This upcoming Sunday the Baltimore Ravens travel to Dallas to face-off with the hottest team in the NFL currently. The Cowboys are on an eight-game win streak behind two electrifying rookies that are playing like seasoned veterans. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are taking the NFL by storm just nine games into their NFL careers.
While the rookies are getting all the attention, the Cowboys offensive line plays the most important role to their success. This star-studded line includes three first-round draft picks in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zach Martin.
Behind this line, both Prescott and Elliott, along with the rest of the offense, are playing fast, aggressive, and efficient football. The unit is ranked 5th in the league, and is scoring 28.7 points a game.
Can Baltimore compete in this game?
Baltimore started the season hotter than it has in seven years, but sizzled after a 3-0 start. Following a heart breaking four-game losing streak, the squad has regrouped with two divisional wins, which placed them back on top of the AFC North. Along with those wins came something Baltimore was lacking in the prior weeks: confidence.
The Ravens’ 1st ranked defense will face its toughest test of the season while they try to prove they are indeed the NFL’s best.
Since the Bye Week, the defense has taken their game to the next level. In two games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, they allowed an average of 210.5 yards per game and only 21 points total. Pittsburgh’s offense is widely regarded as a top three offense, and Cleveland’s offense has produced this season as well. The defense is playing with the mentality that they need to win games, and that is good for Baltimore.
While this is the toughest test Baltimore has faced so far, this will also be the toughest defense Dallas has faced to this point as well. The best two defenses Dallas has faced to this point come from their own division in Philadelphia and New York. New York held Dallas to 19 points in Week One, and Philadelphia could not hold on to two separate 10-point leads in Prime Time.
Baltimore’s defense has the tools to match up with Dallas’ offense. With no. 1 ranked rush defense, and arguably the best front seven in the NFL, Baltimore can test Elliott and the offensive line early. The secondary matches up well with the receivers in that Jimmy Smith can cover Dez Bryant while Tavon Young can focus on slot receiver Cole Beasley. If the defense can keep the ball in front of them and limit the rookies’ explosive plays, this game will be close.
If the game is close, can the offense step up and win the game?
Joe Flacco’s offense has left something to be desired this season. Many, myself included, expected the offense to be explosive and fun to watch this season, even with Flacco coming off a torn ACL. Flacco’s group has dealt with critical injuries to key players for much of the season, which has affected productivity.
Baltimore’s offense is currently ranked 27th in the league, and has shown problems getting into the endzone this year. Before his last game, Flacco had only thrown six touchdowns in eight games. In the second half alone against Cleveland, he drilled three passes to the endzone. Two of those passes came within the redzone, an area of weakness for Baltimore’s offense this season. After a stagnant first half against Cleveland, the offense revealed its potential. Touchdowns to three different targets, a two-point conversion, and moving the ball at will were all on display last Thursday.
Flacco needs to play a complete game in Dallas to compete. The defense can keep Baltimore in the game, but Flacco will need to produce the upset.