Late For Work 11/21: Eight Takeaways After Cowboys Beat Ravens

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1) Honestly, Loss Didn't Change Too Much In The Big Picture

It's all about expectations.

Quarterback Joe Flacco and all the Ravens fully expected to beat the league's best team Sunday. That's why the locker room was reportedly full of irked players after the 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, who have an NFL-high nine wins.

"We should beat this team. We should beat this team," Flacco said after the game. "And I'm not kidding."

That's the attitude Flacco should have; there are no moral victories. But most people outside the locker room didn't have the same expectations, which is why Baltimore media members are saying fans shouldn't be too upset by the loss.

"This may not be a popular opinion but if I'm a Ravens' fan, I wouldn't feel too much worse about this team than I did coming into the game," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "The bottom line is they weren't good enough to beat arguably the top team in the league on its home field. That shouldn't be shocking." 

"If we're being honest, what did we learn about the Ravens at AT&T Stadium that we didn't already know?" WNST's Luke Jones wrote.

Here's what Jones says we already knew, and still remains true after the loss:

1) The final result is reflective of what's supposed to happen when a .500 team plays on the road against a team with the NFL's best record.

2) The Cowboys showed their high-octane offense is better than the Ravens' top-ranked defense, but the Baltimore unit is still "very good" and will continue to keep the Ravens in virtually every game.

3) The defense needs top cornerback Jimmy Smith on the field to have any hope of stopping a potent passing attack. (More on this topic below.)

4) The Ravens offense still isn't scoring enough points to consistently win, especially against teams with winning records. Sunday's 17 points wasn't going to cut it against the Cowboys. Jones says there just aren't enough playmakers outside of Steve Smith Sr.

5) The yellow flags continue to "crush" the Ravens in all three phases of the game, finishing with a season-high 136 penalty yards Sunday.

6) This one is probably the most important: The Ravens still remain in solid position to advance to the playoffs because the path runs through an AFC North division with the least amount of wins in the league.

"The Ravens are what their record suggests they are — not a very good football team — but a division title is still within their sights," wrote Jones. "Sunday's loss did very little to change that, especially if you were being realistic to begin with."

Whatever your expectations were going into the game, the last point remains true. If the season ended today, Baltimore would be in the playoffs. The Ravens (5-5) are atop the AFC North because of a tiebreaking win over the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5).

And if you want to look at things with even more optimism, getting back Jimmy Smith will help on top of what Zrebiec saw as an improved offense.

"The Ravens didn't sustain enough to win, but it was a much sharper offensive performance than many that we've seen," he wrote.

" …. For much of the game against the Cowboys, the Ravens looked far closer to a team that is capable of capturing the division than they did in the season's first half. The Ravens didn't turn the ball over on offense and they gained 368 total yards despite possessing the ball for less than 10 total minutes in the second half. Flacco finished 23-of-35 for 269 yards, one touchdown pass and no interceptions."

2) After Losing Green & Bernard, Some Are Counting Bengals Out Of Playoffs

The Ravens will look to get their season back on track when they host the division rival Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday.

The Bengals hold a five-game winning streak over the Ravens, but their 3-6-1 record indicates they are not as good as seasons past. On top of that, it looks like the players responsible for nearly half of their offensive production won't suit up after receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and running back Gio Bernard (ACL) went down in their game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday.

Bernard was ruled out for the rest of the season with his torn ACL, and ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting there's chance that Green could also miss the rest of the season. These two teams meet twice over the last six weeks of the season, and no receiver has hurt the Ravens more than Green in recent memory.

"I think A.J. Green being out with a torn hamstring with six games left and the Bengals 3-6-1 basically qualifies as the end of the five-year playoff streak in Cincinnati," wrote TheMMQB.com's Peter King.

If King's prediction proves true, the Bengals will join the Browns, who have officially been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

There's one receiver on the street that is already offering his services to Cincinnati …

3) Ravens Need J. Smith To Make Playoff Run

Perhaps Terrell Suggs put the loss of Jimmy Smith in perspective best. Suggs wouldn't use it as an excuse for the loss, but he did say it hurt.

"If we're going to fight for our playoff lives, you want your biggest horses running the Kentucky Derby," Suggs said.

The Ravens defense held strong for a 1.5 quarters when pressure was getting to rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, but the Cowboys offensive line figured out a way to protect him better and he started to find Dez Bryant.

With a massive size advantage, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver scored two touchdowns on Ravens corners Shareece Wright and rookie Tavon Young.

"On his first touchdown, Bryant basically boxed out Wright like he was an undersized point guard," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown. "On his second touchdown, Bryant muscled past Young to reach the end zone after Young tried to tackle him."

If Smith's back injury lingers, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees will work like a mad scientist to find a way to make up for the loss. As good as Pees is, The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker says he'll never be able to compensate for what Smith brings to the table.

"The Ravens need Smith back, and quickly," Walker wrote. "No scheme can make up the talent gap between him and the other cornerbacks."

4) Cowboys DB Says He Has 'No Respect" For S. Smith

While wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. continues to rack up historic accolades, he's also growing a long list of defensive backs who don't like him very much.

The latest is Cowboys rookie cornerback Anthony Brown.

"I had respect for him before the game, but after the game I have no respect for him anymore," Brown said, via the Dallas Morning News. "He's a real character, and I actually saw it for myself [Sunday]. I don't got nothing to say about Steve Smith. Coming into the game they already told me what kind of player he was. But until you see it for yourself, then you're just, 'calm down,' but it's hard because he keeps yapping after every play. It's kind of hard."

I don't think Smith is going to lose any sleep over losing Brown's respect. In fact, it probably makes him feel like he accomplished the goal of getting under the skin of another defensive back.

After Smith became just the 14th player in the history of the game to notch 1,000 career catches, it looks like at least one Cowboy respects his accomplishments.\

5) Marshal Yanda Is A 'Straight-Up Tough Dude'

Head Coach John Harbaugh revealed after the game that it was actually Marshal Yanda who had the idea of moving from right guard to left guard.

Instead of sitting out even longer with an injured shoulder, the All-Pro decided to use the one good shoulder he has as leverage on the other side of the line. The guy is simply a stud.

"You watch that [second] Baltimore drive of the day at Dallas, when the Ravens ran it down the Cowboys' throat for a Terrance West rushing touchdown, and you see the tremendous impact all pro guard Marshal Yanda has on everything Baltimore does offensively," wrote King.

Added Walker: "He's also a straight-up tough dude, much like Terrell Suggs on the other side of the ball. Only the elite of the elite guards earn serious Hall of Fame consideration. Yanda belongs in that realm."

6) Was Jeremy Zuttah's Final Penalty Really A Penalty?

My goodness Jeremy Zuttah delivered a massive hit on Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox late in the game on a Kenneth Dixon 9-yard run.

Zuttah was called for unnecessary roughness, his third costly penalty of the day, but there were questions as to whether he deserved a flag since the whistle hadn't blown and Dixon was still being gang tackled near the sideline.

Whether you agree with the call, the Ravens know they still need to stop killing themselves with mistakes and penalties. Zuttah himself already had two holding penalties in the second quarter, including one that killed a drive.

The team is going in the wrong direction after talking all season about cleaning it up, notching a new season-high 136 penalty yards Sunday. They are on track to have a franchise-high 134 penalties for 1,166 yards this season, according to CSNMidAtlantic.com.

7) Cries For More Runs Surface Again

A familiar cry has popped up again after Sunday's loss.

After the run game got the Ravens offense off to a good start in the first quarter, it seemed as if Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg went away from it.

The offense got going in the first quarter with a 90-yard touchdown drive that featured three 15-plus yard gains on the ground by West and Dixon. It didn't seem like we saw much more from them, especially in the second half. The Ravens had just two called run plays in the second half.

Harbaugh said a big reason was because the Ravens fell into a hole and needed to pass more to try to catch back up. The offense also simply didn't get the ball much with the Cowboys dominating the time of possession.

Still, onlookers think the Ravens abandoned a part of the game that was working for them.

8) Lee Evans And Ravens Would've Liked A Call Like This

Where were these referees when wide receiver Lee Evans dropped a game-winning touchdown pass in the 2011 AFC championship game against the New England Patriots?

They ruled this a touchdown catch by Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

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