Tuesday night football. Who would have figured we’d be gathered around our television sets to watch the Dallas Cowboys face off against last year’s top seed in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens. The last time these teams played each other was back in November of 2016 when the Cowboys came away with the victory, 27-17. It was the first time ever that the Cowboys actually beat the Ravens as Baltimore won all four of their previous meetings.
When the schedule came out, this was one of those matchups we were looking forward to seeing, but things have not worked out so well for Dallas. Things aren’t all that great for the Ravens right now either. After starting the year with a 5-1 record, they have since lost four of their last five games and would actually be left out in the cold if the playoffs started today. Fortunately for them, only one of their remaining five opponents have a winning record, so they can still make a push for a playoff spot. That push starts this week against the Cowboys.
Here are five things to look out for when these two teams face off.
1. Who’s playing for the Ravens?
With the recent COVID-19 outbreak within the team, several key players were out of action in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Starting quarterback Lamar Jackson missed the game after testing positive on Thanksgiving. Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III took over the starting duties, but he exited the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. The teamed then turned to third-stringer Trace McSorley, who only threw six passes on the day, but one of them was a 70-yard strike to Marquise Brown. The team is hoping to get Jackson back, but it’s still unclear if he will be available for Tuesday’s game.
The Ravens were also without Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, and the meat and potatoes of their rushing attack in Mark Ingram and rookie J.K. Dobbins. In all, Baltimore has 17 players currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list. While many of these players will have been quarantined for the 10-day requirement prior to the next game, it’s still a little bit of a mystery who exactly the Cowboys will see on Tuesday.
2. Running into trouble again
No team runs the ball at a higher percentage than the Ravens. That is not pleasant news for a Cowboys defense that allows the most rushing yards in the NFL. The availability of Ingram and Dobbins as well as the elusive legs of Jackson all play a big factor in the rushing attack. Against the Steelers, the duo of Gus Edwards and Justice Hill combined for a total of 45 yards on 18 carries, while RGIII added 68 yards himself.
The Cowboys had no answer for Washington’s ground attack on Thanksgiving, but that’s a walk in the park compared to the damage Baltimore can do. For reference, Washington has been held to less than 90 yards rushing six times this year. Baltimore has rushed for at least 110 yards in every game this year, and twice they’ve eclipsed 200 yards on the ground. Washington only broke 200 once, and we all know which team that was against.
With a dangerous running quarterback and a team committed to pounding the run, this game could end up being a big problem for this defense.
3. Return of an old friend
While there are several Ravens players who might not be on the field, there is one player we should expect to see. That player is the Cowboys all-time touchdown reception leader, Dez Bryant.
Bryant played eight seasons for the Cowboys before being released in 2018. He didn’t sign with another team until nine weeks into the season when he agreed to a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles during practice and never saw the field. He didn’t play last year either, and it seemed like we may have seen the last of Dez until he signed with the Ravens in late October. He’s played three games with Baltimore and has caught four passes for 28 yards. He’s logged 30+ snaps in each of the last two games.
How much we’ll actually see of Dez is unclear. He’s not a big part of the Ravens offense, but you know he’d love a little Dezstitution by showing up the team that cut him loose. With the problems that the Cowboys have had at cornerback, it’s not inconceivable to see him haul down a touchdown pass against Rashard Robinson.
It’s almost three years to the day when Dez Bryant last caught a touchdown pass. Will that still be true after Tuesday?
4. Return of a familiar foe
Andy Dalton has thrown more passes against the Ravens than he has against any other team he’s played against. That shouldn’t be all that surprising considering he spent his entire career playing in the AFC North prior to this season.
While Dalton knows Baltimore all to well, they also know him. No team has picked him off more than the Ravens and his 56.6% completion percentage against them is a career worst. The Cowboys offensive line is in shambles and it’s going to take some good quarterback play by the veteran Dalton if the Cowboys are to have any shot.
5. Turnovers will cost ya
The Ravens defense is one of the stingiest in the league as they’ve allowed the third-fewest points so far this season. They don’t give up a lot of yards (eighth fewest in the league), but another reason why they keep the points down is that they are very good at taking the ball away. Baltimore has created 17 turnovers, including a league-leading 11 fumble recoveries.
The Cowboys have been very careless with the football this year as they are second worst in total giveaways, including a league-worst six fumbles lost. If Dallas is sloppy with their ball security, it could get ugly. Not only do the Ravens take the ball away, but three times this year they’ve returned it for a touchdown.