Mon, 18 Jan 2021

Big Picture: 5 Storylines for Cowboys & Ravens

Dallas Cowboys
05 Dec 2020, 19:24 GMT+10

Kyle Youmans

It has been an unprecedented couple of days for the Dallas Cowboys in the middle of the most unique NFL season, and the most unpredictable year.

It's only fitting that a Thursday game with Baltimore (6-5) has been rescheduled for a Tuesday night matchup to wrap up Week 13 and that the Cowboys (3-8) could again be on top of the NFC East with a win.

A pitter-pattering Baltimore team prepares to host a rested and reeling Dallas squad in a game with storylines that neither team could have ever imagined. Here are five of those important storylines for each team heading into Tuesday Night's matchup with the Ravens.

Ravens Baltimore enters Week 13 of the NFL season on a bit of a skid after losing their delayed matchup with Pittsburgh 19-14. They've now dropped four of their last five games including their last three. Despite plenty of opportunities, the Ravens just couldn't jump start their offense enough to challenge the unbeaten Steelers. Defensively, Baltimore held their end of the bargain by holding Pittsburgh to 334 yards and forcing a pair of turnovers in the loss. However, Robert Griffen III accumulated just 33 yards through the air before leaving the game with a hamstring injury in the second half. A large part of the Baltimore struggles centers around multiple positive Covid-19 tests around the locker room. Reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, both tailbacks Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, and tight end Mark Andrews were all a part of the more than 20 positive tests. The Ravens-Steelers game which was supposed to be played after the Cowboys Thanksgiving matchup with Washington but was moved to Wednesday afternoon to combat the outbreak. Baltimore was forced to call up 10 practice squad members to field enough players for the crucial divisional battle. In Jackson's case specifically, he reported tested positive on Thanksgiving and would have to sit out 10 days. While his status is uncertain, it seems likely he could be cleared to play in time for Tuesday's game, which was moved back one day by the NFL. With the loss to Pittsburgh, Baltimore was officially eliminated from contention for an AFC North title and dropped their record to 6-5. It's been a disappointing season for a team that was 14-2 a year ago and supposed to be a favorite yet again in the AFC. It certainly looked like there was going to be more success for the reigning top-seeded AFC squad after a 5-1 start paved the way to a race with the Steelers in the division. But while Pittsburgh has continued to stay undefeated, the Ravens have begun to fade and now have only an outside chance to make the playoffs as a wild card team. With the remaining games of Dallas, Cleveland, Jacksonville, New York, and Cincinnati on the schedule they are certainly not out of the hunt, but would need to win four of their last five games and have some help elsewhere to sneak their way in. The struggles from the Ravens sideline have not come from the defensive side of the football. In fact, Baltimore still owns a top ten defense in the NFL and was able to hold Pittsburgh to 19 points without the majority of their starting defensive line. Currently 8th in yards per game and 4th in points per game, the Ravens have been limiting some of the best offenses in the league to minimal production. The front seven is led by Calais Campbell who was unavailable in Week 12, Malik Harrison and L.J. Fort, while Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey have controlled the back end of the defense. Rookie Patrick Queen and mid-season addition Yannick Ngakoue have each made immediate impacts and continue the "play like a Raven" mentality that stems back to the Ray Lewis days on defense. When the Ravens initially signed Dez Bryant two months ago, we all circled this game on the schedule. Bryant, the Cowboys' all-time leader in touchdown catches (73), will play his first game against his former team. Bryant has played in three games so far for the Ravens, including Wednesday's game with Pittsburgh. He didn't have a catch in that game, but had four for 28 yards in the previous game vs. Tennessee. Bryant is part of the No. 88 legacy for the Cowboys, but he'll be the first one among the group to actually play a game against the Cowboys as Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin played their entire careers with Dallas. Cowboys Thanksgiving felt like more of a bad dream than it did a holiday for the 3-win Cowboys as they dropped the battle for first place in the division, 41-16. Dallas was in the ballgame late at a score of 20-16 before allowing 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. For the first time since 2012, Washington completed a sweep of the Cowboys in the regular season and currently lead the NFC East at 4-7. One of the frustration points in the loss was the questionable decision making and play calling on the part of the Dallas coaching staff when it came to 4th-and-short and special teams. The decision to go for a fake punt on fourth down and ten from deep in their own territory has been well documented and criticked around the league. Even with the loss, a win puts the Cowboys right back in the hunt for a divisional crown, and it starts this week against a hobbled Baltimore team. Dallas are the benefactors of an extended period of time off due to the postponing of the Ravens Week 12 matchup. Dallas was originally scheduled to play three games in 12 days between Minnesota, Washington, and Baltimore. Instead, the Cowboys get 12 days of rest between their Thanksgiving matchup with Washington and the now Tuesday meeting with the Ravens. Head coach Mike McCarthy has stated that this extra time off has been a blessing for the whole organization after a short, emotional week following the passing of Markus Paul. The Cowboys had just their fifth practice in 25 days on Wednesday and took Thursday off from practice to virtually attend Paul's memorial service. It's back to the drawing board for the offensive line as injury woes and endless shuffling continue to bite Dallas. For just the third time all season, Dallas was able to start the same five linemen at the line of scrimmage in back-to-back games. However, both tackles, Zack Martin and Cam Erving left the game due to lower body injuries and according to coach Mike McCarthy, are expected to be out multiple weeks. Brandon Knight, who started six games at the left tackle spot this season entered the game in relief duty while the undrafted free agent Terrence Steele took over for Martin at the right tackle position. With the Cowboys being towards the bottom of the league in sacks allowed, pressures, and sack percentage all season long, these extra injuries continue to hinder the Dallas offense even with all the talent at the skills positions. Dallas does not have a whole lot of extra time to sit on the fence of how the rest of their 2020 season will result. As they enter Week 13, the Cowboys sit one game out of first place in the NFC East despite a 3-8 record, but they are also just one game behind having the number three overall pick in this April's draft. The current draft position for the Cowboys is fourth overall with Cincinnati just above them on the board, but also ahead on the schedule in Week 14 with a chance to move up. Despite the opportunity and even encouragement from a section of the fan base, Dallas has no intentions of letting off the gas and coasting the rest of the regular season as only one of the remaining five teams on the schedule have a winning record. That one team is Baltimore who as mentioned earlier has lost four of five and three straight games entering this week. When it comes to injured positions, obviously quarterback is usually mentioned first, with offensive tackle being a close second. But don't forget about the cornerback spot.

When the season began, the Cowboys were counting on the five corners - Anthony Brown, Chido Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Trevon Diggs and Daryl Worley to be on the field. As a result, those five never played one game together and only four are still on the team as Worley was released. There is a chance Diggs returns sooner than expected from a broken foot injury he suffered Nov. 8. Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones said he watched him run this week out of the walking boot and "it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he gets back a little sooner than we thought." Awuzie and Lewis should be ready for the next game although Brown will by iffy with a ribs injury that kept him out of the game with Washington. A host of young cornerbacks remain on the roster including Savion Smith, Rashard Robison and Reggie Robinson, a fourth-round pick from Tulsa who hasn't played this year.

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