For the third week in a row the Cowboys will take on an opponent from the AFC North as the Ravens travel to AT&T Stadium. Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of their offensive personnel.
The leader of the Ravens offense is Joe Flacco, who has had a very curious case of a career since being drafted 18th overall in 2008. On one hand, Flacco has a Super Bowl in his back pocket, as he led the Ravens to the title in 2012. In the process Flacco won the Super Bowl MVP and had one of the most impressive postseason runs by a quarterback in NFL history, throwing for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those 11 touchdowns were tied for the most in a single postseason in NFL history. On the other hand, Flacco has been up and down his entire career, with nearly a 1:1 TD:INT ratio over his nine seasons, and has never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. He has also never thrown for 4,000 yards in a season and has a career completion percentage that hovers right around 60%.
He has been off so far in 2016 after tearing his ACL late in 2015, throwing only nine touchdowns to nine interceptions. The Ravens do have a winning record at 5-4, but the vast majority of those wins have come in close contests against poor teams, and the main reason for their mediocre play has been their offense, and more specifically, Flacco. He has great size at 6-6, 245 lbs., making him a load to bring down, he has a big arm and some functional mobility, but overall he just isn’t a great quarterback. His accuracy is average at best, and he struggles mightily with it at times, his pocket presence is poor, and his decision-making is hit or miss from game to game. If he is pressured and behind on the score board he is prone to making mistake after mistake, which is something the Cowboys need to look to take advantage of. If given time, he can be dangerous, especially with the deep ball with some of the speed the Ravens have at receiver. Overall, while Flacco has a reputation as a big-game player, and you can never really count him out with all of his experience, he is only average at best, and he often has stretches of terrible play.
Running Backs, Receivers, and Tight Ends
Like their quarterback, this is an average group with no elite talent. The starting running back is Terrance West, a plodding former third-round pick in 2014. West has good size at 5-10, 225 lbs., and is tough between the tackles, but his speed and agility are severely lacking. He is averaging 3.9 YPC with only 510 rushing yards over nine games, although he is on pace to break his career high of 673 rushing yards, so that’s something. West is not a threat out of the backfield as he has only 27 catches for 162 yards over three seasons. There is almost nothing behind West as Javorius Allen and rookie fourth-round pick Kenneth Dixon have combined for less than 100 yards on the season, although Dixon did have a nice game against the Browns last week with 80 total yards. This is noteworthy as he only has 109 total yards on the year as he has generally been an afterthought while struggling with injuries. He may be starting to eat into West’s workload though, so that’s something to keep an eye on. Make sure to also keep an eye on fullback Kyle Juszczyk, he is a favorite of the Ravens coaching staff and is the biggest receiving threat out of the backfield off play-action, with 20 catches for 138 yards on the season.
The receiving group is led by Mike Wallace, a player who has resurrected his career in his first season with the Ravens. Wallace is a former Pro Bowler with the Steelers, although his career nosedived after joining the Dolphins as a high-priced free agent. Since then he has bounced around from team to team, and wasn’t far from being out of the league when the Ravens gave him a chance. He has repaid them and more over the first half of the season with 673 yards and four touchdowns, both of which leads the team. He is only 6-0, 180 lbs., but has game-breaking speed, evidenced by his 95-yard catch-and-run against the Steelers. Of course half of a season does not make a career, and the last five years can’t be ignored. He is not an elite, number one type of receiver, although he will likely be the focal point of the Cowboys defensive gameplan.
The rest of the receiving group is made up of veteran Steve Smith, 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, and Kamar Aiken. Smith, a 5-time Pro Bowler and potential future Hall of Famer, is primarily a possession receiver at this point of his career. He nearly retired after suffering a torn Achilles last year, although he decided to come back for one last season. He is only averaging about 11 YPC and clearly is not what he used to be physically, but the defense must still be aware of where he is at all times. Perriman and Aiken are both big, physical receivers at 6-2, 215 lbs., although neither is a significant threat as they have only combined for 451 yards and one touchdown on the season. The defense must be aware though because Flacco loves to throw the deep ball up for grabs to his bigger receivers, and when he does, it will be to these two.
The Ravens starting tight end is Dennis Pitta, a player who many thought may retire after suffering season-ending injuries in 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately for Pitta much of his speed and agility have diminished since suffering those injuries, and at this point he is primarily a possession-type target in the passing game, averaging less than 9 YPC.
The offensive line is led by right guard Marshal Yanda, a Pro Bowler in each of the last five seasons, and a First Team All-Pro player each of the last two. Up until this season Yanda was considered the best guard in the league, and while Zack Martin has likely taken that title away from him, he is still undoubtedly one of the top at his position. Yanda does not have overpowering size at just 6-3, 305, but he plays with perfect technique and balance, and has fantastic agility and athleticism, which makes him devastating when he pulls as a lead-blocker. Yanda has missed the last few games with a shoulder injury and it remains to be seen whether or not he will play this week. With Alex Lewis, the starter at left guard, out for six weeks with a high ankle sprain suffered in their last game the continued absence of Yanda would be especially crippling to the offensive line.
Rookie Ronnie Stanley, the sixth pick of the 2016 draft, is the starter at left tackle although he only recently returned from an injury that had kept him out since late September. This will be only his third game back and he struggled mightily two weeks ago against the Steelers with four penalties and two sacks allowed despite the fact that the Steelers have mediocre at best edge-rushing talent. Stanley has a bright future, but this is a player the Cowboys should look to take advantage of.
The rest of the line is made up of replacement-level players, including center Jeremy Zuttah, right tackle Rick Wagner, and Vladimir Ducasse, who is expected to replace Alex Lewis. You can’t call this a terrible unit; it’s just a below average, inconsistent unit that is lucky to have one superstar in Yanda, although if he misses the game, well, it wouldn’t be good for the Ravens. Considering the lack of skill position talent and the fact that Flacco has been horrendous over the first half of the season, the Cowboys defense should be able to control this offense in both the run and pass game.
Where The Cowboys Can Take Advantage:
- Mediocre at best offensive line that can be very bad at times, if Yanda doesn’t play it would be a crushing blow considering the injury to their other starting guard
- No elite talent at the skill positions
- Arguably the worst running back group in the league (5th to last in the league in rush yards)
- Quarterback play has ranged from average to terrible all season
What The Cowboys Must Fear:
- Flacco getting hot with the deep ball
- Mike Wallace taking the top off the secondary
- A fluke game from one of their skill position players