Cowboys vs. Ravens: Baltimore Pulls out Close Win Despite Defensive Injuries

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVOctober 14, 2012

With key defenders going down with injuries, the pressure was on Joe Flacco to step up and win the game.
With key defenders going down with injuries, the pressure was on Joe Flacco to step up and win the game.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

One look at a number of key Baltimore Ravens statistics in Sunday's win over the Dallas Cowboys and it seems impossible that they could have pulled it off.

Dallas had 30 first downs to Baltimore's 19, 40:03 in time of possession to 19:57 for the Ravens and 481 yards of total offense to 316 for the home team. Despite all that, the Ravens spent much of the game in the lead and late-game clock management issues ended up dooming Dallas to a defeat. 

Baltimore desperately needed this 31-29 win. It propels them to 5-1, with a very safe lead in the AFC North, one that may become harder to maintain in the coming weeks if the injury news circling the team is to be believed (per's Jeff Darlington).

Cornerback Lardarius Webb, the Ravens' best at that position, is feared to have a torn ACL, which would effectively end his season. Linebacker Ray Lewis's season may also be over, with a torn triceps. Both will be getting MRIs on Monday to confirm these injuries (via Darlington).

Beyond those two big-name losses, the Ravens also found themselves without Haloti Ngata, who dealt with knee and shoulder injuries and cornerback Jimmy Smith, who strained his groin (per The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson). While neither players are expected to miss any additional time, their absences didn't help a Ravens defense that looked more like a sieve on Sunday than the brick wall of seasons past.

This has been a common theme this season, especially against the run. This week, the Ravens defense gave up 227 rushing yards, with 93 of them belonging to DeMarco Murray before he left the game with a foot injury, 92 and a touchdown to Felix Jones and 31 to Phillip Tanner.

The Cowboys' success in running the ball also opened up their passing game. Tony Romo went 25-of-36, for 261 yards an interception and two touchdowns, both caught by Dez Bryant, who had 95 yards and 13 catches on his 15 targets.

With the defense faltering, the pressure again fell on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense to carry the day. Flacco's personal performance wasn't bad at all; he completed 17 of his 26 passes, for 234 yards and a touchdown, but none of his receivers broke 100 yards and his biggest playmaker, Torrey Smith, was held to just two receptions, 24 yards and, helpfully, a touchdown.

Anquan Boldin, who has experience with physical cornerbacks like the Cowboys' Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, had the best day of the group, with six targets, five receptions and 90 yards. Ray Rice's lone, 43-yard catch-and-run was the second-best receiving performance of the day for Baltimore. The run game, however, never really got going in terms of yardage—they had just 86 on the ground, but two of Rice's 16 carries did produce two touchdowns.

Also helping the Ravens' cause was Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the second of his career. With the game coming down to a mere three points, the seven that Jones provided Baltimore likely were the team's most important.

Baltimore clearly has work to do on defense, however. The final seconds of this game ended fortunately for the Ravens. The Cowboys scored with 32 seconds remaining, failed to make the two-point conversion, recovered their own onside kick, drew a pass interference penalty from Baltimore corner Chykie Brown (in for the injured Smith), and, thanks to wasting the clock, were forced to attempt a 51-yard field goal for the lead that sailed wide left, giving the Ravens the win.

That's a chaotic series of events that could have easily resulted in a Baltimore loss if the Cowboys hadn't been so adept at shooting themselves in the foot. The Ravens cannot rely on such luck in the coming weeks.

Instead, they must legitimately find ways to stop the run, run the ball better themselves and make up for not having Terrell Suggs, Lewis and Webb if they want to continue being one of the AFC's most dominant teams. With so many obstacles ahead for Baltimore, this win was exceptionally fortunate. It's how they respond moving forward that now matters more than what they've done in their first six games.