It’s hard to remember the last time the Cowboys played a game, as so much has happened since. When the Cowboys walked to the locker room after a 41-16 loss to the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving, they were in the mindset of having to travel to Baltimore to take on Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in exactly one week.
Of course, the Ravens were supposed to play the Steelers later that night, but the game was initially pushed to Monday following an intense COVID-19 outbreak in the Ravens’ facilities. Then it was pushed back to Tuesday for some reason, which in turn pushed the Cowboys’ game to this Tuesday. Baltimore played without many of their starters, including Jackson, and lost a close game to Pittsburgh.
The reigning MVP is expected to return for this week’s game against Dallas, but there’s still a lot of questions around who else will be back, and if being inserted into the starting lineup with limited practice time will even yield good results. The Cowboys, on the other hand, essentially just got a second bye week after a blowout loss, so it’s unclear what kind of play we’ll see from them as well.
When Baltimore has the ball
Pressure, pressure, pressure
If Lamar Jackson plays like himself and not like a guy who just had COVID-19 and hasn’t played a game since November 22, then there is no hope for containing him. Even when Jackson doesn’t have a good day throwing the ball, he’ll burn a defense with his legs. Additionally, this Ravens team has no fear of going for it on fourth down anywhere, so it’s not enough to get off the field on third down.
To beat the Ravens, the Dallas defense will need to create splash plays. That means takeaways, sacks, forced incompletions on longer down and distance situations, etc. The best way to do this is through pressure, in all facets. Dallas currently ranks 17th in blitz rate, but cranking that up will help pressure Jackson (who has the fourth-highest time to throw in the NFL) into getting rid of the ball quicker. Pairing that with pressure on these receivers by jamming and redirecting their routes can throw this offense off early on and bring up third/fourth and long situations, if executed properly. It’s a boom-or-bust type of plan, but it may be the only way for this undermanned defense to succeed.
When Dallas has the ball
Don’t play scared
Let’s just go ahead and assume the defense that’s allowed the most points all year long won’t be able to contain the reigning MVP. That’s a fair assumption to make, and also one that begs an assumption that Dallas needs to score a lot in order to win. So if the Cowboys really are trying to win this game, and Mike McCarthy certainly talks like he is, then the Cowboys can’t afford to be settling for field goals or punting.
This is already the Cowboys’ MO, as they lead the NFL in fourth down attempts this year, but their 48% conversion rate is 24th in the league. Hopefully the triumvirate of McCarthy, Kellen Moore, and John Fassel spent the extra time off coming up with better fourth down plays, because Dallas will need to do everything to make sure their drives end in touchdowns or they won’t have much of a shot at all. Field goals won’t help you beat a team this explosive.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
Whether we see the short-handed Ravens or a full arsenal of weapons, it’s hard imagining a scenario where their run-heavy offense doesn’t present problems for the Cowboys defense. There may be moments where Dallas teases us with some goodness like they did in the Pittsburgh game, but that’s all it will be - a tease.
The Cowboys offensive line just doesn’t have the strength to fend off this Ravens defense, and Andy Dalton doesn’t have enough playmaking ability in him to compensate. I think points will be hard to come by and things will crumble for the Cowboys in the red zone. Look for Greg Zuerlein to do all the scoring for Dallas in this one.
Ravens 23, Cowboys 9.
When is the last time we had so little idea about what we were about to see? We all know that the Ravens are getting a lot of their roster back for the game. Meanwhile, they still went toe to toe with the Steelers without Lamar Jackson and all the other players in the COVID protocol. The Cowboys were dismal against the Football Team, but had just played their best game of the season against the Vikings.
We don’t know who will show up, both literally and figuratively. Part of me really, really wants to say that the Ravens will have some issues getting back in sync while the Cowboys figure out how to make their 412th O line grouping of the season work, and Dallas will pull an upset. But I don’t think that will happen.
Ravens 27, Cowboys 19.
If the Cowboys had any chance of winning that went out the window when the Ravens players on offense and defense started coming off the Covid list. And now that the Ravens are getting back to near full strength the only thing they need to worry about is knocking off any possible rust from their time they were unable to play.
Lucky for them they are playing a Cowboys team ravaged by injuries. I don’t see this as an upset game like the one a few weeks ago against the Vikings. Knowing that the Cowboys can’t stop the run the Ravens are going to run the ball with success early and often.
Ravens 28, Cowboys 10.
After the beat down on Thanksgiving, it’s hard to see any way Dallas is able to win this game. They weren’t able to slow down Alex Smith, and now they have to face one of the most dynamic players in all of football in Lamar Jackson. I do believe Dallas will be able to have some success running the ball in this game, which will allow them to keep it close for around three quarters. However, Baltimore pulls away in the end, and our old friend Dez Bryant throws up the X for the first time since 2017.
Give me Baltimore 31-17.
Last week, I was the only one among us to pick Dallas to lose to Washington, and it seems I’m going to be the outlier once again this week, but in a very different way. I’ll likely get burned for this, but it seems unlikely that Lamar Jackson and other key Ravens players can just jump back into things and not have any rust.
Beyond that, I think there’s a great value in the Cowboys getting some extra rest that these Ravens don’t have. After all, it was after the bye week when this team went on the road to Minnesota and upset the Vikings. The Ravens are a much better team, sure, but they’re also losers of three in a row and in a very precarious situation with their roster. I’m going to regret this, but give me the Cowboys in this one.
Cowboys 26, Ravens 18.