Jan 25, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Team Irvin head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys and Team Carter head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens shake hands after the 2015 Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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The Ravens face a true road test on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys
One of the most intriguing games this week in the NFL features a match-up of two division leaders. The Baltimore Ravens sit at 5-4 and are riding a two game division win streak. They sit atop of a disappointing AFC North, who will most likely only see one team make the playoffs this season. The Ravens face a tough end of the season schedule, but control their own destiny. A win against the Cowboys this Sunday can solidify themselves as AFC playoff contenders and give them a whirlwind of momentum going forward.
The Dallas Cowboys come in at a scorching 8-1 and hold a two game lead over the New York Giants in the NFC East. They are playing the best football in the NFL right now and are fighting for the #1 overall seen in the NFC. Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray are a thing of the past and have been replaced by two fantastic rookies in Dak Presscott and Ezekiel Elliot. A win against the Ravens would avoid another 8-8 season and would give Cowboy’s fans a sigh of relief.
Nov 6, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (center) congratulates wide receiver Chris Moore (10) after recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
A proven record against the Cowboys
Since the Ravens became a franchise in 1996, they are 4-0 against the Cowboys. Their last win came in a 31-29 thriller during the 2012 Super-Bowl run. The Cowboys are the only team that the Ravens have not lost to, but they will be facing a completely different team this time around. While the Ravens pride themselves on veteran presence, the Cowboys are centered around two of their rookie draft picks.
Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot are playing like seasoned veterans. They are showing flashes of the Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith combo that won three Super Bowls in the 90’s.
The Cowboys come in with a 71% chance to win the game and have the opportunity to finally get their first win against the Ravens.
Nov 13, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) celebrates his thirty-two yard touchdown to win the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Dallas won 35-30. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Key Match-up to watch: Ezekiel Elliot vs. Ravens Defense
Ezekiel Elliot is really something special. The fourth overall pick in 2016 has been running all over defenses this season. He has emerged as the front-runner for only for the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but also Offensive MVP. Through nine games he has ran over 1,000 yards and has scored nine touchdowns. He looks as explosive as he did at Ohio State and is looking like one of the most complete backs in the NFL.
Elliot comes up against a Ravens defense that has been playing lights out this season. The defense has held opponents to only 71.3 rushing yards per game. They come in as the NFL’s top ranked overall defense and will have a true test against Elliot. The Ravens defense will need to be flying to the ball on every play if they want to stop the rookie back. In most cases, it is going to take more than one person to bring him down. The defensive linemen are going to need to close down gaps and the defensive ends will need to set the edge.
The #1 defense against the #1 rush offense? Let the fun begin.
Jan 3, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The bengals won 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Keys to Victory:
Force Mistakes from Prescott
The Ravens have won five straight games against rookie quarterbacks, but Dak Prescott has played anything like a rookie. Prescott has been nearly flawless in the passing game this season, throwing for 14 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. He has also hurt teams in the ground game, rushing for 4 touchdowns. While he has looked impressive, we must remember he is still only a rookie. When there is a rookie quarterback there are mistakes.
I don’t think that Prescott has faced a defense this season like the Ravens. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees is going to be dialing up exotic blitzes and will have his team flying to the ball on every play.
The secondary is going to have their hands full with the likes of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. If they can take away the run game from Prescott and make him one-dimensional, the Ravens are have a chance.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (89) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Expose the Cowboys secondary
This is one of the most important, if not the most important factor of the game. The Cowboys defense ranks 21st against the pass this year and have a banged up secondary. Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church, and Morris Claiborne are all dealing with injuries this week. The Ravens finally opened up their passing game against the Browns last Thursday and they have the perfect opportunity to keep it going.
Both Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace have shown the ability to get behind opposing secondaries and make big plays. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornghinweg has utilized the quick passing game and it has done wonders for Joe Flacco. The shorter throws help build confidence and give the speedy receivers room to catch the ball on the run. Perriman finally joined the touchdown club last week and can hopefully build off that momentum. I cannot see Joe Flacco letting a rookie quarterback outperform him. If he can avoid forced throws into coverage he can put up big numbers against an average Cowboy’s defense.
I think the Ravens defense can hold the explosive Dallas offense and will squeak one out with a last minute Justin Tucker field goal. In other words, this is going to be a vintage Ravens game. When this one is said and done, I doubt there will be anyone that isn’t entertained. However the game turns out, we’ll learn a lot about the Ravens.