Their last game against the Chicago Bears was, and this is not a hyperbole, a disaster. Tony Romo threw five interceptions—the second time in his career, the run offense was anemic and the defense was manhandled by Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. The Cowboys fell to 2-2, and after a bye week, are heading to Baltimore to play the Ravens.
The Ravens are extremely consistent during the regular season at home. Dallas has very little margin of error during the next four weeks if they have any hope of keeping up with the stacked NFC East. A win against the Ravens would be huge for Dallas. If they have any chance of winning, these are the four things that the Cowboys must accomplish Sunday.
Establish a Run Game
Though the Ravens are atop their division on the strength of their defense, last week, they allowed Kansas City 214 rushing yards. Ray Lewis, somewhat controversially, has already said (according to Calvin Watkins of ESPN) that the Cowboys will not be getting their running game established on his home turf—and he has a point.
In their last three games, the Cowboys rushed for less than 130 yards combined. They rank 31st in the NFL with their run game. DeMarco Murray is extremely talented but also injury-prone. He needs a few games this season in which he unleashes his full running potential.
Gain Defensive Takeaways
So far on the year, Joe Flacco is averaging an 89.9 passer rating. At home, he’s pretty stellar, completing 68 percent of his passes and logging six touchdowns and two interceptions. Last weekend in Kansas City, Flacco sputtered a bit with a QBR rating of 34.0.
Dallas has been a bit of a disappointment, thus far, in landing interceptions, great plays from DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee notwithstanding. Lee, who has really been the centerpiece of this Dallas defense this year, has the athletic ability to intercept and change the course of the game. If he anchors the defense to keep Flacco jittered, they could just garner some takeaways.
Contain Ray Rice
Since 2010 when Ray Rice runs for over 100 yards, the Ravens are perfect (10-0). Dallas has been awfully inconsistent this season when it comes to run defense. In their season-opener against the Giants, they were actually quite good at stopping Ahmad Bradshaw.
With Chicago and Matt Forte, they were putrid. Rice is a workhorse, to say the least. He has the potential to absolutely decimate the Cowboys. Dallas must find a way to shut him down and force Flacco to try and get points through the air.
Protect Tony Romo
On the season, so far, Tony Romo has been sacked eight times. He has also thrown eight interceptions and fumbled twice. Ironically, his season, so far, has been book-ended by two games where he has thrown 307 yards. The win against the Giants was brilliant, and the loss against the Bears at home was just pathetic. But, Romo has been severely rushed in the pocket with this patchwork offensive line.
Against the Bears, his poor decisions came from trying to force an offense. Traditionally, this is not something he’s particularly gifted at pulling off. But, this season has seen some great passes from Romo—just remember that Giants game and how he connected with Kevin Ogletree.
The offensive line has got to give him more time, and he must look to Miles Austin or Ogletree if he wants to get a win in Maryland.