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Ravens-Cowboys: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are trying to prove they belong.

Two straight wins have moved them to the top of a bad division, but a road victory over Dallas would propel them into the conversation of compelling teams in the AFC. Baltimore’s No. 1 run defense is also trying to impose its will against the Cowboys’ top-ranked rushing attack in the marquee matchup of the game.

Meanwhile, the surprising Cowboys own the NFL’s best record at 8-1 and are coming off an emotional road win over Pittsburgh. That victory coupled with a big Thanksgiving meeting with NFC East rival Washington would appear to leave Dallas in danger of an emotional letdown against a 5-4 team on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore tries to remain perfect in the all-time regular-season series against the Cowboys. The Ravens are 4-0 against Dallas, but only one of those was on the road, a 33-24 victory that closed old Texas Stadium on Dec. 20, 2008.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown on the day he reaches 1,000 career receptions. The 37-year-old needs only three catches to reach that special mark and tie Hines Ward for 13th on the all-time list, but Smith will be determined to put on a show in a game in which most are expecting Dallas to win. The Cowboys secondary is without cornerback Morris Claiborne and will play plenty of Cover 2 to account for the speed of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, which will leave room for Smith to work the middle of the field. Joe Flacco has so much trust in Smith in a big game and will look his way early.

2. Dez Bryant will exploit a vulnerable Ravens secondary for a 100-yard receiving day. Even if Jimmy Smith plays after being listed as doubtful with a back issue, you can’t like his chances against the talented 6-foot-2 receiver. His expected absence is a big loss because the Ravens don’t have anyone else who matches up well against Bryant and it’s dangerous to take a defender out of the box against the Cowboys running game. Don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Dean Pees uses Anthony Levine extensively as a dime back to defend the pass and provide help against the run.

3. Kenneth Dixon will receive more touches than starter Terrance West. The rookie had a career-high 80 total yards against Cleveland and matched his career high with 11 touches. Meanwhile, West averaged 3.1 yards per carry in Week 10 and has totaled just 96 rushing yards over the last three games. With the Cowboys ranking third in the NFL in run defense, the Ravens aren’t likely to open many rushing lanes and should utilize Dixon as a receiver out of the backfield. Philadelphia successfully unleashed the shifty Darren Sproles against Dallas in Week 8, which could be a blueprint for Dixon.

4. Ezekiel Elliott will have more rushing yards in the final quarter than the first three combined. The fourth pick of the 2016 draft and the Cowboys offensive line are special talents, but the Baltimore run defense has been just as impressive and will turn some heads. The Ravens will do all they can to take away the run and make rookie Dak Prescott beat them, but their own struggling offense as well as the absence of Jimmy Smith will leave too small of a margin for error on the afternoon. That will lead to some fatigue, which will allow Elliott to find some space for meaningful yardage late in the game.

5. The offense will once again be the Ravens’ primary downfall in a close 23-16 loss. Everyone has talked about the Ravens defense going up against the Cowboys offense, but the real key will be whether the Baltimore offense can do enough to keep up in this one. The Ravens scored a season-high 28 points against the worst team in the NFL last week, but that also included an ugly first half consisting of just two field goals. Optimists are talking about the second half of that one being the breakthrough for Flacco and the Ravens offense, but left guard Alex Lewis is out and right guard Marshal Yanda is far from 100 percent on an offensive line that has been the Achilles heel all year. Dallas lacks a strong pass rush and doesn’t have a great defense, but worse units have been able to shut down the Ravens this season. The defense will keep it close, but one good half against the lowly Browns isn’t enough to convince me that this offense is ready to do what it takes to beat a team like Dallas on the road.

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Ravens-Cowboys preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 15 August 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will try to build on an encouraging performance in their preseason opener as they travel to Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys in their second preseason game of the summer.

Observers were abuzz over an impressive 10-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown in the starting offense’s only work of the night against San Francisco, but the Ravens have acknowledged throughout the week that they can’t put too much stock into one possession. Even with plenty of strides already taken throughout training camp to grasp new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system, there is plenty of work remaining before the Ravens kick off the regular season against Cincinnati on Sept. 7.

“You have an opportunity to really see progress,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You’re in a crucible, and every single day, it’s all you do. It’s wall-to-wall football. It’s morning to night. You go to sleep and you wake up, and you’re back at football. There’s no escape. There’s nowhere to hide, [and] there’s nowhere to run. It’s all football all the time, so you make progress rapidly, but you have to because you have a long way to go.”

Harbaugh confirmed starters are expected to receive more playing time against the Cowboys than they did against San Francisco, but the first units will receive their most extensive work against Washington in the third preseason game next weekend.

The Ravens are expected to continue giving running back Ray Rice first-team reps along with top backup Bernard Pierce before focusing more on the latter next week with Rice suspended for the first two games of the regular season.

“Normally, in the second preseason game you get a quarter, maybe a little more than a quarter,” Harbaugh said. “Some of that will be individualized for different players; we’ll have some play counts for a few guys, including Joe [Flacco] and some of the defensive players. We’ll see how it goes, but basically, about a quarter is what you’re looking at — maybe more. It could get close to a half; it could even be a half for some of the starters.”

Saturday will be the first preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Cowboys, but Baltimore owns the 4-0 edge in the regular season and will be making its first visit to AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Ravens are 43-29 all-time in the preseason and have a 16-9 preseason mark in the Harbaugh era.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Saturday night’s game against Dallas.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will be in question. This list, of course, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference. Cornerback Lardarius Webb is not expected to play in the second preseason game as he’s been sidelined with a lower back injury since July 25.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: CB Lardarius Webb (back), G Will Rackley (head), DT Terrence Cody (hip), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles tendon), DE Brent Urban (knee)
DOUBTFUL: CB Asa Jackson (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Owen Daniels (unspecified)
PROBABLE: LB Daryl Smith (groin), S Brynden Trawick (back), OL Ryan Jensen (leg)

Five players to watch Saturday night

1. C Jeremy Zuttah

While many pointed to the success of right tackle Rick Wagner in the first preseason game, the new Baltimore center appeared to make calls at the line successfully as the starting offense ran the ball effectively and protected Flacco. Zuttah isn’t dramatically bigger than 2013 starter Gino Gradkowski, but he’s held up well physically as a run blocker and in pass protection. The offensive line will remain under heavy scrutiny through the early portion of the series, but the reviews for Zuttah have been positive and the overall concern at the center position last year at this time appears to be a distant memory.

“The thing about Jeremy, he is a professional in every way,” offensive line coach Juan Castillo said. “He is smart, and he studies the game. For him, too, it’s a different technique, and he’s been working very hard at the fundamentals and trying to do the things the way we do it here in Baltimore.”

2. S Terrence Brooks

It was no secret that Brooks was lagging behind in the competition at free safety due to concerns with him grasping the intricacies of the defense, but injuries to Webb and Jackson at the cornerback position have prompted the Ravens to take a look at the Florida State product in the nickel spot, a position he played with the Seminoles. The shift is more of a reflection on how shallow the cornerback depth is at this point, but Brooks may find the nickel and dime packages as his best chance to see the field for meaningful defensive snaps to start his rookie season.

“Everybody is an option right now. We’re just trying to find guys,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees on the No. 3 cornerback spot. “We’re moving guys around a little bit. We have two more games to experiment with where we want to put guys and see where they fit getting ready for the season. The first two games are [about] playing everybody [to] see what we have, and then after that, we have to start honing in. But we’ll move a bunch of guys around. Terrence is playing well; he’s playing hard. He’s a multi-position guy like all of our guys really are. It’s a possibility.”

3. WR Kamar Aiken

The 2013 practice squad member has turned plenty of heads and certainly took advantage of his opportunity in the preseason opener with four catches for 46 yards on six targets and 29 offensive snaps. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound wideout appears to be competing closely with Deonte Thompson for a potential roster spot, but Aiken has outplayed the incumbent member of the 53-man roster and can further improve his chances by building on what he did against the 49ers. Of course, special-teams contributions will play a major part in determining whether Aiken finds himself on the active roster.

“He is explosive and he’s big,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “I tell you, in all my years in the league, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen as competitive a situation as we have at receiver right now. I would have no chance telling John [Harbaugh] which five or six I would want right now, and that’s a good thing as a coach.”

4. DL DeAngelo Tyson

The 2012 seventh-round pick has been a steady member of the defensive line rotation in his first two seasons, but season-ending injuries to young defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore may force the Ravens to use Tyson more exclusively at the 5-technique spot to spell veteran Chris Canty. The University of Georgia product can play multiple spots on the defensive line, so it will be a blow to their overall versatility in the trenches if Pees must use Tyson outside, but his presence has become much more important with the overall depth taking a hit this summer.

“The next guy will be up, and we’ll find a way to do it,” said Harbaugh about the injuries to Urban and Lewis-Moore. “There are always going to be injuries. You adapt, you adjust and you fill out your positions.”

5. TE Crockett Gillmore

The Ravens insist the veteran tight end Daniels isn’t injured, but it’s clear there are some physical concerns with him missing two straight practices following an off-day and not showing great separation while running routes in practices. These factors could open the door for Gillmore to receive more opportunities with the starting offense against Dallas and beyond. It’s been an inconsistent summer for the Colorado State product as a blocker and as a receiver, but that’s to be expected from a third-round pick who will be counted on to be used to some degree with neither Daniels nor starter Dennis Pitta considered particularly strong blockers.

“Crockett is a good football player,” Pitta said earlier this summer. “He’s a tough kid and he’s big and physical and a great blocker at the point of attack. I think that’s what stood out the most this early on. He’s going to be a valuable asset for this offense moving forward.”


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