinals converted 13 of 19 third downs. Last Saturday, Los Angeles Rams converted eight of 15. The unit looks to clean up its play.

In both of their exhibitions so far, the Raiders allowed 17 points in the opening four possessions. That includes a touchdown in the opening series.

“I think last week was a lot of little things that guys weren’t being detailed on, and it ended up costing us,” cornerback David Amerson said. “We just want to go out there before the season starts — luckily, it’s preseason, and that’s what you play these games for — but we want to go out there in the next game and eliminate all of the mental errors.

“It’s one thing if a guy just beats you off a good route or things like that, but when you have little mistakes like your eyes not being in the right place, you’re beating yourself. You want to eliminate those.

Second-round pick

Penn’s debut isn’t the only one Saturday. Rookie safety Obi Melifonwu will make his first NFL appearance after missing much of camp to an apparent ankle injury. His role to begin the season largely will focus on special teams, so he’ll look to build a rhythm there while acclimating on defense.

Over time, Melifonwu’s defensive role should increase. The Raiders hope the second-round pick from Connecticut can develop into an early difference maker against tight ends. His combination of speed and a 6-foot-3, 247-pound frame stands out on paper.

Undrafted rookie class

There have been flashes. There’s been Nicholas Marrow, a Division III prospect from Greenville College whose athleticism has led to work as a dime linebacker. There’s been wide receiver Keon Hatcher, who showed coverage and situational recognition last Saturday when getting open at will in the fourth quarter. There have been others like cornerback Breon Borders who had solid training camps.

There isn’t much time left for the Raiders’ undrafted rookies, as they vie for either a spot on the roster or 10-man practice squad. Six days separate this game from Thursday’s preseason finale against the Seahawks. Then, the team will begin reducing its roster from 90 to 53 players.

Final impressions start now.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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