As the Ravens try to recover from a COVID-19 outbreak and a three-game losing streak, they’ll face a team that’s endured an even more disappointing 2020 season, the Dallas Cowboys. Here’s who has the edge in each phase of the game:
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Lamar Jackson came off the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday and is expected to start against the Cowboys, giving the Ravens a significant boost. His backups, Robert Griffin III and Trace McSorley, completed just nine of 18 passes for 110 yards in a Week 12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though Jackson has dropped to 21st in ESPN’s QBR ranking, which he topped in 2019, the Ravens at least have a passing game when he’s on the field. The team’s leading receiver, tight end Mark Andrews, will miss a second straight game because of COVID-19, and the Ravens will also be without wide receiver Willie Snead IV. In their absence, Marquise Brown broke his slump against the Steelers, catching four passes on eight targets for 85 yards and a touchdown. No other Raven finished with more than 20 receiving yards in the loss. The Ravens rank 31st in passing offense and 24th in yards per attempt.
COWBOYS PASSING GAME: The Ravens will see a familiar face in former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who’s playing in place of the injured Dak Prescott. Dalton has completed 65% of his passes with five touchdowns and five interceptions in six games. The Cowboys have won just once in his four starts. The roster is stocked with dangerous pass catchers, however, led by wide receivers Amari Cooper (71 catches on 98 targets, 848 yards, three touchdowns) and CeeDee Lamb (53 catches on 81 targets, 650 yards, four touchdowns). Running back Ezekiel Elliott (39 catches) is a frequent target out of the backfield. Dallas’ injury-ravaged offensive line has not done a good protecting Dalton, who’s taken 11 sacks.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens played without Jackson and running backs Mark Ingram II and rookie J.K. Dobbins in Pittsburgh. They still managed 129 rushing yards against one of the league’s best defensive fronts. All three could be back against the Cowboys, and it will be interesting to see if Dobbins resumes the primary role he played in a Week 11 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The rookie has been the team’s most effective back, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Regardless of who lines up beside him, the Ravens need Jackson, who leads the team with 575 yards and a 5.6 per-carry average. He remains the key to the league’s third ranked rushing offense.
COWBOYS RUNNING GAME: Elliott made the Pro Bowl in three of his first four seasons but has not played up to that level in 2020. He’s averaging just 3.9 yards per carry behind that diminished offensive line. Backup Tony Pollard has actually been more efficient, averaging 5 yards per carry. Dalton isn’t much of a running threat. The Cowboys rank 17th in rushing and 17th in yards per attempt.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens held the Steelers, playing without top running back James Conner, to 68 rushing yards. But they had struggled in the previous two games without their best interior run defenders, nose tackle Brandon Williams and defensive end Calais Campbell. Both could return against the Cowboys. Defensive end Derek Wolfe has played well in Campbell’s absence, and the Ravens have also leaned hard on Williams’ backup, Justin Ellis. L.J. Fort is the most reliable run stopper among their linebackers. The Ravens rank 12th in run defense and 21st in opponent yards per carry.
COWBOYS RUSH DEFENSE: Dallas ranks dead last in run defense, allowing opponents to average 4.9 yards per carry. The Cowboys surrendered 182 rushing yards in their blowout loss to the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving and a whopping 307 to the Cleveland Browns in a Week 4 loss. Inside linebacker Jaylon Smith leads the team in tackles but other than edge standout Demarcus Lawrence, almost no one on the Cowboys grades as an above-average run defender, according to Pro Football Focus.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens covered and tackled well in limiting Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to 266 yards on 51 attempts. But they’re thin at cornerback, especially if they have to play without Jimmy Smith, who left the Pittsburgh loss with a groin injury. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey forced two fumbles and defended two passes against the Steelers and appears on track for another Pro Bowl selection. The Ravens missed three key members of their defensive front with Campbell, Pernell McPhee and Matthew Judon all on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the Steelers game, and Judon will be out again Tuesday. Campbell and McPhee could return against the Cowboys, but outside linebacker Tyus Bowser played an outstanding game in their absence with three quarterback hits and an interception. The Ravens rank ninth in pass defense and have held opposing quarterbacks to 5.6 yards per attempt.
COWBOYS PASS DEFENSE: Dallas hasn’t defended the pass well either, allowing opposing quarterbacks to average 6.7 yards per attempt with 25 touchdowns against just four interceptions. The Cowboys blitz relatively infrequently and rank middle of the pack in pressures and sacks. Defensive ends Lawrence and Aldon Smith are their most productive pass rushers with 9½ sacks and 19 quarterback hits between them. Rookie Trevon Diggs, the team’s best cornerback through nine games, is on injured reserve with a fractured foot. Only one other Cowboys defensive back has intercepted a pass this season, so this is not a playmaking secondary.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Justin Tucker has missed just once (from 61 yards) this season. Punter Sam Koch ranks sixth in the league with a net average of 43.2 yards and has put 20 of 44 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Ravens have accumulated 645 yards on returns compared with 430 for their opponents, and Tucker is sixth in the league with 43 touchbacks on kickoffs.
COWBOYS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Greg Zuerlein has made 21 of 24 field-goal attempts, with all three of his misses coming from beyond 50 yards, but he has missed three extra-point tries. The Cowboys switched punters after Week 8, going with Hunter Niswander, who’s performed well in a limited sample with a 44.7-yard net average. They’ve excelled on returns, with 781 combined yards compared with 442 for their opponents.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens gave the Steelers a scare coming off 10 straight days of players testing positive for COVID-19. So they have something to build on. They’ll play with urgency, knowing they can’t afford another loss if they’re to vault over a crowded pack of AFC playoff contenders. But it’s still too early to know how the Ravens will recover from the outbreak that affected so many of their key players and will keep several off the field against Dallas.
COWBOYS INTANGIBLES: The Cowboys will play the Ravens after a rare 12-day rest, and they’re still not out of contention in the awful NFC East. But they’ve suffered through a disastrous season under coach Mike McCarthy and showed few signs of moving in the right direction in that Thanksgiving loss to Washington. The Cowboys’ three wins have come by a combined seven points and they’ve lost to both AFC North teams they’ve played.
PREDICTION: The Ravens couldn’t ask for a much better opponent as they try to recover from a COVID-19 outbreak and a three-game losing streak. The Cowboys give up tons of yards and points, and their offense is pedestrian with Dalton playing behind a battered line. If Jackson is anywhere close to full speed, the Ravens will roll. Ravens 34, Cowboys 17