Each week, Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Matt Vensel will look back at the Ravens’ previous game and that of their next opponent.
Ravens 31, Cowboys 29
Strategy: The Ravens ran the shotgun formation 17 times and used the no-huddle on 28 of 49 snaps, generating 316 yards and 19 first downs. Ray Rice was utilized in all situations, including shotgun draws and swing passes out of the backfield with good effect. Michael Oher received chip-blocking assistance against Dallas Cowboys star pass rusher DeMarcus Ware. Eight different players caught passes from Joe Flacco. Dean Pees tried everything for his bend-but-don't-shatter defense, crowding the line of scrimmage, calling run blitzes and mixing coverage schemes Pees had to use almost every active defensive player due to season-ending injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb..
Personnel: All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach hammered away on 24 plays (16 runs) as he created holes for Rice. Except for hard-nosed linebacker Sean Lee, few defenders were willing to take on Leach. Tight ends Ed Dickson (35 snaps) and Dennis Pitta (33 snaps) divided playing time almost equally. Bernard Pierce (seven plays, 27 all-purpose yards) may earn increased playing time. Defensive linemen Pernell McPhee (74 plays), Ma'ake Kemoeatu (48 plays), Arthur Jones (36 plays) and Terrence Cody (33 snaps) wore down against a mauling running game. In the final game of his season and perhaps his career, Lewis played 81 snaps before tearing his right triceps in the fourth quarter.
What went right: Ware was held to one sack. Flacco was sharp with decisive spirals, and no turnovers. Rice remained a step ahead with his superior quickness, two rushing touchdowns and a 43-yard catch-and-run that illustrated what he's capable of in the open field. Anquan Boldin muscled cornerbacks for five catches, 98 yards off six targets. Cary Williams' confidence is growing, intercepting his third pass. Despite a painful sprained knee, Haloti Ngata recorded six tackles and the Ravens' only sack. Jacoby Jones' extra gear, Anthony Allen's big block and Dallas' pursuit errors led to an NFL record 108-yard kickoff return. Tight end Dennis Pitta's diving catch for a Flacco sideline thrown was an outstanding play.
What went wrong: The front seven was manhandled in embarrassing fashion by the Cowboys, allowing a franchise-record 227 rushing yards. Kemoeatu, Cody and Jones aren't defeating blocks. Lewis had 14 tackles, none particularly impactful. Unsuccessful arm tackles by Jameel McClain, Lewis, Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed were glaring. It's too bad John Harbaugh can't run the old Oklahoma drill to upgrade tackling. Paul Kruger rarely beat Tyron Smith around the edge. McPhee needs to get healthy and get to the quarterback. Tony Romo had far too much time to operate. In his first game back in the lineup, Bobbie Williams got bowled over on a bull-rush by defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. Overall, it wasn't a bad return for Williams.
Turning point: If not for a late botched two-point conversion where Bryant dropped an accurate Romo pass, this game likely heads to overtime. Instead, the Ravens notched their 15th consecutive home victory at M&T; Bank Stadium, including the playoffs.
X-factor: Offensive coordinators will definitely try to duplicate how Bryant and Romo connected for 13 receptions, 95 yards and two touchdowns with Webb sidelined. Allowing 441 rushing yards in past two games, defense now squares off with the master of the zone-stretch play: Houston Texans runner Arian Foster.