The Ravens snapped a three-game losing skid with a 34-17 victory over the Cowboys on Tuesday night. Baltimore was a bit up-and-down to begin the game but gained steam as the second quarter progressed and into the second half.
Check out some takeaways below:
1) Back to the basics
On paper, this was an inviting matchup for the Ravens rushing attack. The Cowboys defense has struggled to stop the run all season and Baltimore ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards per game entering Tuesday night. Thus, the game plan for success seemed simple . . .
and simple it was.
From the jump, it was clear that the Ravens would have no issues moving the ball on the ground. Their second offensive drive set the tone for the rest of the game. Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins combined to rush for 67 yards on four carries, highlighted by Jackson’s 37-yard touchdown run on 4th-&-2.
The wheels continued to churn from there for all of the Ravens rushers. Of the team’s 19 first downs, 16 of them were rushing and of their 401 net offensive yards, 294 — yes, 294 — came on the ground.
In addition to his highlight touchdown run, Jackson led the team with 13 attempts and finished just six yards shy of the 100-yard mark. His scrambling ability helped the Ravens escape a number of unideal situations. Gus Edwards only rushed seven times but was unstoppable, ripping off 101 yards for a YPC average of 14.3.
J.K. Dobbins once again saw a healthy workload with 11 carries, turning them into 71 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Mark Ingram trailed the pack with six carries for 28 yards, but did have a key five-yard rush on 3rd-&-3 on the team’s final offensive drive.
The strength of the Ravens offense is and has been the running game. Without two of their top three pass-catchers available in Mark Andrews and Willie Snead IV, as well as Dez Bryant, they leaned into the rushing attack early and often.
Keeping it simple, much?
2) Post-COVID status report
It was no secret that the Ravens had a handful of players returning to action tonight after missing time on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Thus, all eyes were on how the likes of Jackson, Dobbins, Calais Campbell and others would look after recovering from COVID.
As discussed above, Dobbins looked every bit as spry and agile as he did when last on the field. Dobbins had runs of 30 yards and 18 yards before finding paydirt with a five-yard rushing touchdown with 2:08 remaining in the game. Ingram, also back in the fold after contracting COVID, didn’t flash as much but ran hard and aggressive.
Starting FB Pat Ricard appeared to be in prime form. He got nicked up a bit in the second half but quickly returned and continued blocking well. Ricard also added two receptions for 11 yards in the passing game, delivering a nasty shoulder into a defender.
Defensively, the biggest returning players were Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams on the defensive line. Both players had previously been nursing injuries that forced them to miss multiple games before becoming involved in the COVID outbreak. Campbell himself tested positive whereas Williams was only a “close contact.”
Campbell’s presence was valuable to have back in the lineup but it was fairly clear he’s not playing at 100%. He finished with two tackles, both solo, and noticeably appeared slower than usual in one particular pressure on Andy Dalton in the backfield. Whether this should be attributed more towards the effects of COVID or his lingering calf strain — or both — is hard to say for sure.
Williams also looked a bit slow and struggled getting off blocks. To his credit, though, he did make a key pass deflection in the second quarter that resulted in an interception from Patrick Queen. Williams also got into the backfield with a QB pressure of his own, too.
The biggest story, though, was of course the return of Jackson under center. Jackson attempted only 17 passes, completing 12 of them for 107 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Jackson’s five incompletions were a mixture of short-armed throws, overthrows, and just plain misfires.
While he was up-and-down, Jackson’s 20-yard touchdown strike to Marquise Brown in the back of the end zone was a thing of beauty. It was easily one of his best throws of the season. Jackson also controlled the tempo as a runner, as mentioned previously.
Missing a handful of pass-catchers and having only practiced once in the past two weeks, it was a sufficient performance from the reigning MVP.
3) Big plays pave the way
Usually, when a team throws the ball only 17 times, gains just two first downs through the air, and converts on 25% of attempts in the red zone, you would not expect them to put up 34 points on the scoreboard.
However, this in fact describes the Ravens in Week 13.
Adding to the confusion is the fact the Cowboys gained 10 more first downs, ran 23 more plays, and possessed the ball for five more minutes than Baltimore. They converted 20 first downs via passing compared to just two for the Ravens.
Given all of these facts, the Ravens theoretically should not have scored 17 more points than their counterpart. What allowed them to do so was their ability to create explosive plays and rip off large chunks of yardage — an element that has been non-existent from the offense for what feels like most of the season.
Edwards, Dobbins, and Jackson each recorded runs of 30+ yards. Edwards averaged a whopping 14.4 yards per carry, while Jackson (7.2) and Dobbins (6.5) were far from shabby in this department themselves.
In the passing game, more than half of Jackson’s total passing yardage output came on two plays — both of which resulted in touchdowns: a 38-yard pass to Miles Boykin and a 20-yard strike to Marquise Brown. The Cowboys defense has struggled in allowing explosive plays all year long, so it was encouraging to see the Ravens capitalize.
4) A tale of two trenches
Any time you rush for nearly 300 yards, the game can be considered a victory for the offensive line. This was the case for the Ravens against the Cowboys. Facing Dallas was a choice matchup for a shuffled-together, patchwork offensive line.
Orlando Brown Jr., Bradley Bozeman and company got consistent push up front against the Cowboys defensive line all night long. Continued illegal formation penalties, of which it feels like at least one occurs every week, are frustrating — but it fails to offset the fact that the Ravens running backs had huge holes to run through from start to finish.
While the level of competition should be taken into account, it was an encouraging performance from a five-man group that has seen very little consistency in recent weeks. The combination of Brown Jr., Bozeman, Mekari, Powers, and Tyre Phillips will likely remain the starting group moving forward.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Cowboys offensive line — down several starters themselves — were able to control Baltimore’s defensive front. Andy Dalton was only sacked once and hit five times. He delivered the ball quickly amidst a flurry of blitzes from the Ravens defense.
Yannick Ngaouke and others were close to finishing plays with sacks on a handful of occasions but failed to execute. Campbell and Williams were unable to consistently get off blocks and make disruptive plays. It was a bit surprising to see the Cowboys rush for 111 yards as a team and average 4.0 yards per carry given their injuries up front and the reinforcements returning for Baltimore.
The Ravens lone sack belonged to Jihad Ward, who also accounted for four of the team’s five QB hits. Ward stepped into a larger role in the absence of Matthew Judon.
5) Justin Tucker is human . . . who knew?
In what could only possibly happen on a rare Tuesday night game, the NFL’s most accurate kicker ever misfired on a 36-yard attempt. This of course is Justin Tucker, who wound up on the wrong end of a classic jinx from broadcast announcer Joe Buck.
Just seconds prior to attempting the field goal, Buck claimed something along the lines of, “there’s no jinxing Justin Tucker.”
It’s extremely rare to see Tucker come up short in any situation, so anytime he misses a field goal or extra point, it naturally becomes a talking point. This particular occasion was especially weird because a 36-yarder is generally a chip shot for Tucker. Fortunately, Tucker bounced back to connect on two more field goals and three extra point attempts over the remainder of the game.