As the Dallas Cowboys began to find success with their second-, third- and fourth-string running backs Sunday, Ravens free safety Ed Reed did a little arithmetic.
"They came in, and I actually started counting their running backs," the eight-time Pro Bowler said after the Ravens escaped M&T Bank Stadium with a 31-29 win. "Like how many did they have, man? It was like, 'God, here's another one.' But they came out and had a very good scheme after what they saw that we put on tape. And we're going to have to stop it. That's all we have to do. We have to stop it."
Once an area of strength, the Ravens' run defense has recently become a liability. A unit that has finished in the top five against the run in six consecutive seasons — the NFL's longest active streak — surrendered a franchise-worst 227 rushing yards to Dallas, which had rushed for 271 yards in its first four games.
That topped the previous record of 222 yards gained by the Denver Broncos on Oct. 20, 1996. And after the 214 yards the Kansas City Chiefs compiled last Sunday, the Ravens have allowed opponents to rush for 200 yards in back-to-back contests for the first time in team history.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata pointed out that Arian Foster — the league's No. 2 rusher entering the weekend — and the Houston Texans were next on the schedule.
"I don't like it," said Ngata, who played despite an injured right shoulder and right knee. "I think it's just disgusting, and we need to fix it right away because we've got a good Houston team that we're going to play against next week. So we've just got to find out what we need to do and fix those things and hopefully we can get better as these weeks go along."
Cowboys starter DeMarco Murray ran for 93 yards on 14 attempts before being sidelined by a sprained right foot. Backup Felix Jones had 92 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries. Phillip Tanner got in nine attempts for 31 yards, and rookie Lance Dunbar gained 11 yards on his only carry of the game.
Dallas, which had the fourth-worst rush offense in the league and had run for just 41 yards in a 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears on Oct. 1, had 61 rushing yards on its first drive of Sunday's game. Coach Jason Garrett said attacking the Ravens on the ground was a priority.
"[T]hey haven't defended the run great recently," he said. "Typically, they're an outstanding run defense. So we tried to take advantage of that. Our guys did a good job doing that and again, it gave us the chance to move the football and get some things in the passing game off of it."
The Cowboys enjoyed a good deal of success running the ball off the edges. Those runs, in turn, kept the Ravens on their heels as they were hesitant to rush quarterback Tony Romo out of fear of getting caught out of position by Murray, Jones or Tanner.
"I think it's not being able to stop the run because they're able to run the ball and pass it whenever they want," Ngata said. "They were able to do some play-action plays where they had us not rushing as hard because we were playing run because they were running so well. They did a great job throughout this whole game running the ball."
Solutions varied among tplayers. Ngata said the defense must start faster and prevent the opposing offense from getting into rhythm. Outside linebacker Albert McClellan said players have to stop going for "kill shots" and concentrate on fundamentals. Strong safety Bernard Pollard said it's a simple matter of making tackles.
"We're up for any challenge," McClellan said. "If they want to challenge us with the inside run game or the outside run game, we're up for it. They may crease us, they may not. At the end of the day, we're still the Ravens defense. We're going to play Ravens ball."