Five thoughts on the Ravens' 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at AT&T Stadium:
Bottom Line: Ravens Needed To Play Better Against Great Opponent
Like a majority of the sizable contingent of Baltimore fans who attended the game, I came to Dallas several days early. In my hours on the ground, I barely heard the word "Ravens." All the football talk centered on the Cowboys' winning streak and Tony Romo's future after he gave what amounted to a job concession speech early in the week, ceding his starting role to rookie Dak Prescott. I'm sure the Cowboys themselves paid attention to the Ravens as they prepared for Sunday, but still, it seemed Dallas' mind was on other things. It was just the kind of under-the-radar spot the Ravens have long embraced, a prime position from which to spring a surprise. And early on, it seemed like they could win. They struck first, battled Dallas' offense. But then mistakes began to pile up, they lost their momentum, and the game slipped away in a rough second half. Bottom line, they needed to play a whole lot better to win on the road against a tough opponent. They committed way too many penalties, especially on offense. They couldn't sustain drives. They couldn't sustain a pass rush, giving Prescott all the time he needed to pick their defense apart. This wasn't some fluke result based on a few big plays. Dallas dominated time of possession, grinding out a series of long, methodical scoring drives. They showed why they have a much better record than the Ravens.
Ravens Won Battle Against Elliott, But Lost War Overall On Defense
The game was supposed to boil down to a matchup of the Cowboys' top-ranked rushing game and the Ravens' top-ranked rushing defense. The Ravens actually acquitted themselves pretty well in that one. Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott gained just 26 yards in the first half, his lowest one-half total of the year, and even with a late surge, the Cowboys wound up well under their per-game season rushing average. But it didn't matter. As the old saying goes, the Ravens won the battle but lost the war. Playing without Jimmy Smith, their top cornerback, who was out with a back injury, they couldn't contain Dez Bryant or any of Dallas' wideouts. Other than Joe Flacco, Smith is the player the Ravens can least afford to lose, and this game showed why. "We didn't get the job done in coverage," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. A heavy pass rush could have changed the calculus, and the Ravens did get some pressure on Prescott early. But Dallas' offensive line might be the best in the league, and once it got itself sorted out in terms of protection, Ravens defenders didn't get anywhere near Prescott.
Flacco's Statement Wasn't All That Crazy
Flacco didn't mince words after the game. "We should beat this team. I'm not kidding," he said. Some may scoff at him saying that after the 9-1 Cowboys dominated the 5-5 Ravens, but I know why he said it. The Ravens scored first, driving 90 yards for a touchdown. Playing with their seventh different starting offensive line in 10 games, they had a solid running game, especially early, and decent pass protection. There have been games this season in a which a patchwork o-line was the problem on offense, but this wasn't one of them. The Ravens had open receivers, moved the chains, had chances to mount drives and score. "I feel like we should have scored a lot more points than we did," Flacco said. But the pieces of a winning offensive puzzle didn't come together. Penalties were a massive problem, killing a handful of drives. Those are self-inflicted wounds, a season-long issue still occurring in late November. Execution on third downs also was a problem. The offense showed more spark and potential than it has in many games, with receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace making plays and the running game surpassing 100 yards. But mistakes and a general lack of playmaking consistency soured the effort.
Enjoy Watching S. Smith While You Still Can
This game was nothing if not a big stage, with more than 93,000 fans in the house and much of the nation watching as the Cowboys tried to extend the winning streak that has made them the talk of the NFL. On that big stage, the Ravens' Steve Smith Sr. put on a memorable show. In the first half, he made a miraculous tip-toe catch along the sideline to move the chains. On the first play of the second half, he became the 14th NFL player to reach 1,000 career receptions, a major feat that, he has admitted, was a prime reason why he came back in 2016. He's also No. 8 in all-time receiving yards, by the way, which sounds like a Hall of Fame resume to me. Smith then found the end zone in the fourth quarter, grabbing a toss from Flacco. It was a big-time performance worthy of the grand stage, with plenty of Smith's trademark chirping and barking mixed in. I don't know what Smith's future holds, but he's a pleasure to watch at 37 and I would suggest stopping to enjoy the show while it's still playing.
Interesting that it was Marshal Yanda's idea to play left guard rather than his usual right guard spot because he's playing with a severe sore shoulder and the switch enabled him to use his heathy shoulder as leverage more effectively. Yanda might be the ultimate gamer. If he can stay healthy enough to play at that spot, it's good news for the o-line going forward … I'm not sure why the stadium roof was closed on a beautiful fall afternoon in Texas … The "O" cry during the national anthem was the loudest of the season at any Ravens road game … The win was the first ever for the Cowboys over the Ravens after four straight defeats.