In this game-day staple, blogger Matt Vensel makes four sometimes-courageous predictions for the game. All he asks is that you don't hold it against him whenever those predictions end up being embarrassingly wrong.
The Ravens (4-1) host the Dallas Cowboys (2-2) at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. The Ravens have won 14 straight games at home, including playoffs, and they have yet to lose to an NFC team at home under head coach John Harbaugh. But that streak might be snapped if the Ravens offense doesn't get back in high gear.
Last week, the offense stalled against the Kansas City Chiefs, who jammed their wideouts with press coverage and got after quarterback Joe Flacco with their edge rushers. The Cowboys, who are built similarly with their personnel in their 3-4 defense, will try the same approach. Plus, they have a ton of talent at the skill positions offensively and are dangerous when quarterback Tony Romo gets on the same page with those playmakers.
I'm not comfortable calling for the Cowboys to upset the Ravens. I think the Ravens will find a way to win the game in their house (or the Cowboys will find a way to blow it). But I do feel confident making these four predictions that are sure to go wrong Sunday.
1. THE RAVENS WILL ALLOW 400 YARDS OF TOTAL OFFENSE
The defense has given up at least 320 yards of total offense in every game, and in allowing 379.8 yards per game, the Ravens rank 24th in total defense. The Chiefs ran all over the Ravens for 214 yards (most of them came in the first half), but they had just 165 passing yards as Matt Cassel is not a good quarterback. The Cowboys are in the middle of the pack in total offense, but they have three quality wide receivers, a good tight end and a talented, but underutilized running back. I can see Romo moving the Cowboys up and down the field, but can they score touchdowns and avoid turnovers? Which brings me to my second prediction…
2. THE RAVENS WILL SCORE ON SOME KIND OF RETURN
Maybe it will be after a fumble. Maybe it will be a pick-six. Maybe Deonte Thompson or Jacoby Jones will finally break through in the return game. I know I'm hedging my bets here by not getting specific, but hey, my track record so far shows that I need a little wiggle room. With eight interceptions and three lost fumbles, the Cowboys have given the ball away 11 times in four games (only five teams have more turnovers). In their last game two weeks ago, Romo had two interceptions returned for touchdowns. And in a Week 2 loss to Seattle, the Seahawks scored after blocking a Cowboys punt. The Ravens will cash in another Cowboys miscue.
3. RAVENS WIDE-OUTS WILL TOTAL FEWER THAN 12 CATCHES
I wrote about the Ravens' struggles against press coverage for Thursday's paper. The Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles have had the most success against their offense, and that's because they got physical -- like Olivia Newton-John, perhaps? -- with their wideouts at the line of scrimmage. In a Week 2 loss to the Eagles, Ravens wide receivers had just six catches. They had seven in the win over the Chiefs. Cowboys cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne will try the same approach against Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and the gang, but if the offensive line plays well, there will be opportunities to exploit their aggression.
4. LARDARIUS WEBB WILL FINALLY GET BEAT FOR A SCORE
Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb is an ascending player in this league and he has a new contract to show it. He locks down receivers in the slot, and has not been beat for a touchdown since late in the 2010 season. But Webb had a couple of close calls against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4, with wide receiver Greg Little getting behind him. Little can't catch, though, so Webb's streak remains intact. The Cowboys like using three-receiver sets, and when they do, Webb will see a lot of Miles Austin in the slot. Austin's quickness and size can give cornerbacks problems inside the red zone. Will Webb's shutdown streak survive Sunday?