The Dallas Cowboys have a reputation for being one of the NFL's most up-and-down teams. They opened this season with a victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, but were then beaten soundly by the Chicago Bears in a Week 4 matchup on Monday Night Football.
So which Cowboys team will show up when they travel to M&T Bank on Sunday to take on the Ravens?
"The fact is most teams are up and down in the NFL because everybody is so good," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
The Cowboys (2-2) are coming off a bad loss to the Bears where quarterback Tony Romo threw five interceptions, but they had a bye week to regroup and clean up some of the mistakes that plagued them over the first month of the season.
"In the Chicago game, you see the turnovers, and you understand that, but of course, having a bye week, they are definitely going to work on that," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I just think when you look at their roster the way we looked at their roster, they have a lot of talent everywhere."
That talent includes wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, running back DeMarco Murray, tight end Jason Witten, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and the top-rated pass defense with cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.
Regardless of the talent that Dallas has, the focus for the Ravens (4-1) is to continue building off their strong start to the season, which currently has them sitting atop the AFC North. The Ravens are riding a 13-game winning streak at home and are 3-0 all-time against the Cowboys, and they want to carry that momentum into Sunday.
"We are at home, we're off to a heck of a start, and we're just going to try to keep this thing rolling," Lewis said.
3 Matchups To Watch
RB Ray Rice vs. Dallas FrontOffensive Coordinator Cam Cameron said that balance would be especially important this week because the Cowboys are so good at defending the pass. That means the Ravens need to establish Rice and the running game early in this contest so they can keep the Cowboys defense off-balance. If Rice gets off to a strong start, then that could set up the offense for another strong showing in front of a home crowd.
WR Dez Bryant vs. CB Cary WilliamsWilliams has stepped up his play recently and has recorded an interception in the last two games. He'll get tested again this week, as Bryant is a big-play wide receiver who likes to be physical and also has the speed to get deep on the secondary. Bryant had eight catches for 105 receiving yards in the Cowboys' most-recent game, and limiting his production will be key for the Ravens defense.
LT Michael Oher vs. DE DeMarcus WareWare is one of the top pass rushers in the NFL, and he already has five sacks on the season. Ware is also riding a 10-game streak of recording at least one sack. If he is able to get pressure on Flacco, then he could make it difficult for the Ravens offense to get into a rhythm.
3 Questions To Answer
Will the Ravens offense stay hot at home?
The Ravens rank as one of the best overall offenses in the NFL, and they have played particularly well at home. Flacco has averaged 345 passing yards and the Ravens have run their up-tempo offense effectively, putting up an average of 36.3 points per game at home, compared to 16 points per game on the road. The Ravens failed to get into the end zone last week against the Chiefs, but coming back to Baltimore could be a chance to get the offense back on track.
Do Cowboys try to pound the ball on the ground?The Ravens run defense has come under some scrutiny after giving up 214 rushing yards to the Kansas City Chiefs, including 179 in the first half. The Chiefs came out with a clear gameplan to pound the ball on the ground, and the Cowboys could try a similar approach with Murray. If the Cowboys keep the ball on the ground, then the pressure will fall on defensive linemen Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, and Ma'ake Kemoeatu to get inside pressure and take on the blockers so that Lewis and Jameel McClain have room to run and make tackles.
How do receivers handle press coverage?The Ravens coaching staff talked "quite a bit" about opponents using press coverage against their receivers following Sunday's win over the Chiefs. The receivers "have to handle [press coverage]," Harbaugh said, and they will likely see more if it this week against the Cowboys physical corners in Carr and Claiborne.
RavensTotal Defense – 379.8 (24)
Rush Defense – 118.4 (20)
Pass Defense – 261.4 (22t)
Points Allowed Per Game – 17.8 (7)
Total Offense – 398.8 (8)
Rush Offense – 117.6 (13)
Pass Offense – 281.2 (8)
Points Scored Per Game – 26.0 (10)
Total Defense – 277.5 (4)
Rush Defense – 108.0 (15)
Pass Defense – 169.5 (1)
Points Allowed Per Game – 22.0 (13)
Total Offense – 364.0 (16)
Rush Offense – 67.8 (29)
Pass Offense – 296.3 (4)
Points Scored Per Game – 16.3 (30)